Thursday, January 29, 2009

Circle Time

Today, all teachers at my new school had a PD (Professional Development) day on an approach we will be using as a whole school, Circle Time. Wellbeing Australia defines circle time as “a democratic and creative approach used to consider a wide range of issues affecting the whole school community. The strength of circles is that they address values, attitudes and skills within a structured, safe and supportive framework.”

The PD was facilitated by Sue Roffey and it was great not to be talked at and endure death by powerpoint on such a hot day. Sue encouraged us to get involved and the workshop was experiential. It had two purposes that I could see: increasing our knowledge about circle time and our confidence in using this pedagogy, and to build up the staff as a team, given that the staff numbers this year have more than doubled to 26 teachers. A bit of research turned up the following info about Sue: “Dr Sue Roffey is an educational psychologist and academic at the University of Western Sydney. She's spent many years teaching children with learning difficulties, and now believes that children's emotional literacy, that is, their understanding of themselves and how they relate to others, is a crucial but sometimes neglected part of their education.”

Sue herself describes circle time thus: “Circle Time is a structured framework for social and emotional learning and promoting a positive class ethos. This means it has powerful potential to reduce bullying, increase resilience, explore values and improve communication skills. It deals with serious and important issues such as understanding feelings and reducing prejudice in a way which is highly motivating for students.” There are always three rules for a circle time meeting: everyone must listen to the person who is speaking to the group, no put downs, and everyone has the right to “pass” if they do not wish to or cannot respond to a question. It is mostly about inclusion and about respect. Sue has a number of publications that I will be following up.

At first glance it seems as though it is especially suitable for primary schools, but after seeing how well it worked for us as a group of adults, I will have no hesitation in using this technique in secondary classes. I have a year 8 homegroup this year and I am so looking forward to getting to know them. I will spend a bit of time tomorrow decorating my homegroup room ready to welcome the students on Monday.

For those who have not seen my 365 challenge photos, I thought I’d put two of them here: My colleague, office mate and fellow English teacher, Mel, and a glimpse of my desk in our brand new building. The value of today for me as a new staff member was that it helped me and the many other new teachers get to know more about each other and about the values of the school. I will report back on the experience of using this pedagogy as time goes on. It is anticipated that we will be doing it once a week for about twenty minutes with the students in our homegroups, so I should something to report soon.

Work colleagues

My bit of the office

Monday, January 26, 2009

Before school goes back

I have been so fortunate to have a four month break from teaching by taking one term of long service leave that led into the long summer holidays. Looking back I know I really needed the break. I learnt so much during my time off, through my PLN, but the main thing has been the time to indulge in activities that add balance to my life. Being able to go to the gym more often, starting to go bushwalking and since January 1, the participation in the 365 photo project have been so important. My participation in the project was inspired by Bud Hunt and Dean Shareski, who talked about “seeing mindfully” and “I know I shoot way better photos, look for great lighting, interesting angles and simply appreciate the world around me”. I see that happening to me too.
I have started a blog, 365 Countdown, to record this.

I spent heaps of time cleaning up after years of ignoring the state of my house and not realizing how important it is to my mental wellbeing to have a clean and tidy house. I have loved getting to know about Flylady as a way of approaching managing my house and seeing how important it is not to let work get in the way of this. I know that in setting goals and ideals we often try to be really idealistic, and my children look at the clean house and the menu for the week posted on the fridge and knowingly say to each other “it won’t last”, but I feel I’m in a much better place than I have been in the past, whatever happens.

Last night I was fortunate enough to listen to a few sessions of Educon 21 and heard a discussion moderated by Chris Lehmann on “Building Systems And Structures Around What You Believe”
. The description of the session is: “The myth of the single teacher, bucking the odds to be that one great teacher in a school may make for a great Hollywood movie, but it rarely -- if ever -- leads to lasting, effective change. We must examine the manner in which our schools and classrooms are set up so that the greatest number of students, teachers and even principals can thrive and learn and feel valued. This session is focused on looking at institutional change, so that attendees can explore what they value and then examine the systems in their districts, schools and classrooms that must change to reflect those values.” Chris asked: What are the values you would want to be embedded in your classroom and/or school? The collated responses are here.

It made me realize that as part of a new school (only two years old) I will have a chance to have some influence on what the values might be for the school. One of the gifts I take away from my previous school is the knowledge of the Learner profile of the International Baccalaureate Organisation. This learner profile “provides a long-term vision of education. It is a set of ideals that can inspire, motivate and focus the work of schools and teachers, uniting them in a common purpose.”
The Learner Profile states that IB learners strive to be:
  • Inquirers
  • Knowledgeable
  • Thinkers
  • Communicators
  • Principled
  • Open-minded
  • Caring
  • Risk-takers
  • Balanced
  • Reflective
I think this is a great description of the values that I would like to see embedded in my classroom and hopefully the school. I must say that I am looking forward immensely to starting at my new school and to continuing my learning journey with my PLN on twitter, plurk and flickr to name a few. I am looking forward to a return visit to NECC in Washington DC in June. I am so grateful for so many opportunities, and look forward to a great 2009.

Image credit: 'Tree toss1'

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Seven things you don't need to know about me.

I previously wrote on the 5 things you don't know about me. Recently I was tagged by Lee Mowbray and Sue Tapp, so here goes. Here are my 7 things:
  1. I am in a bushwalking club that I have resisted joining for four years. Husband has asked me every time and finally I have agreed. I do love bushwalking.
  2. I have a cat, called Muffin. I would love to have a dog as well, but am worried about the commitment
  3. In my recent cleanup I gave 40 bags of books I no longer needed to the op shop. They were books from all phases of my life, early parenting, feminism, theology, science teaching, herb gardening, extreme cookery. I kept all the literary books and some of my favourites in the other categories
  4. My daughter moved out of home recently and left behind her distillery for making mead. I am going to get rid of it.
  5. I was born with polydactyly. Two of my children have it as well. My extra fingers were completely normal and functioning (removed by surgery when I was 6 weeks old) but my children had fingers that were attached to their hands by skin. They did not have to have surgery to remove them.
  6. I couldn’t speak English till I was five. My first language was Dutch. I have lost this language now, as I didn’t speak it regularly. I can still understand and read it though, and often my mother speaks to me in Dutch and I answer in English
  7. I go to the gym nearly every day and have a personal trainer. I am hoping to see some good results for all this investment in my time.
Bob on our recent walk in Sassafras

Thursday, January 01, 2009

English Teaching Resources

One of the resources I will be making a lot of use of in 2009 is the English Companion Ning set up by Jim Burke. It is a very lively community for English/Language Arts teachers; subtitled "Where English teachers meet to help each other". I was immediately attracted to it. There are many groups including Teaching Writing, Literature Circles and New Teachers. Jim is a careful and gentle nurturer of the various communities and I am learning heaps by being here. A great discussion has been started by Tracie Weisz on "Thinking about how we understand narrative." She refers to another blog post by Ira Socol who says about this topic that we need to teach the "understand(ing) that everyone who tells a story is telling that story from a point of view and for a reason." I think that Tracie is really asking the question: what is the truth to be found in fiction and how do we teach students that there is truth in fiction and that non fiction also needs to be read critically. This made me think about how I will approach my new students to find out what they already know, and how to teach them about this subtlety and critical facility with text.

Another post that got me thinking about my job as English and Literacy Coordinator in my new school is this one by Bud Hunt about writing in the age of connected media and who asks us to: "join (him) in some time spent writing, thinking, and talking about how writing remains so essential to learning and how technology, specifically the read/write web, assists us in fulfilling the promises and opportunities of strong writing communities and might be altering our societal reading, writing, and thinking paradigms." Read it and see what you think.

I have also been delighted to find the English teachers group on Diigo "a group to share sites that will help teachers TRANSFORM their (English) teaching so that students will have creative and engaging learning opportunities", and where there are also lots of ideas and resources to inspire our teaching of English for 2009. Of course having the website or resource to help us is only part of the picture but it is a start. I am looking forward to working with students again after such a long break.