The Downside to "Doing it All"

Like a lot of people these days, I am guilty of trying to do it all!  This isn't a newly developed habit - my parents can easily recall many Wednesday's of 5-6 different practices before and after school (self-imposed not parent driven). And then came university where I worked as many as 5 different jobs at one point in time, putting in 20 hours a week, alongside my 6 classes and hours of volunteer work. Why? Because I have this fear that I might miss out on something...

A day in the life...
A day in the life...

So when it came to my first year of teaching it was only natural to try to do it all. I wanted to teach, coach, volunteer... whatever opportunities came up! And the school I'm at has a staff that makes so many amazing events happen all the time that there was a ton of opportunity for me. Also, I am still working a couple of jobs outside of teaching and subbing to add to the chaos that is my schedule.

Throughout the fall I rushed to basketball practices or games when the bell rang. During the winter it was volleyball. And I really loved it! I really love coaching and seeing kids outside of the classroom. I think it's amazing to see them perform in such a different way and I was able to get to know a select number of my students in an informal setting - awesome!

But guess what? I was missing out on something. Something big! Since spring break I've been around in my classroom when the bell rings and some of my students stick around to chat at the end of the day. They tell me things that are going on at school or at home, they ask me about my day and my life, and they stay - almost every day. It's not just a couple of students like coaching; since I've stopped coaching I've had a full, uninterrupted conversation with almost every single student in my class.

I'm not going to give up on coaching or volunteering because I think those are important parts of what makes a school a community and I really do love the experiences I have with students outside of school. But I have realized that having time for my students fosters my relationships, and relationships are the single most important part of my job and the reason I love it so much. Maybe I'll just choose one sport to coach and help out with projects that I can do from my classroom. Or maybe I'll find a way to better balance practice times with my schedule when I'm not just part-time teaching.

All I know for sure is that I will not and cannot sacrifice relationship building in hopes of "doing it all" because then I'm missing the most important piece.

How do you balance extra-curriculars with your teaching schedule?

What is the best part of coaching or running clubs for you?

Meaghan


Feel Good Friday!

"Feel Good Friday" (FGF) is a classroom community building activity I learned about in grade 11 from my fantastic psychology teacher, the one and only Cathy Faust (now a dear friend and mentor).  The intention of FGF is to make people around you feel GOOD (hence the name, "Feel GOOD Friday").  FGF obviously takes place on Fridays and can be a full day affair if one so chooses.  I initiated FGF in the classrooms I taught in during my practicum experiences; all the students I worked with loved the opportunity to spread some anonymous kindness in their respective classrooms.

Feel Good Friday was part of our Friday Advisory schedule during my final practicum in a grade 7/8 class.
Feel Good Friday was part of our Friday Advisory schedule during my final practicum in a grade 7/8 class.

This is how FGF works (in my experience, anyhow): During advisory block in the morning I hand out slips of blank paper to all students.  My students write their name on the slip of paper and return back to me; I then redistribute the slips of paper, ensuring each student receives a person (kind of like "Secret Santa", if you will).  The FGF notes are to be written to the person students are "assigned", but left anonymous.  Once all notes are written, I collect them and keep them at my desk until the end of the day.  During my lunch break I read through the FGF notes and rewrite any that are not the kindest of messages.  At the end of the school day, right before the bell, I make a big deal about handing out the FGF messages.  It's the best part of the day (for me and the students!) because I get to send them off on their weekends with smiling faces and they get to kick start their weekends knowing they did a kindness to someone in their immediate community (plus, they get to read nice things people have to say about them).  Win-win.

A FGF message from my final practicum class.
A FGF message from my final practicum class.
A FGF message that went a little deeper than "on the surface" appearance compliments.
A FGF message that went a little deeper than "on the surface" appearance compliments. I love that "cool" is crossed out...

Unfortunately, I have had to rewrite FGF notes a few times, but my note rewriting has ended up being a learning experience for my students in the form of a class conversation about what makes a true FGF message.  For example, we talk about the seriousness of this activity and the amazing impact a thoughtful, meaningful message can have on a person.  I have mentioned to students in the past that we might not be the best of friends with everyone in our class, and that is okay, but we CAN be friendLY to one another; therefore, I should not hear any groaning when students are assigned someone who is not their friend.  In the past we have also talked about what a deep, meaningful message is.  For example, "You have cool shoes" is not deep and meaningful, but "I think your shoes are cool and I think your personal style is unique; you are a true individual!" is slightly more meaningful.  I know it might take some students a while to get to the point where they can eloquently articulate their kind comments...but trust me, TRUST THEM and GUIDE THEM with quality examples and they will get there!!

My beloved mentor and former teacher, Cathy Faust, (mentioned at the beginning of this post) initiated FGF in our Friday classes for the entire semester when I was in grade 11.  I remember thinking I wanted to be a teacher just like her when I grew up.  I wanted to love and inspire my students and guide them with positive opportunities to make meaningful change in the world around them.  Cathy left FGF as her legacy and I feel it is my responsibility to carry on her legacy in my own teaching practice, so that's precisely what I do.  I love it!

I also love when I find "white board graffiti" such as this on my boards...isn't this beautiful?
I also love when I find "white board graffiti" such as this on my boards...isn't this beautiful?

Karley


Living Language Learning

As you may have read here I recently got back from 3 weeks in Iceland, Italy and France. I went with a couple of friends from university and we met up with our friend who is teaching English in France this year. The trip was amazing for many reasons but in particular this was my first time traveling since becoming a "real teacher" and I felt like I was constantly on the lookout for teaching inspiration.

Reykjavik, St. Emilion, Florence, Monaco
Reykjavik, Saint-Émilion, Florence, Monaco

I could probably write a book about the many ways travel has informed my teaching but in this post I'll stick to my transforming views on language learning this trip.

When I started teaching French this year I really wanted to get across how French has helped me in my life so far. I shared a couple of stories of learning French in Quebec with the Katimavik program and a travel story or two from backpacking through Europe (the favourite being when a taxi tried to drop us off in an alley way in residential Paris around midnight after a flight got in - probably the most happy I've been to communicate effectively in another language).

After I shared those stories there seemed to be a bit of understanding of the usefulness of knowing French (besides job opportunities in Canada) and I went on teaching FSL the way I have always done - lots of games and illustrated writing along with verb conjugation and oral practice... relatively fun but very basic.

And then came Italy...

Finally getting to visit Pompeii after reading a book about it when I was 12 years old...
Finally getting to visit Pompeii...

I have been to Italy once before but never learned a lot of the language and I'd forgotten most of what I had picked up. So when we arrived in Rome I started again and tried to practice some simple phrases here and there. It wasn't until we got to Naples that I really started picking up more Italian though.

One night we went to a bunch of little markets to get ingredients for dinner. By using a lot of hand gestures we were able to gather most of what we needed and practice the Italian names for the ingredients.

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Our dinner made from local Italian ingredients

We had a blast chatting with the locals and practicing our Italian. I had such a great time trying to communicate and count out change in Italian that it really got me thinking on the walk home... That is how you learn a language! Through immersion mixed with necessity and fun! How can we create these "living" language experiences in the classroom?

When I returned, I was on a mission to create authentic language learning in my classroom. Two month long French projects later and I've discovered that yes it's possible to start to create these experiences but WOW is it going to take a lot of planning! My goal is to start incorporating drama and art into the FSL classroom to try to create some living language learning experiences.

It's a work in progress but I'll keep you updated on how it is going... And, as always, I would love to hear your comments and advice on this topic:

How do you think we can create more authentic experiences in the classroom?

What are your "go-to" plans for teaching foreign languages?

Where have you travelled and what are your favourite travel memories?

Meaghan


A Reflection from my First Pro-D Day

This past week I had the opportunity to participate in my first official in school Pro-D Day! I was very excited to experience Pro-D as a "real" teacher.  Pro-D stands for Professional Development; a lot of time and planning goes in to professionally developing teachers.  The Pro-D team at my school did a fantastic job organizing this day...thank you, guys!

The morning of our Pro-D Day began with self-regulating activities of choice including: running, walking, drawing, playing board games or yoga.  As teachers, we are a model to our students and our societies in all that we do, whether we like it or not.  I love that our Pro-D Day began with self-regulating activities of choice; by participating in these activities I think we modeled to our fellow colleagues the importance of personal wellness.  I taught the yoga portion of the morning and eleven of my fabulous colleagues attended my class.  Starting my Pro-D Day in a calm, balanced environment really set the tone for how I learned during the day.  Note: This was my first opportunity to combine my two biggest passions: yoga and public education.  Thanks to my amazing admin team for allowing me this experience!

Planning my Pro-D Day contribution -  a yoga class for my colleagues!
Planning my Pro-D Day contribution - a yoga class for my colleagues!
My yoga mat, notes/quotes and special phrases for my "students".
My yoga mat, notes/quotes and special phrases for my "students".

Our late morning found us grouped together in the library discussing teaching, our roles as teachers, and watching a few TEDTalk videos by some brilliant and empowering individuals, one of which was Rita Pierson.  Take seven minutes to watch her talk on why every child needs a champion; she is incredible:

Our afternoon found us in small focus groups discussing literacy, math manipulatives or self-regulation (our choice).  I chose the literacy group and was blown away by the amazing resources and lesson plans available in my school's library.  Because I am a dance/drama teacher this year I do not have *much* use for literacy based resources right now, but I will one day.  I am sure grateful for my school's lovely librarian and the dedicated literacy team for putting this workshop together!   Our day finished with a delicious lunch hosted by our PAC (Parent Advisory Committee).  I loved having the opportunity to sit and share food and discussion with some of my colleagues.

As a new teacher, I thoroughly enjoyed this Pro-D Day.  I am used to collaborating and sharing teaching related ideas with fellow student teachers because I am so fresh out of University, but this Pro-D Day took professional development to a whole new level for me.  I am looking forward to the year of professional development days to come...I know I am definitely going to need them!

Delicious specialty muffins, gorgeous lilacs and Starbucks coffee to get this Pro D Day going!
Delicious specialty muffins, gorgeous lilacs and Starbucks coffee to get this Pro D Day going!

 

What has been your most favourite Pro-D Day and why?

What is your favourite part of Rita Pierson's TED Talk?

Karley


Let's Talk About... Politics!

So here in BC we just had an election this week - which means there was a lot of political talk in schools (and everywhere else!) During a discussion with a friend she asked me how I teach about politics without letting my personal views sway students one way or the other. I explained how I like to draw the opinions out of conversation from students and tap into their critical thinking skills but this question really got me thinking about what and how we share political information with our students.

I really believe that being an informed voter is more about critical thinking than anything else - especially with the heavy role the media plays in everything! In middle school, critical thinking skills are often at the root of daily lessons, but when it comes to political discussions they are at the forefront.

About a week before the election I was subbing in a class where I had to teach a Social Studies lesson about the platforms of the different parties and help students discover who they wanted to vote for in the Student Vote the following week. Being an opinionated... mmm VERY opinionated... voter myself, I had to consciously think about the words I was choosing to explain different party platforms. There were many important issues in this election (Enbridge pipeline in particular) and it was really interesting to hear what the students thought of the main issues.

During this lesson I discovered what a wealth of knowledge these students have and how their own passions are really going to drive their ideas of what is important. Like the student who said he didn't care about "any of this voting stuff" until the issue of care for people with disabilities came up and struck a chord with him personally. Or the students who thought taxes should be eliminated altogether until we brainstormed the things that would be lost without tax money.

These students had so much to offer in terms of their ideas and opinions that by the end of it I realized how little my opinion even mattered in the discussion. I could really see how much richer the discussion was when there wasn't a right answer or easy solution. It was an amazing experience witnessing this group of kids digging deeper into those real questions: "What do I care about?" "Why does this matter to me?" "What kind of future do I want to be a part of?"

Let's just say that this teacher was learning a lot! ...And hopefully the kids were too (BC is definitely in need of a young generation of voters!)

How do you approach political discussions in your classroom?

What is the best way to engage the indifferent when it comes to these conversations and debates?

The most important part of Democracy...
The most important part of Democracy...

Meaghan


First Year Teacher Illnesses

I think we can all agree that being sick is the worst.  Take, for example, last weekend in Victoria.  It was gorgeous and sunny and full on summer...and I was sick on the couch with a fever for the majority of that 30 degree day.  Enter one of the worst things about our profession - constant barrage of germs.

Unlike Meaghan, I cruised through the first half of this school year unscathed by students' germs.  I began to wonder what this "first year teacher illness" thing was about, because it sure had not been a problem for me.  Then one fateful day, around early January, a scratchy throat came on.  This day marked the beginning to my first year teacher illness escapade.

I am an exploratory teacher and I teach dance/music at two schools (middle and elementary) which means I am physically active for 100% of my teaching days.  Let me tell you, teaching dance/music when sick is not good times.  Last weekend when I was sick I had to book myself as "unavailable" for one of my TOC days.  As I logged in my sick day I noticed an interesting pattern on my account; the last time I booked a sick day was right before Spring Break, which occurred, incidentally, with the rotation of new students.  At that moment a little light bulb went off..."DING! New rotation of students = new germs = Mrs. Alleyn is most likely going to get sick." Case closed.  A new rotation of students means my energy levels need to be through the roof.  It's not always easy selling a dance class to Grade 8s, but I've found that if I am totally engaged in my dance classes, then my students will be quicker to buy in.  This means I am warming up and doing conditioning exercises and leaps, turns, jumps, and choreography for all six blocks for at least three consecutive weeks.  Fewf.  No wonder my body tends to crash and burn during these rotation switches.

The elementary side of things is different.  My music job is still fairly active, but I swear the germs manifest and mutate at a more rapid pace in elementary school because kids are still picking their noses and coughing into  the open air (or their hands).  And then they want to hold your hand while you walk them back to class (inward cringe).  Let it be known that I am not the teacher or person who denies a child a held hand in the hallway; however, I definitely stop at the washroom on my way back to the music room to scrub my hands vigorously while singing "Happy Birthday".  So. Gross.

I'm still new to this, so I'm curious about:

- what preventative health methods do you use to keep your body healthy and your energy levels up while sickness roams the halls?

- does one's immune system ever strengthen and balance out in the teaching world?

peace&love (and health!)

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I have been known to sport this attractive fever-busting look in public. Here I am on a train in Germany, trying to enjoy my vaca, but really not enjoying it at all.

Karley


Book Tale: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

One of my favourite books is "Animal, Vegetable, Miracle" by Barbara Kingsolver.  I ate up everything this book had to offer during my first read through, but now that I have a giant yard and garden of my own to cultivate, the second reading is even more meaningful.  Kingsolver aims to encourage people (North Americans in particular) to observe their food purchasing and consuming habits, while documenting and striving to feed her own family on homegrown and local foods.  This book also serves as a cry for curriculum change in schools.  As Kingsolver says, "If this book is not exactly an argument for reinstating food production classes in schools (and it might be), it does contain a whole lot of what you might learn there" (p. 9).

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver. Even more beautiful sans price sticker!

Karley


Creating Safe Spaces

Somewhere between Spring Break and now the tone in my classroom changed. I can't pinpoint when it happened or why I didn't notice the change until recently...

Well, let's put it in perspective - I teach a lively group of middle schoolers who love to laugh and joke with myself and each other. Since I started in the job this has been one of the highlights, I just love how much I get to laugh out loud when I'm at work! The jokes have almost always been harmless and respectful... nothing to worry about I thought.

And then the switch happened. At some point the jokes became hurtful and I found myself in a disciplinary role far more often. I've been told that it's common at this time of year, when the weather is nice and the kids are getting restless. I understand that part but I feel as if there must be something more. When did laughing with one another turn to laughing at one another? And why is this way of interacting deemed acceptable in some settings?

After talking with some other teachers and friends, I decided to have the "adult" conversation and let them know that I felt the way they were joking with one another wasn't okay. We talked about how just because you think something is funny and on the outside the other person is laughing doesn't mean that what you are saying isn't hurtful. After that it has been easier to monitor what's going on, reminding them of the conversation we had. So far it's working but I am just hoping each day that it will last.

What do you do to make your classroom a safe space?

Any thoughts on the "End-of-School" attitude shift?

Be well,

Meaghan


Dreams Coming True

When I was nine years old I became a rhythmic gymnast.  Pre-gymnastics I figure skated and did jazz and ballet.  Post-gymnastics I did musical theater and began coaching.  Last year I completed my yoga teacher training.  At the ripe age of 26 I can confidently say that rhythmic gymnastics/dance/movement has been part of my life for seventeen years, so you can imagine my sheer excitement when I landed my first ever teaching contract as the dance teacher at an amazing middle school!

KARLEY CLUBS 2
Here I am at 14 or 15, doing my thing during one of my favourite clubs routines at Nationals.

My experience as a middle school dance teacher has been one of the most engaging, inspiring and energizing experiences of my life thus far.  It is so incredible to witness my students learning about themselves kinesthetically.  I have always been a firm believer in multiple intelligences and differentiated instruction; however, having the dance studio as my classroom this year has further solidified what I believe to be pedagogically true.  In a few short months I have witnessed academically low students take huge leadership risks and roles in the studio.  I have seen the kids who think they "aren't good at anything" become star dancers and choreographers.  I even managed to convince two groups of students that they indeed were good enough to perform in front of the whole school (a big deal for middle schoolers!) and man, did they ever enjoy that entire experience!

Getting our Time Warp on!
Getting our Time Warp on!

*confession: one of my life dreams was to either be present when a flash mob occurred OR take part in a flash mob.  My grade 7s were well aware of this little dream of mine, so for my 26th birthday gift my students and I prepared a flash mob.  My incredible admin team arranged an assembly and did we ever flash mob during that assembly! Shout out to my 7s for making my dreams come true on my birthday!

I plan to rave some more about my studio and my students because I just love my job and my life at school! Stay tuned for more amazing stories from the studio; there are guaranteed to be at least three new ones this week :)

peace&love,

Karley

Do you have any "secret" life dreams?

Do you plan differentiated instruction based lessons? If so, what are your favourites?

Just love my "classroom"!
Just love my "classroom"!

Welcome to our blog!

We are so excited to be starting our blog! We've been dreaming up this project for a while and finally had the time to get started. Our plan is to blog about our first year teaching experiences (and beyond), lesson successes and fails, and the stories that come along with the profession. We are just starting out but we really LOVE our job! Stay tuned for our first few posts.  We plan to post twice a week (Karley one day, Meaghan another day).