Friday, 27 February 2015

What I learnt from my Dad

It may have been yesterday, Mum says it was and she would know, but I thought it was today. I'm not great with dates and usually have to link a significant date to an event of some kind so it's not surprising I have the dates mixed up. Or I wait for my sister Jenny to post a picture on facebook and I know for sure. She hasn't done that this year so I'm a bit at odds. It's not really important though.

I thought my final day of #28daysofwriting was going to coincide with the 7th anniversary of my Dad's passing and I've been planning to write this post for the past week. When I spoke to Mum yesterday she reminded me that it was Dad's anniversary. As Mum says though, it doesn't really matter what date it is, everyday has a bit of Dad in it, a bit of sorrow, a bit of fun and a lot of love. Time just makes it a bit easier to deal with. We have a few of these days in my family so I feel a bit of an expert in this area of acknowledging the life of others and what their life means to us.

So today it seems fitting that I write about the things I learnt from my Dad.

My Dad was a very humble man who lived his life without too many monetary gains but abundant in love. He was an only child who ended up having a brood of 7 children, all in 11 years (probably more a testimony to Mum than Dad!). We were a tight knit family and I had an idyllic childhood.

I learnt from Dad that you need to be generous with your time, to help out where you can and to be involved. Growing up he was always part of anything that we do: president, secretary or chief organiser of school fetes, Parish Councils, endless fundraisers, Little Aths, netball, tennis, table tennis. Whatever we did he did and he did it with enthusiasm, kindness and empathy.

I learnt from my Dad that you accept people for who they are. You trust them until they aren't trustworthy, you respect them until they show you otherwise and you never abuse people in any way. You can put your point across but you are always respectful.

I learnt from my Dad that you need to support the decisions of those you love and care about whether you agree with them or not as long as those decisions aren't harmful to anyone. This one could be especially difficult for my Dad when it came to me. I always wanted to take a risk, try something different, change a part of my life. He may not have agreed with all my decisions but once they were made he was right there helping where he could. I remember the day I moved out of home for the first time. He wasn't keen on any of us leaving the nest, but I was 19 and oh, so excited about the prospect. He wouldn't come out of the bathroom to say goodbye despite the fact that he's helped me find a place, move furniture, suss out the surrounds and talk through the logistics of it.

I learnt from Dad that you love your family unconditionally, that the children need to be looked after, cared for, but most importantly you need to be with them whenever you can. My childhood was filled with trips away, morning trips to the beach for a swim where we would float with him in the calm water, trips to do the grocery shopping, all of us, much to Mum's possible horror. We spent idyllic summers at Mt Martha for years, firstly in tents and then in the van although I never got a position on the inside. We had a massive garage that had a pool table, a table tennis table and housed many a party where we met with our friends and family to laugh, dance and drink together. We had a pool where we could swim and a pergola and bbq where we would dine together. As we all started to grow up the grandchildren shared in this wonderful life created by Mum and Dad.

I learnt from Dad that you can do all of the above even if you didn't earn much money, you finished school at 14, you had to finish your working life at 42 because of a debilitating illness or you had to spend most days of the second half of your life in some kind of pain. I learnt from Dad that whatever life dishes out to you doesn't control you. What you want from life is in your control and if you keep it simple and real and know what's important to you then your life can be rich and full. People will remember you for how you lived, not for what you have.

How lucky I've been to have been able to learn so much from this wonderful man who is my father.

Thanks Dad.

A final reflection for #28daysofwriting

I know I've still got another day to go but I have something special to write about tomorrow, something I hope that is worthy of a final post in this project. So today I'm reflecting on how far I've come with my new classes this year so far.

Today I've had one of the best days since moving schools. I had four classes and all went pretty well. In the first class my tricky 9's played dice games that showed me they understood the idea that area takes up space. Nothing ground breaking except that instead of routinely following a set of instructions they played strategically and thought it was pretty easy. And, they played until the end. They still chatted, got distracted, moved seats, even had some dice throwing across the room but they all finished the game. And it was enjoyable. We had fun together. I'm called Mrs Maths by some of the boys in this class and I don't mind that at all. They've created a respectable, special name for me and I'm ok about that. The other tricky year 9's also had a good lesson. No fun games for learning but a lesson where no one walked out, no one had a go at another person, some work was done and I had a couple of laughs with some of them. Despite their behaviour this group has the widest variety of abilities and more stronger students than the other class. Perhaps its this diversity that makes them a bit more unsettled than the others group. But today the tension between myself and the students was lessened. I feel more hopeful.

With the 10's it was interesting to watch them grapple with the standard of effort I have set. I'm checking on their workbooks regularly and talking to them about what's been happening to prevent them from being up to date. Today they had to submit their stats poster. The two week process has been challenging for most of them. They keep telling me that they've never had to decide so many things themselves before, that they've never actually done a maths project before, they've never used a rubric in maths before and they've never been so unsure about the work they are doing and how to ask good questions to get help. I haven't made it easy for them and I have prompted them to be specific in their questions, to go back to their research question and ask themselves what story is the data telling. I have seen how hard they have worked and ried too and the reality is the final product doesn't matter so much. I'm almost reluctant to mark it because the process itself has been invaluable. I got them to do a self assessment with the rubric and I expect they will be harder on themselves than I will be.

I've been so impressed with them as they've grappled with the workload and the openness of the task and the balancing act of moving on to something else and having to meet up with their group outside of class to put together their poster. While they'll be looking for the grade I have to somehow impress upon them how far they've come in such a short time.

My students never cease to amaze me and every day we can learn something about them if we are looking for it. It's one of the greatest joys of teaching.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

A quick reflection with 2 days to go

There's three more posts in #28daysofwriting including this one so, with all good projects some reflection is needed. Over the next few days I'll reflect on what I've learnt and where to from here.

It's an early call but barring a tragedy I'll have blogged for 28 days straight and for 28 minutes each day. I think I've stuck to the 28 minutes most days and have a feel for when the time is up. I've found the time limit to be hugely beneficial for a newbie blogger. It was long enough to think about what I was writing, to pause as I wrote and ponder what I would put down next.  It was short enough for me to feel I could manage the task and, even when I had no ideas, I could still write (waffle) about something.

From reading a few other blogs I got ideas of what I could write about but mostly I stuck with what was happening in my life and occasionally I branched out and wrote on an educational theme. I think I was lucky that I'd just moved to a new school in regional Victoria so I had plenty of new experiences to use as a source of inspiration. I've tried not to think about who, if anyone was reading it but was always heartened when anyone left a comment or retweeted my musings.

The thought that there were others in this with me helped me to write each night and build up a habit. I won't be writing everyday after Saturday but I will be maintaining my blog. It's something I wanted to do this year anyway so this month has helped me get in the habit and start writing without worrying too much about it. I originally stated that a lack of confidence prevented me from blogging before and I think I've gone a long way to overcoming that and t really is only an attitudinal change. I was the student that wanted to get everything right and wanted to do things well. I've not lost this too much over the years I've just got better at failing and learning. This blog is another example of this....I've taken a risk, failed, learnt, taken a risk, failed, a beautiful, recurring decimal.

It's been fun sometimes, a chore at others but mostly just a chance to have a go at something different. That epitomises this year for me.

Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Travelling Lightly

I'm squeezing my 28 minutes between dinner and a night out. This means that I've not got the time or the inclination to do any school work tonight. Consequently I have left all my marking/planning and my school laptop at work and stepped out into the gorgeous sunshine with just my handbag slung over my shoulder.

I've had a bit of time to do this in the last month and have tried to embrace it without the feeling of dread or guilt that often accompanies a night off. I wonder why we do that. I'm lucky that tomorrow I'm only there until recess as I'm 0.8 and this is one of my short days. I know that I'm ready for the morning lesson but not so ready for Friday's. I will have to do some work tomorrow but it seems the right balance.

As teachers we are constantly balancing our personal time with the work we need to do to be ready for class. When we have high standards of our teaching it can often be difficult to let go and take time for ourselves. This is especially true for me at the moment. I feel that some of my classes are not what I want them to be. I'm grappling with balancing student management issues with preparing engaging lessons. There's a level of trust that is missing with some students that is holding me back. It seems when I get one part working something else upsets the status quo. Today it was a new student and the change this made to the way students treated each other. I had my lesson planned but all went out the window. I find myself hoping as I walked into each class that I've got it right and he students will join in. If only they would, I know they will learn and they will enjoy things more.

For some reason today's lesson was particularly upsetting but I'm forever grateful to the wonderful coordinators and sub school leaders who continue to help me work through things with these students. I'll probably get things right just as I'm June.

So, tonight, I travel lightly. I'm taking some time out so I don't think about it for at least one night. I hope next time that I'm travelling lightly because I've had the most wonderful lesson.

What does it take to get you excited?

Some who know me well say it takes a bit to get me excited. This is generally true but sometimes it doesn't take much. My football team kicking goals and winning games springs to mind. In education of you combine the words team, maths, collaboration and planning then that would do it too. The often maligned maths departments of schools, especially secondary schools, don't often inspire feelings of excitement in some school leaders but for me they are the best. You've just got to understand them!

So this afternoon I got excited. I had the opportunity to show the use of Google apps in curriculum planning to the maths tram. There was docs, drive, links, sites, activities, standards, possibilities, byod and maths. The people got it. They understood how they could pull together all the great stuff they were already doing and present it in a cohesive, professional manner. They just needed convincing they were already nearly there.

Oh, it's such a joyous thing when the stars align. All the work still needs to be done but the seed is planted and now we need to call for backup. It's important that the people who work behind the scene are on board and can see your big picture too. So now there's a few conversations to be had, a few things to organise and a backup plan if things don't happen according to the timeline. There's enough expertise in the team to ride the bumps. I always believe that you just need to find the strengths of the people in the team and then let them do their stuff. You all know just need to know where you are going.

I've been at my new school for 4 weeks and have been going about my business quietly. It takes some time to suss out how things work and know what you can do to help. It takes time for people to get to know you too. But the opportunity has arisen and now I'm super excited.
What does it take to get you excited in your workplace?

Monday, 23 February 2015

5 Days to go...

"5 Days to go" said +Tom Barrett 's email.   I was a little surprised, a little relieved and a little curious. Surprised because I thought I had longer, relieved because I thought I had longer and curious because I wondered what I might do once the #28daysofwriting ends.

I'm planning to go on blogging but probably not every day. I've been determined to not miss a day and expect to accomplish this but I wonder what will happen when I'm not part of a group that has a focus and a goal. I'm a team player so I don't like to let the team down. I'm a committed person so I'm dogged when a challenge has been set and I'm reflective. I wonder what I will do in March.

I've seen a few posts about commenting on blogs and I want to start trying to do that. It's the comments that are most meaningful and yet I've done very little of it myself. I feel buoyed when I get some feedback and while I have read a few others blogs when I see a catchy heading or when a colleague posts I haven't provided that boost too often that I know enhances the experience of the blogger. I try to trick myself into thinking this is because I've little time but honestly, n the moment, I'm hesitant about my feedback. I'm not a wordsmith, my writings are simple not complex and I struggle to put into words the thoughts in my head and so, I lack the confidence to respond. It's a funny thing that when I was asked in Tom's survey why I hadn't blogged before I stated that I lacked confidence. A funny thing for someone who would appear to others as fairly forthright and confident. But it's true. It's similar to when I tell people that I'm a bit shy. It's hard to believe, but it's true.

I've come full circle then in this experience. I'm a lot more confident about my blogging since I grew to understand that my words were for me and my growth in the first instance. Perhaps for March I need to start commenting on others' blogs. Not #28minutesofcomments but possibly #2-8minutesofcomments.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

An Aussie wanting to teach in New Zealand

No, this isn't a request for a job! In June I'll be heading to New Zealand to stay for about 12 weeks. It's all part of my big adventure this year and an unexpected opportunity. A very good friend of mine has a sister who lives there and I'm going to be house sitting for her while she and her husband go to Europe. I'm looking forward to it immensely and hope it will be a time for quiet, peace and space.

While there though I thought I might do a bit of relief teaching to help fund any travels I might do. I am connected to people in NZ through Twitter and through having spent a fabulous week at ICOT 2013 in Wellington. I'm hoping to have a chance to visit some schools and perhaps catch up with my social media 'friends'.

To work in NZ for an aussie isn't a big deal. Head over there and find a job but to work as a teacher there's a few hoops to jump through. Our countries have a 'Mutual Recognition' policy so it's a matter of filling in forms, getting documents together and putting together a profile of myself and my ability to teach before I can be registered.

Every time I think I've got things ready to send off I find something else I need to do. It is a fairly strict process even though the mutual recognition is there. I've been thinking about this process as I gather my evidence and it makes me wonder why wouldn't my registration in Victoria be enough? I feel a little affronted at some of the things I needed to do but on reflection isn't this just the standard we want for our on schools. Any school wants the best teachers they can get to teach their children. Despite the sometimes endless stream of documentation needed I understand completely why most of this documentation is necessary.

I'm looking forward to my time in NZ and I hope to meet up with many of you who are taking part in #28daysofwriting. I jut hope they accept me and approve my application if I ever get it completed! I don't expect to teach a lot and perhaps not at all but it'll be good to know I have options once I get there. And any chance to see a different school environment has to benefit my professional learning.

Saturday, 21 February 2015

My first breathless moments of learning

I've started a new pattern of not working on Saturday's. Although today, I cheated a little as I wanted to see if I could work offline on some google docs. I've moved and my new home doesn't have internet access. I'm tying to manage with just a bit of extra data on my phone so I've become a bit of a scrooge when it comes to data. I don't want to buy and extra data pack because I've got big plans for the second half of this year that involve travelling and not working, both of which are incredibly expensive.

Fortunately the offline experiment worked well so I was able to get back to my work free day until now. I see my involvement in #28daysofwriting still as a work thing since that's what I write about mostly. So today I'm taking a detour on that too and thought I'd jot a few lines down about my first breathless moments of learning.

I always wanted to be a teacher. I loved school and can remember many breathless moments as a child that I experienced at school learning something. My first memory of this was in Grade 1 when our beautiful teacher, Miss Box, took a few of us aside and told us we were ready for something new. I was proud that I was chosen. Miss Box told us that she was going to teach us how to write sentences with number just like we wrote sentences when we were telling a story. By Grade 1 I was already switched on by numbers and counting anyway and this next foray into the world of mathematics seemed unimaginable.

She showed us a plus symbol and an equal sign and we learnt how to convert the words, 'two plus two is four' into 2 + 2 = 4. I was speechless, I was amazed and I remember thinking I had learnt everything there was to learn. I had a mind expanding experience right there and I was like a id in a candy store. I was breathless. I will never forget that feeling and when Miss Box went on to teach us subtraction I knew that mathematics was where it was at for me. I experienced great joy in that short lesson with my teacher who had the nounce to choose me to show something special to. Needless to say I am now a maths teacher and mathematics has remained a passion but as I reflect back it was the moment of learning something entirely new that left me breathless.

The second most significant event that left me breathless happened in Grade 2. We had the beautiful Sr Kathleen that year who was strict and stern but smart and sensible. She was also kind and caring too. In the year I was in Grade 2 man landed on the moon. In our humble primary school and one of the far less affluent suburbs of Melbourne we were allowed to watch the moon landing on the TV. I was transfixed to the T.V. I couldn't quite believe what was happening as it was daytime in Melbourne but it was dark on the moon. I had been taking a very keen interest in the discussions in the lead up and I'm sure that Sr Kathleen informed us in a manner suitable for our tender ages what was happening but I was the type of child who could sit unnoticed and listen in on adult conversations. I was watching the moon every night in the lead up hoping to get a glimpse of the lunar module as it flew to the moon. At the moment Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon I held my breath hoping that the moon wouldn't blow up and what a relief when it didn't. I watched until they made me move back to class and I continued to watch the moon in the days following.

Both these experiences were so significant that I can still feel the emotion of these events as if they were happening now and I wonder if I am providing similar opportunities for my students as they learn new things. How lucky I was to have two teachers very early on who enabled such breathless moments for me. Certainly Miss Box knew that this was an important step but I doubt she knew how much that moment influenced my love of mathematics or my desire to be a teacher one day. I don't think as teachers that we know when these moments will happen. The best we can do is look for the opportunities then seize the moments when they occur.

Thursday, 19 February 2015

Some thoughts on Technology

Yesterday I wrote briefly about my school going google and it prompted me to think about the things I missed most and the things I took for granted that I now don't have access to yet. It's not that the technology isn't here, it is. It's just that people haven't yet thought about what it could do for the school and the students here.

I have my year 10's working on a data analysis project where they need to find some data relevant to an area of interest to them or relevant to one of the suggested topic. They have to work out a research question and then respond to this question using the data they have found. It's quite a challenging project when students haven't been exposed to raw data sets before and their understanding of how technology can help them wade through to find and manipulate the relevant data is limited. Just showing them a simple =counta formula has simplified their task and they are amazingly grateful for this. It just highlights for me that as an IT teacher from the past (don't tell anyone!) I may have had to teach formulas when I was 'teaching' Excel but now when there is need for the technology to do a job their desire to learn the formula is much higher. I know this seems like I'm stating the obvious but this is the main crux of the power of technology in education.

This project also requires the students to work in teams and communication between team members is often a challenge. They have class time and then another week to submit their poster but inevitably when there is a team member missing the others aren't sure who is doing what and the communication is lacking. In today's age the mobile phone and a simple txt or facebook message or an email should do the trick but there seems to be barriers here that I didn't encounter in my previous 'high tech school'. One of the boys arrived and his partner was away on a school excursion. He had no idea what needed to be done so I suggested he send a txt to find out. In this school though, phones are banned during school hours. There's probably very good reasons for this and it does seem to make everything more orderly but it does limit the options for communication. I had to persuade this student that I would have his back if he got caught sending the message. I take for granted that a students phone is a useful means of accessing information. It still is but there's work to be done on 'appropriate use' before it can become the norm.

The availability of technology does not solve the problem or enhance the learning but the understanding of when it is best used does. There's a number of things I miss that technology enhances. Mostly this is around communication and collaboration. And mostly it is about the work that can be done with students as they embark on applying their knowledge and understanding.

As I reflect over the past couple of weeks I know I'm looking at this school through a different lens than most that are here. It is often easier to see the possibilities when you are not ingrained in the culture of your work environment. I see many possibilities here and am searching for my own solutions where I can use technology to make things better.

Going Google

This'll be a short one tonight. I've hit the wall and it's taken me 20 minutes just to write these few short paragraphs. Instead of writing dribble I'll cut it short. I've also been distracted by chatting to a close friend  and I'm going to include that in my 28 minutes because keeping in touch when you've moved away is important.  However, I've got some things to look forward to.

I've heard that my new school is venturing into the world of google apps for Education and I'm just so excited about it. I didn't realise how much I would miss it as a way of working and collaborating. I even have my own little chromebook that I love. 

They are going to start small with the staff so there'll be a team of early adopters and I'm going to help them out. More stuff that I love: a team to work with, collaboration and curriculum development. Hopefully a few will come on board before I leave so I can be of use. It's important to me to feel like I'm of use to the school, not just to my students. I love that idea that together we learn from each other and can work on a common goal. 

So, lets go google, they don't know what they've been missing.

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

A good day

All's good with the world today. Well, for some it's not so good but in my little world it's been a good day. I've been patiently waiting for the day when I would feel like I'm part of the furniture and when I felt comfortable in my surrounds. I may be kidding myself and tomorrow may go belly up or the next day might be a shocker but what I mean goes beyond the day to day ups and downs. What I felt today was that this is where I am and I know a bit more about how things work. So it doesn't really matter what happens daily, you know what you can and can't do, where to get help and who the 'go to' people are.

If you've been working in the same place for a while can you remember when you started feeling that this was your place, your work home. Maybe you never felt that in a workplace and ultimately needed to leave. Maybe you felt t so strongly you also needed to leave. The latter is the more interesting scenario I think. I've been lucky enough in my working life as a teacher to feel I was so at home in my workplace that it was time to leave. I think you know this when you desire something different despite the many wonderful people and experiences around you. I believe that taking the plunge to leave that safety net and try something different or experience a position that is similar to your current one but in a different type of organisation, or like myself, in a different part of the country.

One of the interesting aspects of moving to a new place to work is whether your strengths are still your strengths and whether the challenges you personally face have a new chance to be taken out of hiding and given a new airing. Prior to moving to my previous leadership role I always believed I was a good team builder. It was, without doubt, the one thing I was most nervous about. Could I do this in a new environment? Would  be successful without the great people who made the teams I led? Thankfully, I believe that this remains one of my strengths but having the opportunity to test myself and face this challenge only happened because I moved from a position and place that I loved working to one where I knew no-one and only loved the philosophy and ideals of the school I was charged to help build. The move allowed me to confirm what I believed were my strengths and allowed me to work on my challenges.

Now I'm at a new school and in a new community it will take time to see what will develop, what my new challenges will be and where my strengths lie. Today, I had space to think and reflect because I wasn't running around trying to understand how things operate. I had time to have a conversation with a colleague around the choices the school made on streaming students in maths and another one with the e learning leader about the introduction of google apps and how I could help. Today was a good day because tings were starting to feel normal.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

I love sports days

This post is a bit of a flow on from yesterday's one about belonging. Today was swimming sports day and I fronted up in my red hat and t-shirt ready to help out and cheer on my team. The best part of this day is seeing the students outside of the classroom. The second best part whether you are new or not is interacting with colleagues who you may not have had the chance to chat to yet.

There's always the staff member who goes to great lengths to dress up and promote their team and kids take great delight in seeing and interacting with their teachers and support staff outside the classroom. It's just a wonderful day for all if the kids are mostly behaving, the weather holds up and everyone pitches in. It can also be wonderful even if the weather turns foul or some of the precious ones don't do the right thing. There's much to learn about everyone just by being there and taking part.

I learnt the name of my team, which other staff members are also in my team and I also learnt a lot about what my new school's values. We can never underestimate what can be seen in these public events. We often remind students they are on show on these days and I'm wondering if we realise we are also on show. There were a number of parents and grandparents at this event and it had the feel of a community event. I loved all of this and it added to my experience of belonging. There may not have been a huge turnout as is often the case but this didn't seem to matter so much.

These things can always be improved but for now it was enough that the weather was beautiful, my students said hi, I chatted to some more colleagues and, yes, my new team won. Go Red.

Monday, 16 February 2015


Today I've had reason to think about belonging. This is because tomorrow is swimming sports day. It's my first at this school and we head down to the local pool for the day. I know I'm in 'red' house but I forget the actual name of the house. I'm happy to be in red house because I like the colour. I've been asking around about the day and the staff tell me that about half the kids will go and the rest will take a day off. Some kids say they don't go because they don't get to swim and some say they are going and are having a party and don't really concern themselves with the swimming events. I haven't spoken to too many swimmers yet.

My previous school was a new school and I was there at the start. It was an amazing experience to build a school from scratch. I was one of the new Leading Teachers and besides being Head of Maths I also had the responsibility as Head of House. My house's colour turned out to be silver which was much better than the grey that was first suggested. The colours came from the colours that would be used in the house areas of the new building and technically the colour for my house was 'aloe vera'. How it translated to grey, I don't know but I knew that grey was not going to be inspiring. We needed a colour that students could dress up in, be unique in and enjoy if they were to feel like they belonged to Wood (named after Dr Fiona Wood) house. All staff were aligned with a House and we sat in house areas. I loved this. We were part of something very special and the key was around school expectation. It helped that everyone was new and we were all keen to make it work. We managed to build that sense of belonging because the teachers who were in the area with the students were all in the same house. The teachers were competitive and patriotic and we dressed up and took part in everything as well.

It's a more difficult proposition to build this culture in an established school. Towards the end of my time at my first school we moved from year level groups to a vertical, 'house' structure although we called them Learning teams. Much thought went into naming the teams and colours and how we would promote that sense of belonging because that's what this is about. We wanted the kids to feel they were part of something that was bigger than them and that made them feel supported.

Teachers want to belong too. We feel supported by the teams that we work in an this experience is amped up when we also belong to a team that our students are part of and we share in these experiences. So I'm looking forward to tomorrow. I have a red hat and a red t-shirt and I think I can even find some red shoes. I can't wait to be with the students tomorrow and see how our team goes. I'd better try and remember the team name though!

Sunday, 15 February 2015

When we move from where we are known to where we aren't ...yet.

I've been wondering as I write my blog post each night for #28daysofwriting if I'm going to write something that may offend or upset anyone. Most of what I've written has been about my new role and my move from living and working in a city to living and working in a regional area. The other day I had a particularly trying class and I was tempted to write about it in detail. However, I held back and tried to drill down on what was the learning I could take out of that and make that the centre of my writing. But I wonder if someone at my new school read it would they think I was talking out of turn. At the start my instinct told me to take care, no specifics about people and definitely no slander. I'm evolving with this process as the 28 days slide by.

As I grappled with that post I wondered what would my new colleagues, students and parents think if they read it? I hope I wouldn't offend anyone and I worry that I haven't written anything that has misled the readers about my new home and work. I'm happy to challenge thinking though. So it's a bit of a balance that seems to take some experience. I'm new to blogging so I'm wondering if the more experienced blogger considers this? How do they deal with it? Are there any set rules that bloggers live by, especially when we are writing about our experiences?  I'm just using my common sense but I have had moments over this weekend wondering.

I've come from a school where social media is the norm and where my buddies and I are connected through twitter. My colleagues know my work, they know me and my reputation affords me a luxury I don't have yet now that I've moved. I am yet to build that reputation here, to connect with people and to learn what they stand for and believe in when it comes to educating their students. If someone read a post that they felt was too personal about their school or their students or who took offence at something I've written then I don't have that reputation to fall back on yet. In fact, if my new colleagues were reading my blog, as are a number of people I haven't met yet, then my reputation is partially being built by what I write. That's quite a responsibility. I'll continue but I must say, at the half way mark I feel a little more cautious than when I started.

Saturday, 14 February 2015

Testing the new teacher

I've been spending my Saturday doing some things I love. I had a particularly unpleasant lesson on Friday that went belly up from the start. I remained calm, I dealt with things as they happened but basically the kids were trying to test me out. I'm the new teacher after all and I expect it had to happen. Outside factors conspired to make things just a little more challenging than usual, it was 40 degrees by the time I'd got to class, the room that I was in didn't have a well functioning air-con in it, the wind was blowing and the new portable still wasn't ready so we were in a different room again. (Oh, and it was Friday 13th also but I'm not superstitious.) There's no need to go into detail but lets just say I was thankful when reinforcements arrived and then the bell went. Friday night drinks didn't hurt either.

Overnight I had trouble sleeping. The heat wasn't helping here either and I wasn't thinking about what I could have done better but I was trying to work out what do I do next? When the kids are testing you what do you do about it next? What is your reaction? I believe I need to front up with the attitude that this is the best group of kids that I teach and we need to learn from the events of Friday and then get back into it. In my early days I would have got the whip cracking, used all the student management strategies that the school supports and I will do some of this, but now I have an ideal that I want my students to engage in their learning, not just behave because they have to. I want their maths to improve, I don't want to just get them to do busy work. I want them to learn how to function in a class and work with me to learn together. I have high expectations around this and they know it. I was asked by a student in this class why don't I just quit? I wondered for a brief moment if she was hoping I was ready to raise the white flag but I actually think that even though she was contributing to the mayhem she recognised that she wouldn't want to be in my shoes so quitting seemed a way out. I told her that I loved my job and whatever was happening in this class right now was no reason to quit.

I don't know what will happen next week but I am optimistic. I'll get some help, chat to some key people to understand my students more, the portable will be online this week and we'll change topics and try something else.

So today, I've read my book most of the day and I've spent some time on my jigsaw. I also happened upon #SatChatOc on twitter hosted by @danhaesler and the topic was #growthmindset. I reconnected with an educator that I haven't spoken to for ages. What luck. I called my Mum and spoke at length to a friend who is coming travelling with me later this year. And I went out a got chocolate and ice-cream for supper. I'm tired but ok and another good nights sleep will see me ready to take on the world again. Quit! Pfft! I'm only just beginning.

Friday, 13 February 2015

When the year settles you create some space.

Over the last couple of days I was starting to feel like things were settling down. The start of a school year is always hectic and even more so for newcomers to the school and newcomers to the profession. But around about week 3, week 4 things start to hum along a bit better. The newbies, like myself, have learnt where to find things, who to ask for what and where to find most things. Bewildering for me is still the bell system. I have trouble remembering when the end and start of lessons are and 47 minute lesson doesn't make the maths simple. The students are a great help here and I have worked out who my go to students are. I've synced my watch so I'm mostly getting to class on time and I'm usually packed up and ready for the changeover when it happens.

As the settling happens we create space in our day. All of a sudden there's just a bit more time. The 'free' period actually feels like it's 47 minutes and the double free this week seemed like half a day. I don't feel that I won't be ready for each lesson or that I'll have to spend hours at home preparing things. There's time to breathe and time to have conversations with colleagues about the way things are and why. I can look up from my desk and see what's happening around me. Lovely.

I'm also starting to remember names. It can never be underestimated how important this is. I can converse about students without looking up a photo and I get a little bit more classroom control back. The kids respond when I remember them and laugh when I get them mixed up. At least the name belongs to someone in the class! One thing I do tat really helps is I do a workbook check early on. This gives me a chance to have a one to one conversation with each student and find out how they are getting along. These chats are invaluable for getting to know them and their learning and to clarify any expectations. I love these times and my challenge at the moment is to work out how I can do it successfully with the more unruly of my classes.

I'll be pondering that this weekend so I'd love to hear how others do it.

Thursday, 12 February 2015

Living the YET.

Last night I went to Pub trivia with some of my new colleagues. I love trivia nights and doing the quiz at lunchtimes so this sounded like a great way to get to know people and visit the fine establishments of my new town. It was a lot of fun and I had a little bit of an epiphany while there. People who know me don't really believe this but I am a bit shy at times. This changes rapidly once I get to know you but I'm not one for putting myself out there. However, I am in a new phase of my life and this is one of the challenges: plonk myself in a brand new town, far away from home where I know no one, and rather than do what comes naturally (stay at home and do my jigsaw puzzle), I am accepting all invitations when they come my way. Hence, pub trivia.

I, like many others know random stuff. The girls on my team were rapt to find out that I knew what sport Heather McKay was famous for (that would be squash) as they felt their team lacked a 'sport expert'. Talk about pressure. As the night progressed I found myself getting involved but also holding back when I wasn't super sure. At one stage two commercials were shown and we had to guess what they were advertising. As soon as this category was announced, I announced to my group that I would be hopeless here, I just don't remember stuff like this. It's the same for music and songlines. When the first commercial showed I didn't even engage with it, I made no effort. Talk about a fixed mindset. I had so easily decided I couldn't answer this question because I didn't want to be relied on and made a fool of if I didn't have an answer. When they told us the answer I was so disappointed in myself. It was a commercial for Stan, the new, online TV with Rebel Wilson. While I hadn't seen the commercial before I have seen all the paper ads and if only I'd not shut myself out before I'd even seen the ad, I may have been able to make the links and make a guess at the answer.

I know that I expect my students to be open and I remind and encourage them to take risks, engage with their learning, question and think. Yet I had so readily not done this. It's what kids must feel like sometimes when the task seems impossible or they don't feel safe. I'm usually pretty good at adding in YET to any statement that comes out with "I can't do..." as a sentence starter but I think that's more confined to a work environment and I just haven't embraced it in my personal life wholeheartedly YET.

This simple moment reminded me that, as an educator, I can have expectations of my students but if I don't live these expectations in my life then I'm just a bit of a con. Teaching is a lifestyle choice and I need to walk the walk if I'm to expect the students in my care to live up to the expectations I set.

Wednesday, 11 February 2015

Why I miss team teaching

I've spent the last 5 years working in a school where team teaching is the norm and now I miss it more than anything else. I have always been involved in programs that involve some form of team teaching and these usually involved students who were disengaged and so, were taking part in some type of alternative program. In the past 5 years though it's been with senior secondary students, teaching maths with a teaching partner and our two classes.

What I miss the most is the collaboration and the planning together as you prepare for your class. I miss the sharing of ideas, the opportunity to get another opinion about how our students are going and just enjoying the conversations about learning that we have in this process.

There are some factors that I believe make team teaching work well. Firstly the teachers need to be committed to the ideal of teaching in a team and all that it entails. It can't be done well if the teachers believe they can just teach in their own style and they'll take turns leading the class. This, to me, isn't team teaching. There must be an agreed purpose to the way the class is structured. Teachers need to be open to the possibilities that team teaching provides and be ready to try something that may take them out of their comfort zones. The most challenging part of team teaching is either letting go the control to share the stage with a peer or putting yourself out there to show your style, to give away your secrets. I think if we've never team taught before we are in ether one of those camps but both depend on compromise.

Successful team teaching depends on teachers being able to bounce ideas off each other in the class. Imagine your students wondering who is going to say what next and listening as teachers clarify concepts, put differing opinions forward and engage them in the conversation. Imagine being able to take aside a small group for some extra help or extra challenges while your partner looks after the others. Imagine having backup all the time. I so miss it.

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

An orderly learning environment challenged

At the start of a school year there are always glitches and teachers are usually great at going with the flow while everything settles down. As a school leader I've always been one of the people who is trying to get things organised, solve the problems that arise and do what I can to make the start of the school year as smooth as possible for the teachers and students. I believe I have always done this well and although I may be frantically paddling underwater, on the surface I always hope I look like I'm gliding. I tackle the challenges with the goal of helping everyone get settled as soon as possible.

It's been suggested that one of the preconditions for school improvement is an orderly learning environment (Signposts: Research points to how Victorian government schools have improved student performance). I often think of this as what happens in the classroom but I've been reminded over the last two weeks that this also includes external factors that revolve around whole school organisation. As a leader I knew this implicitly as I negotiated teaching loads, paired staff to team teach together, looked into room allocations and generally went into bat for the team if I felt things were not right.

This year, though, I'm on the other end of the stick. I'm the new teacher hoping that someone is watching out for me as I grapple with the newness of everything. My school is a government school and as is the norm for government schools a change in enrolments can mean that portable classrooms can be added or taken in preparation for the new year. It's a fairly simple (usually) proposition if the portable is taken but when your school has grown and you need the new portables for it to operate efficiently then you hope that the government has its act together and gets them ready for the start of the year. Unfortunately our new portables aren't ready and the promise is that it will be next week. In the meantime the school is doing its best to accommodate the lack of rooms. In reality it means that my classes are actually scheduled into the unfinished portable and I face room changes each day. Of course, it affects the Foundation 9's and not the Advanced 10's. The room number appears on my timetable and the students' timetables and each day there are room changes advertised online. The system depends on form teachers notifying students on the change and generally this works but sometimes the kids forget, the adults forget and therefore kids don't always turn up in the right space at the right time. The positive is that I've learnt very quickly where all the rooms are in the school and which ones help me and my students and which ones hinder us.

Who'd have thought a room change can make such a big difference. I like to think of myself as a very flexible person and I'm not stressing about kids arriving late to class but it has impacted on our orderly learning environment. Each day it's a different room, each day the 9's arrive in dribs and drabs so there's no real 'start' to the class. The students come in complaining, inevitably another child has to be sent to find them and together we try and guess which room they might have gone to. By the time they get to class they're excited, but not about the maths, they are noisy, they have a go at each other as person arrives and occasionally they'll sit down and get started on the task I've got ready. With a 47 minute lesson this uses up valuable time and there's no orderliness about it regardless of what I try. But try I do, and I hope that the promise that the room is ready next week will come true. I'm practising very hard at staying calm, going with the flow, not raising my voice, trying a variety of class starters and just trying to be the positive one in the room when we are all just frustrated.

I feel a little frustrated that I have no control over it at the leadership level like I used to have and I'm not one to complain as I'm sure people are doing the best they can. Being the new one and not being in a role I'm used to means I have to carefully think about what I say and what I do. It's a new challenge for me.

I'm just hoping that the habits for starting class that my students are exhibiting at the moment are not ingrained yet and we can start again when we we have a little more certainty. Personally I'll be happy not to be carting stuff from pillar to post.

Monday, 9 February 2015

Today I earned my money

I love Mondays. Even though it's my fullest day and ends with a staff meeting, tomorrow I don't have to start until after recess. I give myself a break on Mondays when I get home. It's a no school work night for me. Tonight I'd already worked out what was for dinner, yummy chicken fajitas, but on the way home I also bought a Turkish Delight to have with my cuppa after tea. It's not hard for me to get into a blissful state but I did tell myself that I would have the chocolate after I'd written my post for #28dayofwriting. Of course I didn't stick to that but I truly believed that I'd do it easily anyway because I'm committed to going the distance and I'm enjoying it.

Writing each post makes me reflect on the day to try to find something that is interesting to write about. Today turned out to be a doozy. Something was going on with the year 9's that was outside my control and it came into the classroom after lunch. I had a lesson planned and for the most part delivered but our class had a new student and one whose history I didn't know about before she showed up. She gave me a few details about herself but all the work that I'd done with these students over the last two weeks to get them to take part in the lesson, behave respectively towards me and each other seem to unravel before my eyes seemingly because of the change of dynamics of the class and whatever was happening with the 9's that day.

I could see I'd need to change my approach a bit, be a bit more firmer, remind the others about their behaviour and generally put out spot fires all the while trying to help and encourage those who were just wanting to do their work. The new girl kept trying to provoke a verbal stoush with one of the more quiet girls who seemed to have taken on a new personality The cheeky boys had fun putting their ten cents worth in to keep the tensions high and a few times in the seemingly never-ending 47 minutes we were together I was sure a cat fight would break out.

Early in my teaching career I may have fuelled this situation by trying to force control with a raised voice and and ears that had stopped listening. Today, thankfully I could remain calm, but firm and turn the conversation around to behaviours and learning. I must have repeated the same phrases over and over again: "please sit down, try this question, I'll help you, turn around please, please don't swear". I kept repeating te following mantra in my mind, "breathe and then breathe again". Finally the girls wanted to negotiate a treat for themselves in exchange for their good behaviour. They wanted to be allowed to listen to music and then they would work, just like I wanted to eat my Turkish Delight before I wrote my blog. They had evidence that it worked in the past; you know how it goes, "Mr Yr8MathsTeacher, he let us listen to music and we were good for 3 months". Needless to say, I gave them the assurance I would investigate their evidence but there would be no deal until their behaviour improved first. I've at least got a bit of negotiating room now.

I left the class totally exhausted and wondering where to now but also feeling happy that there was no cat fight, there was still control and I still managed to learn some new things about the maths ability of some of the strudents as I found the moments to work with them one-one amidst the chaos.

 I'd have to say that I truly earned my money today.

Sunday, 8 February 2015

When the mind is blank

Today is Sunday and it's been a good one. I've passed the day at a slow pace despite attacking the mountain that is Year 9 Foundation. At the moment I live alone, I'm in a new town where I don't know too many people so I can work without the guilt of taking time away from my family. We all make choices sometimes just so we can feel on top of the week ahead. I think I'm pretty good at the work/home/life balance and I know when I've done enough. There's one obvious sign though...the mind goes blank. I was working on a document and had a bit of a win around how I would organise a project and then I found myself randomly clicking tabs, staring a bit too long at a page without knowing what to do. That's ok if you're looking at a beautiful picture but when it's your google drive list of folders well, you know it's time.

It's time to shut things down and finish up. Tomorrow will happen, I'll face my classes and do my best and it'll be fine, it will even have moments of great joy. I'm sure of that. Then I remembered I hadn't done my post yet for #28daysofwriting. I'm determined to stick with it but when your mind is blank how do we go about turning it back on for that one last thing we need to do? I'm not a writer really, I've not experienced 'writers block' and at the moment all I'm doing is documenting the events of the day, the things that stick out for me and I'm not overly concerning myself if it resonates with others. That's just a bit too much pressure and I might quit if I thought too much about it. I am doing this for me so I will develop a new habit, I'll be connected to others while I'm involved and I'll get clarity around my experiences as I find way way in my new place.

So I think when the mind goes blank perhaps the best thing to do is to write about the writing and hope it's not too much of a waffle. I've had this tiny thought going on in my head since I started this project that my writing and the writing of many of the blogs I've been reading are poles apart. I've noticed that I tend to write about the day to day stuff with some reflection built in and then others write about the big ideas. They just manage to put the words and ideas together so they are poking and prodding me into thinking. I'm being challenged by what they say and the ideas they have. I'm not trying to dump on myself. I'm ok with where I'm at because I know I'm interested in improving and it will happen with effort and with honest reflection but I marvel at what some can do.

I liken it to the difference between numeracy and mathematics. In my mind numeracy is about the every day maths that you need to operate in the world you live in. My numeracy skills help me to buy things and not get ripped off, I can do my banking, I can estimate how far I would have to walk to the local pool and decide whether I should take the car or not and I can do a budget and save for my awesome travels later this year. That's what my writing is like when I compare it to the mathematicians of writing. (I'm sure at least one of you and, probably +Chris Harte is most likely, to create a new word for me that describes the writing mathematician). These guys can explain the big concept that links the ideas together, they take the specific cases and then they generalise to give develop a theory and they can explain the things you can't physically see. They play with ideas and look for patterns and try things and then they let us join in so we can play too. I'm in awe of them and it gives me something to aspire to. It's like I'm on the cusp of relational in a #solotaxonomy kind of a way and the writing mathematicians are at extended abstract.

So when the mind is blank and we still have to rely on it to finish off the day then we fall back on what we know. Form me it's just writing about what happened. Maybe by the end of the 28days I'll have learnt more ways to put my ideas into words so that I can write like a mathematician too.

Saturday, 7 February 2015

Pondering on my Ponderings

I am so thankful for this weekend. My first full week at a new school and now I have some space to reflect, recharge and reset. A blessing of living in a new town is that I don't have any internet access in my new home except for my phone. I've had to add a data pack for now but for the past two weeks I have turned off all notifications, automatic updates and whatever else I could think of that would sap my precious data usage. This may sound like more of a nightmare to some but I haven't missed the ping of the phone and the unread emails sitting there on the screen begging to be read. Instead I've accessed them when I've managed to get to the library or in one sitting, usually as I write this blog. The downside is that I'm picky about what I choose to click on and read so I am less likely to stumble on a gem of an article or the insights of a colleague who has tweeted a taster on twitter.

Despite not being stimulated or interrupted by outside sources I find myself pondering about the classes that I teach and how I can do things better. I'm wondering how can I get to know the individuals better and what might spark for them a curiosity that I can link to maths. I feel quietly confident about the 10 Advanced because that's been my bread and butter for the last 5 years. I know I where can access a curriculum document that has links to resources, course outlines, and generally some ideas on what works. They are a start and I can adapt for the students in the class. I know where to find the challenging problems, what questions to ask the students so they challenged because I've lived this and developed these ideas with colleagues. It won't always go to plan but I don't feel any anxiety about it. In fact I'm excited about what lays ahead.

But the 9's have got me flummoxed. I know I'm building good relationships, together we are building trust and I am starting to get to know them as learners. But I feel disorganised, I feel that all I'm doing everyday is trying something different to see how it works. I'm not happy with the quality of the tasks I set in front of them but despite this I learn something new about them and the dynamics of each class every time.

So today I've allowed myself to ponder and to let the thoughts and ideas drift in and out of my mind. I've experienced some moments of clarity and some moments of anxiety and some moments of wonder. I'm going to keep pondering until tomorrow and then I'm going to get onto it.

My moments of clarity have mostly been about knowing where each student is at and what do they need next. How can I help them to improve? How can I enable them to see the maths in the world around them whilst helping to build their ability in mathematics. I need to find out what interests them. There's one student in the class who I'd been given the heads up about prior to the class. He's a struggler but he can also be a wanderer and a teaser, a fidgiter and a talker and he can generally do very little if he can manage it. I found him outside the assistant principal' office after school on Friday and we had a chat about why he was there and what was going to happen about it. We also chatted about his weekend.I found out his passion and now I have something to tap into. I know I can find some maths in that, I've just got to work out how to structure it for him.

I think I've just been trying too hard to get it all right and now I need to step back and listen a bit more. I feel a bit more motivated to put in the time tomorrow to work out exactly what that might look like in the classroom. Right now though I think I deserve an episode of Inspector Lynley.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Celebrate the Small Gains - part 2 and a Cry for Help

A couple of days ago my I wrote about celebrating the small gains as well as the big wins. I was so excited about the little things that went well and that helped me to continue to build learning relationships with all my new classes. But guess what, as I write this blog the only thing I remember is that I wanted to write a part 2 but the actual events I wanted to write about is something I can't remember. All I have is the feeling from the lesson that something progressed instead of staying the same and that something, in isolation, could easily be overlooked. I am someone who looks for the positive in my lessons, some days I'm just better at it than others.

Today was one of those days when I could have easily not found any small gains. I felt like I couldn't take a trick and my students were the ones who suffered. My challenge is with the Foundation 9's. I am intent of providing tasks and experiences that meet their learning needs but I find myself feeling disorganised and inadequate at times. Every lesson I try something else and I learn a little more but I feel I'm learning something that others who have taught these students already know. It's time to get a bit of help.

I'm new at this school and knowing where to get the help takes time. So today I opened up to a couple of key people. The first one I spoke to just asked politely over lunch how I was going. I'd already sussed out that this person was probably in sync with some of my philosophies just from a few conversations we'd already had so I gave it a go. I just said to her that I felt disorganised and a little frustrated. She seemed a little surprised but prompted me to explain why I felt disorganised. This set me back a bit because instead of the usual nod and a pat on the back to keep going she poked and prodded something that must have seemed to her had some layers that needed unpacking. I can't tell you how much I appreciated her engaging in this conversation with me.

For the past 5 years I have worked at a school where collaboration was the norm. Now I don't have a team to collaborate with yet. If a school doesn't have this as part of its culture for staff then a newcomer will find it difficult to know where to get the help. This isn't something that just happens and teachers need school structures that enable collaboration. I miss the richness of the conversation about learning that you get when you talk to the people who also teach your kids and who also teach your subject. I'm just going to have to find my teams and my key people and maybe, while I'm here I can show the way and encourage others of the value of collaboration. My colleague has invited me to work with her team so that will be my first step.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Gotta love 0.8

I know I said that this post would be part two of the Small Gains  but today beckons a reflection on the joy of a 0.8 load. I've only ever worked full time since I started teaching fifteen years ago, despite being a single mum to 3 kids during much of that time. I felt when I started teaching that I wanted to experience everything there is about a school and the life of a teacher. I was so excited to finally finish my degree and get my first job that I was ready to embrace everything. I was a latecomer to teaching; I started the day my eldest daughter started high school and the youngest went into Grade 3. It's been hard at times and a juggling act at others but I've never regretted the decision and have never thought of reducing my load. However, this year is different. Those 3 children are all adults, I'm still single and both these conditions afford me some freedom. I decided early last year that I would take a year off and take some time out to do things I otherwise wouldn't have the time to do.

Teaching can be exhausting and exhilarating all in one day, even in one lesson. It can sap our energy and we need to find ways to keep going sometime without using every spare moment to prepare. Once I made the decision to take the year off I kept my options open and considered all possibilities. It was a real luxury to be able to do this. My main constraint was money but I figured six months of work should sustain me as I had big travel plans (watch out New Zealand, I'm heading your way!).

So here I am in county Victoria in a delightful school working 0.8 time fraction and no leadership position to focus on. It's both a personal change of environment and a professional one and it's purpose is to see if a tree change is in my future. My new timetable means I get to have a late start one morning and I finish by 10:45 on another. Today is my early finish day and whilst much of this post so far has been a gentle insight into my personal life I reflected today that this 0.8 thing is a hidden joy as long as you let it. I have so much I need to do to prepare for tomorrow. I want to do my best for the kids in my care and that takes planning. My tendency is to do the planning, to research some ideas and resources but I know that when I take some space for me the kids I teach will benefit.

That's my foot you can see as I spend my time this afternoon writing this blog while sitting under a shady tree on the banks of the Murray river eating my picnic lunch. It's peaceful, beautiful and I'm taking in big breaths to clear my head. Oh the joy of part time work.

Don't Forget to Celebrate the Small Gains as well as the Big Wins - Part 1

Today I had two double sessions with the two classes I feel I haven't quite jelled with yet. First up was the 'bottom' 9's. Goodness me, it was like a different group of students. They were smiling, they settled well, they had a go at the 'engager' and there was an air of 'noisy' calm about the class. They'll never be quiet but I like it that way. I did plan, I had tons of stuff, some maths games, some options for them to choose their own pathway and a quick reminder to myself that it's all about the relationships.

There's about 22 of them on any given day and some had asked if they would be able to move up to the 'middle' year 9 group. So I offered it to the whole class and set the challenge; there would be work that would need to be done and, as importantly, there would be behaviours they would need to show. They would also have to lose the term 'dumb' and replace it with an attitude that everyone can learn maths. I thought I had 5 of them that would be willing but 10 had a go. Small gain #1....when you give kids an option to stretch some of the most unlikely ones will want to try as long as they feel safe. The others also had choices to make about what task they would do based on previous tasks they had done. Never was the choice to be made based around how many questions they got right, but was centred on how comfortable they had felt and how well they believed they had managed the tasks. I explained they needed to reach for something just beyond their comfort zone and they always had the option of changing their mind. By the way, the tasks were nothing to write home about at this stage, just a bunch of questions to determine their numeracy ability and a goal to keep the work familiar for now. It's been my experience that most students will opt into the appropriate task as long as they've had plenty of feedback about their understanding prior to the choice.

So we were off to a great start and it continued. Small gain #2 comes when some of them realised they had opted for the wrong task. This happened with the 10 who were reaching for the 'middle group' but they didn't opt out until they'd had a go, got some help, had a chat about what was happening for them and what the expectations were. I reassured them that they could do the 'middle' work and still stay in here if that's what they wanted...we could just slow it down.

Small gain #3 happens toward the end when we started playing my favourite place value game where I draw out numbers and they try to create the biggest or smallest number. It's a simple game but one that students usually enjoy and one where the level of difficulty can be adapted for each group. The gain was though that they were queuing up to be the one at the board that the rest of the class had to beat. They were participating, they were putting themselves on the line to show how good they were at this game and even when they had trouble saying in words the number that was on the board (sometimes an 8 digit number) they still had a go. So even though we hardly know each other and I had thought the last couple of classes weren't so great the trust was being developed.

We finished the lesson with a quiet reflection where I told them how impressed I was with their effort and their behaviour and the choices they had made. I was exhausted but happy and they were bouncing out the door. A small thud to earth for me though came from one of the girls who pointed out that the boys were better because student X was away so I wasn't to get too excited!

And my celebration...feet up, only this blog to write, no work and that inner glow that you're the most amazing teacher in the world and you can do anything, and I haven't even told you about the year 10's. That'll have to wait for day 5 of #28daysofwriting.

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Setting Expectations

I'm trying to go with the flow at my new school. You know you're new when you're the only one carrying all your stuff to the House Assembly way over in the gym because you've got a class straight after and your staff room is on the opposite side of the school grounds and your class is about half way between. I can't quite work out why I am the only teacher who is carrying their books, in fact, not even the kids have books. I stick out like a sore thumb but no-one has mentioned it yet and I think that's because they are way too polite. I have an inkling that it's something to do with dropping your stuff off early in your room or you just go back to the staffroom and somehow manage to beat the kids to the door. I feel like I'm going against the flow here and this feeling extends to the classroom.

My previous school was a specialist maths/science school for senior students and prior to that I was at a large secondary school on the outer fringe of the metropolitan area of Melbourne. I started my teaching at this diverse, large challenging school and learnt much about teaching by the amazing people I worked with there. The biggest difference between the two schools was the high expectations that were set for the students and the follow through with this at a whole school level. This doesn't mean to say that I didn't always set high expectations with my classes but I learnt how to maintain the expectation and encourage students to live up to these expectations as I became more experienced and when I could observe what is looks like when the whole school is committed to it.

In the past couple of days I've had to draw on that experience to set the expectation for the students at my new school. I see them stare back at me with glassy eyes when I explain what effort I expect in terms of classwork, homework, class participation, taking risks, thinking, adhering to the conventions of mathematics and generally just plain old hard work, all the time. It doesn't matter which group I am teaching, the struggling 9's or the advanced 10's the conversation is the same. But I haven't dished it out in one tirade. It's subtly done and it's timely, delivered when it's needed the most and when it needs to be reinforced.

The students need to know what meeting high expectation looks like and feels like. I do this by verbalising it, celebrating it when I see it, being very explicit about what is acceptable and what is not and constantly providing feedback about their learning behaviours. I see the shoulders of those students who have set their own expectations high relax when they realise they are in the right place. I hear one of my 9's say, "I know, Miss, it's because you've got to know you can trust us. I get it."

We are all going against the flow as we work each other out but slowly their flow and my flow will be heading in the same direction. Watch out when that happens.

Monday, 2 February 2015

When the planning goes out the window

I spent numerous hours yesterday planning for my year 9 class and worrying whether I had the right work, pitched to the right levels, worrying whether they would stay tuned throughout the seemingly endless 94 minutes that we would be together. I also spent a considerable amount of time planning for an advanced year 10 class too, hoping they would take the risk with a problem they'd never seen before and work in a way, I suspect, they were not used to.

I should've known it would all be ok with the yr 9's, But as the day ends and I think about all the classes I taught today one thing sticks out. The class I was worried about went well, it was fun, the kids were great and they did come along for the ride. The other double lesson I had was the one that didn't go so well. I didn't expect that. I was supremely confident about my lesson plan but I ended throwing it out the window after about 15 minutes. It seems to me that this happens a lot in teaching. The second class is year 10 Advanced Maths. The kids should be switched on, keen to learn and get involved, ready to take up the challenge of the puzzle I presented and the solution that they managed to get to with a bit of help. For goodness sake they had deduced a general rule for a puzzle and even one student came up with a solution I hadn't seen before. I wanted fanfare, trumpets, excitement but they just seemed flat, unsure. I felt like the clown who couldn't make anyone laugh despite the best tricks in the business. Why can two classes behave and respond in an entirely different way and this is opposite to what you were expecting?

As I pondered this over lunch the one thing that came to my mind was that the dynamics of those two classes were different. The combination of the kids in there and their responses to me were completely different. I can't wait to go back to the year 9's. They struggle, they think they are dumb but they kept going, they made choices about their learning all the while talking constantly about their weekend, laughing at each other, getting distracted but allowed themselves to be cajoled by me into working. I am still unsure of their level, if I'm pitching things right so they all get what they need but I know we have a rapport and a trust that we can build on.

I teach 4 classes in all, 2 foundation 9's and two advanced 10's. The two year 9's could't be more different to each other as are the two year 10's. In each cohort, I have one smiling, happy, enthused class and one that I just don't seem to gel with YET. I've only seen them twice each and it's early days but sometimes teaching can hit you between the eyes and remind you that much of the work lies in building those relationships so all the kids in our care get the best learning experience in our classes even if they aren't amused by my tricks!

Saturday, 31 January 2015


I'm a newbie to blogging. I decided to start because this year, for me, is the year to try new things and writing is something I've thought I might like to do. I also like to feel like I'm a part of something bigger than me so I'm excited that there's a bunch of us joined up to #28daysofwriting. I created my first blog ultimately to keep my friends, family and colleagues in the loop as I spend the year travelling, teaching in different settings and catching up with a precious daughter who now lives on the other side of the world. I also found that when I committed to the blog what I would write was in my thoughts for days prior. I mulled over it, I refined it in my mind and I had it written before I committed to paper. It's a process that left disturbed my sleep but I liked it. I'm a reflective person, I like to work out why stuff happens and blogging seems to fit that mould.

This week I started at a new school. I've moved from a high tech, open spaced specialist maths/science school for senior students to a country 7-12 secondary school. I've moved from Leading Teacher (Head of Maths & Staff Professional Learning) to classroom teacher and member of the maths team. I've done this by choice and the differences in each environment are as I expected. However some things remain the same. The passion of teachers and school leaders to provide the best learning environment they can for their students is the same, the kindness and goodness of a school community to welcome a new teacher is the same. It's a fortunate thing to be a teacher.

Tomorrow I teach a 'bottom' group of year 9's for a 94 minute period and another group for 47 minute. When I finish this post I'll be planning those lesson. I've already had them once and this is the first year that they are streamed. The first thing they said to me as they walked in the door was "are we in the dumb group?". I was not ready for their bluntness because it's been five years since I taught year 9's and a long while since I've taught the bottom group of a streamed cohort. But the lessons I've learned over my time tell me I need to find out where they are at. I feel confused that I don't know this yet but understand that it'll take time to gather the data and talk to the right people. I feel a little anxious that I'll let them down, that in the process of sorting out what they need I'll lose some of them because they aren't getting what they need. But I also know that I can play some maths games, take some time out to chat to them and find out about them and generally keep mixing things up so I keep them guessing about what comes next. With a bit of luck they will come on the ride with me.