Saturday, 30 September 2017

3/4 through the year. What I've learnt about teaching in an open space.



I have realised that having thought that teaching in an open space to be daunting, it is even more so to many kids to do their learning in such a space.
Being told to choose to work independently on a choice of set tasks seems to inevitably result in nothing being chosen and no work taking place. I've learnt that as appealing as options are, they need to be offered up in a contained, achievable package. Work needs to be closely monitored with clearly communicated expectations and great feedback. Teachers need to be touching base with kids regularly, pushing, challenging and supporting them. Meeting them individually and in smaller groups. Making sure that they are being made accountable and expected to do their best (a levelled criteria can help here).
I've learnt that large classes need teachers to be on the same page and be totally supportive of each other. There needs to be open, honest dialogue and in an ideal context, a relationship, a friendship, and a sense of humour goes without saying.
I've learnt that information about kids needs to be shared, no matter how inane. Eg. Knowing that someone's cat died last night can help hugely.
I've learnt that planning needs to be shared and owned by all teachers.
I've learnt that not everyone likes rugby, not everyone likes coding. There needs to be differentiation across the curriculum, but kids should be expected to try everything, but it might need different packaging ;)
There needs to be leadership. Not the dominating, fear of God kind of leader but someone who motivates and supports the teachers, who leads and guides a space, someone who can be depended on and trusted. Someone who the kids love, but don't fear. Someone who brings the space together.
Like any classroom, there needs to be clear expectations with clear consequences that are adhered to by all teachers at all times.
There also needs to be an atmosphere of kindness, understanding and aroha that permeates everything.

Thursday, 4 May 2017

The test that was term 1


It's a surprisingly big step moving from a single cell class to a 3 teacher, 84 kid set up, especially one where the kids and the school culture are both new to you. Consequently, I found the past term a big challenge but one that was sprinkled with some successes.

The challenges 
Making use of the space
The teaching space is an old library with lots of corners, walls, few windows, little rooms. It does not make an ideal space for teaching such a large number of children. There are lots of places to hide and place yourself out of the view of a teacher. The make up of the physical space makes noise an issue as well. Although systems have been put in place in term 2 to help manage this issue it is still a daily challenge and the simplest tasks, the simple transitions take much longer and become bigger issues than they should.
Being part of a team
There is a real need for teachers working collaboratively to be on the same page, with similar priorities and values. Their approach can be different but the underlying beliefs need to be closely aligned. Also, any grumblings or concerns need to be shared and discussed. I think, on the whole, my team is in the same book, not necessarily on the same page. Systems that are introduced are not challenged or there is at least a feeling that "she'll be right". This is partly my fault as I don't want to be the one who rocks the boat, partly because I am the the teacher newest to the school. My personal goal here is to be more open to initiating those difficult conversations.
Knowing the kids
It hard to get to know so many children and especially hard when you've learnt that relationships are key to success at school. I felt I got to know the younger kids who were a constant with me in class but I felt I didn't know many of the older kids as well as I should which has been both frustrating and disappointing.      
Establishing routines and systems
Disruptions caused by teacher sickness and 3 class camps made it very difficult to set up and maintain routines and systems.What had been carefully set up one week was undone the next as kids returned to class having being away for a week, or relief teachers took centre stage in the classroom.

The Successes
Taking ownership & creating expectations
With the more established teachers out of the classroom for 2 and 4 weeks respectively I felt I was the only adult constant in the class. It was up to me to become the rock for the class and manage all apsects of the day to day. With the help of some great relief teachers I felt we achieved this, in spite of the challenges. The biggest of which was the simple fact that the kids didn't know me well. I was the new teacher from Auckland who was new to the school and didn't know how things happened here. The senior teacher with over 10 years experience here and the PRT who'd been a face at the school for 2 years were not in the picture. It was time for boundaries to be pushed. But boundaries and expectations were set and a degree of normalcy was created.
Connections
In spite of the challenges I feel I have started to connect with a chunk of the kids Not to the extent that I think I could have in a smaller class but enough to enable a positive rapport. Most of these relationships are with the younger kids who I accompanied on camp.