When you come in here... (Classroom Tour)

Most bloggers post classroom tours in August or September but at Tale of Two Teachers we believe in keeping things realistic for our readers and I did not have my act together to post anything about my classroom before November... So here you go!

When you come in here... you feel welcome, loved and ready to learn. 

This was my one and only goal this year in setting up my room. I don’t use a theme. I don’t follow the “rules” about minimalism or colour or perfect organization. This was my only goal and although I’m still working out some kinks, a class environment is more than the space and I feel that I’m meeting my goal in many ways.

Tables for working and lots of space for our morning talking circles
Our Cozy Book Nook
Global Read Aloud board with postcards from other classes
First People's Principles of Learning and Reminders board
They aren't neat but they are full of learning!
Our organization board for FreshGrade portfolios - a work in progress
Our caricatures and symbol names from the first week - So much fun!
Our Learning Targets and Essential Questions
Growth Mindset Board - A classroom essential!

It's not perfect but it works!

I love my room, the giant space, tons of bulletin boards and beautiful windows. Our space is about being welcome and loved and about learning.

My bulletin boards aren’t straight, and it drives me crazy about 50% of the time. But we are using them for our learning and I don’t have time to fix them right now.

My book bins aren’t labeled and my categories are all messed up. But kids are reading like crazy and talking about the books they’ve read.

My tables are now in rows instead of groups. But we are focused during quiet work time and spend plenty of time up and moving with partners and working with partners/groups.

And that's our classroom!


November Eve

Long time no chat!

Has anyone else's start up been BANANAS this year? Everything is great but I feel like I'm just finally coming up for a breath... How is tomorrow November already?!

Since I haven't written anything on here since June (thanks to Karley for checking in more regularly!), be prepared for what is probably the longest post I've written - updates, rants, and excitement all included. I'll start with an update on life and teaching in general - bullet point style since it's been so long!

  • The main ideas from one of my courses this July.

    In July I was away for the month working on my Master's courses. The first course was one of the most positive, life affirming, job love filled experiences I've had and the second course had me thinking deeply about so many issues in Education. It was a lot of work and hard to be away from home but so, so worthwhile!

  • In August I had some vacation time, ran the SeaWheeze, did a little Masters work and a little teaching prep, set up my new classroom, attended some weddings, spent time with my family and friends
  • In September I started up my new classroom with a wonderful new group of students. It came with all the bumps of switching schools again but I have a beautiful, huge new classroom and a fun, energetic, hard-working group of grade sixers. September is the month for building class community and relationships. We also got possession of our new condo (our first time buying!) which was exciting, slightly terrifying, and crazy busy! We painted most of the living spaces in that first week so after school each day it was go time. After that we moved all of our stuff in from storage but stayed a little longer with my parents so we could take our time setting things up (such a gift!) And finally, my second to last Masters course started up and I got to see all those lovely friends and classmates that I had been missing for August.
  • In October, we officially moved into our place, had a family wedding, had our first house guests, and are starting to feel settled at home! At school, I have been working hard to establish a hard work culture in the classroom and we are really focusing in on our skills/competencies and our self-reflection of these skills. I also got to meet Susan Close of Smart Learning and watch her teaching in our school - it was an amazing opportunity and I have a lot of new tools to use in the classroom.

So what is November bringing?

Report Cards... Sigh! I had a minor panic yesterday over report cards and ended up feeling so frustrated with the system we are in. I know things are changing and we are sitting on the brink of a big shift in education but I feel so frustrated that I pour my work in September into developing a growth mindset with my students, and then in October we are focused on self-assessment and setting learning goals. We use positive language about where we are at, how much teacher help we currently need, and where we want to get to. I don't assign numerical values to our work, students get descriptive feedback and peer feedback. We get second chances after feedback has been given. And then it's time for a report card. I feel like I don't have enough done and need to rush through the learning process. I have to assign a letter grade that is supposed to sum up this term, but first term is the beginnings of growth and learning and just getting used to middle school. It's stressful for teachers, it takes away from developing learners to their potential, and it goes against what the research says about feedback. But now it's November, so here we go.

FreshGrade... Along with the report card rant comes my excitement over our electronic portfolios this year! I am working with an awesome team of teachers to collaborate one what we want portfolios to look like and we have a good system going so far. This will be a blog post in itself at some point but I feel that we are really getting the portfolios dialed in this year - Learning Goals, Artifact, Self-Assessment, Direct Feedback.

Presentations... I've applied to present at the Google Summit Conference in Victoria this month. I'm VERY nervous already but definitely excited too! I'm going to be going through my first inquiry project of the school year - How do we learn? We dove into brain research, growth mindset, and the First Peoples' Principles of Learning and then created "Learner Profiles" on Google Slides. I may regret writing about this here because my secret hope is that I have a very tiny group that shows up to my presentation since this is the first time I have done something like this.

French TPRS Unit #2... This isn't specifically a November item but I am feeling so excited about the TPRS units my two colleagues and I have developed. I have never had students so engaged and speaking so much French before - and it's only November! I wrote a bit about TPRS here. If you teach French or another second language and have the opportunity to go to a workshop on TPRS you have to go!

Masters Thesis... A few friends and I are having a "writing getaway" on Remembrance Day weekend to work on our theses projects. We found a beautiful little rental unit near some nature for writing breaks and I can't wait to get a good crack on writing! I may have changed my thesis topic this summer even though I'd already written 2.5 chapters of it... Typical! I'll write more about my topic once I wrap my head around it a little more.


The Dance Current - September/October issue feature

Several months ago I interviewed for the September/October issue of "The Dance Current", a Canadian dance magazine focusing on all aspects of dance (from dancer friendly recipes to various types of choreography).  I stumbled across the opportunity to be involved in this interview via social media and I am so grateful to have been selected as one of the featured dance teachers in this issue.

I am looking forward to another year of high school dance, while adding elementary dance and music to my teaching repertoire! I have many creative plans and thoughts and ideas bubbling constantly...I almost can't keep up with myself. More to come on the blog soon concerning my plans for the year!

You can purchase an online subscription of The Dance Current HERE.

Thank you to The Dance Current for featuring me, to Sarah Lochhead, for the interview and careful fact checking/follow up, and my former VP, Michelle Haidar, for immediately offering to proofread my writing. I am honoured to have had the opportunity to participate in this issue! This post is not sponsored.


Teachers on the Run

In November 2016 we were both lucky enough to snag an August 2017 entrance into SeaWheeze, lululemon's super fun  and scenic half-marathon.  While we co-write a blog and furiously text back and forth on the daily, we rarely get to spend quality one-on-one friend time together.  Thanks to SeaWheeze we had a full 24 hours (and 21.1 kilometers) to catch up in person!  Here are a few fun shots that weekend's adventure.

 

The SeaWheeze backdrops this year were gorgeous.

Meaghan contributing to the community fibre art project.
The very cool mandala tent over the meditation/foam roller station in Jack Poole Plaza.

 

Community yoga with 600+ people! Amazing!
Around the 16k mark at Lion's Gate Bridge (connecting Stanley Park and North Vancouver). I always get emotional when I first spot the bridge along this route because just across the water is where my high-risk baby was born. Thanks to Meaghan for capturing this memory for me.

 

We did it! Both of us were undertrained and slightly injured so we decided our mantra was, "just run, don't race".  We ran slowly, stuck to our run/walk intervals and adjusted them at 11k as our bodies started to fatigue.  We took care of ourselves during the run and we finished super strong! What a fantastic friend-date weekend - can't wait for next year!  Thanks lululemon and SeaWheeze.


Sucker Punch

Teaching is relationship.

This is what we believe. This is why we do this job.
This is what we work at day in and day out from the moment those students walk in the door in September.

And then it's June.

And you feel like you've been hit from behind.

Emotions are running wild.
You're happy and sad at the same time.
You're longing for break but the thought of saying goodbye seems so hard.

You are forced to look ahead to the next year and start thinking about new schools, new classrooms, new students, but you are also trying to soak up every last minute with your students. Your students are starting to push the limits a little more, listen a little less, and sometimes they appear to be intentionally driving you crazy. But these are the students that you have tirelessly worked to understand and respect and get to know.

Karley's Thoughts

Nothing can prepare me for June. The month of June always seems to drag along slowly, but then suddenly the entire school year is over in the blink of an eye.  Ten months of the year are full on with school, students, relationships, shared struggles and triumphs and then suddenly...they're done, all because the month of June ends.  The end of a school year is, for me, a grieving process. The goodbyes, the transition, the mental/physical/emotional/spiritual sheer exhaustion takes a toll on me. And then the fact that this year I am moving schools again is a whole different reason to grieve (although this move was my choice, and not just because my contract ended). So I sit here tonight on the last day of June entirely depleted.  I have cried so hard today and my heart has been full of love and sadness all at the same time.  June sucks, in more ways than one. Soldier on, warrior educators.

Meaghan's Thoughts

Every year this is the hardest part of the job. Saying goodbye. Forever, really. Besides the occasional run in at the mall or an email years later, this is the last time I will get to really see and connect with these kids of mine. It seems so unfair when you have put so much heart and soul into every relationship you have built. It's the time of year when I start to question everything - Did I do enough? Did I try enough? Did I notice enough?

It's heartbreaking on so many levels. And yet this is it. We do it every year because with that heartbreak comes a pretty incredible experience to have an influence on the life of a child for ten months. It is worth it, I know it is. We are so lucky to have a job that makes goodbyes hard.

But it sure does sneak up on me every year -

An Emotional Sucker Punch!


Favourite Things This Year

As promised here are 8 of my favourite things from this school year: some new and some old, but all wonderful in different ways.
*I would love to hear more about things you tried out this year - Please let us know in the comments!

TPRS (Teaching Proficiency through Reading and Storytelling)

This has been one of the most drastic and successful changes I’ve made to my teaching practice. It was a totally new and different approach to teaching French that I was introduced to by a few colleagues at a workshop. I love it and can’t wait to explore more with this starting at the beginning of the year next year. More info here.

Reading Groups

I was fortunate enough to have my class be part of a grant for guided reading/reading groups in middle school. For those elementary teachers you will know exactly what I mean, but guided reading isn't common in middle school. I was provided release time to benchmark all of my students and then we formed groups based on reading level and interest. Students started off with some high interest readers and nonfiction texts and then we moved into at level novels. Not only did 25 of my 27 students go up at least one grade level (or remain at grade 6 level) but it also had my whole class discussing books and wanting to read the books others were doing. Amazing! Plus small group instruction is a dream, right?

FreshGrade

I have used FreshGrade before but this was the first year that I used it for reporting. I really loved the way it forced me to be more flexible in my thinking of assessment and it was a great communication tool with parents. There are definitely ways I want to tweak it next year and I really need to step up my organization game!

Human Body Case Studies

This year I taught our human body systems through a case study model where students were presented a case study of a patient and had to play doctor to research, diagnosis, and treat the patient. There were a few things I need to change before I do it again but all in all it was really interesting and a lot of fun! I even had my friend who is an emergency room doctor come in for a Q&A with both classes. Real world science!

Close Reading Passages

This was one of those goldmine TPT finds from The Sweetest Thing (TeachersPayTeachers) At level reading passages with good thinking questions and all of the info you need to put together an effective guided reading or close reading program in your classroom. PLUS they are content relevant - Seriously amazing! I think this is the best product I've ever purchased on TPT and they really enhanced my science curriculum this year.

Global Read Aloud

First of all, Pax is such an amazing story! I absolutely loved the book and so did my class. I also really loved being a part of this bigger community and the Mystery Skype’s were really fun. I’m hoping to continue with this project next year and to be more intentional with my planning and how I participate. I haven't decided which book yet for grade 6 but I'm leaning towards "A Long Walk To Water." More info here

Pigs Fly Day

This is a classroom favourite every year and I was so excited to bring it back. One of the BEST activities that students suggested this year was a singing competition. I read that and thought, "No way will this work.” It was honestly one of the best things we did all year! The way they listened to each other and complimented everyone after was amazing. Such a great community building activity in my class.

Collaborative Math Teams

I talked about this one at the beginning of the year but dove into it in January. It is the number one thing my students talk about at the end of the year when they discuss math and it really improved not only their math talk but also their communication and collaboration skills. I will definitely be doing it again. (I highly recommend the Educating Now course if you are going to jump into this one).

Those are the highlights that I can remember right now - I'm sure there were more that I'm forgetting though!

Please let me know what worked well for you this year - I would love to see this post become a resource of awesome things to try out.


Next Year News

Well if you are in our district you already know this but this week was all about JOBS!

Our round of open postings closed last Thursday and it has been a fury of phone calls, texts, emails, and Facebook posts ever since. And in the wake of it we each have some news for you!

Meaghan's Job News

Since I have one more year of my Masters degree my goal with my job applications was a grade 6 job. (Teach the same grade two years in a row?! Is that a thing people do?) Well I ended up with a full time continuing grade 6 job at one of my top picks for schools. I know quite a few of the staff I will be working with and I just know it is the perfect fit for me next year. I am feeling so lucky and I really just can't believe it! I have some big goals for my class next year and all of the things I'll be able to do since I've already had a crack at the grade 6 curriculum. There has been a lot of dreaming in my head of the changes I want to make in my teaching practice based on some of the experiences I've had this year. Stay tuned for an end of year post of my favourite things from this year!

The one downside being that I really, really love the school I'm at this year and saying goodbye is hard... But that's just life isn't it?

Karley's Job News

My plan for the 2017/2018 school year was to stay in the current contracts I have.  One of my contracts this year was a temporary job, but it was posted as a continuing contract this round so I applied for it and I got it! I am so happy to be the official dance teacher at the high school I work at and I am really looking forward to developing our small, but amazing, program.  The high school students I worked with this year were such dedicated individuals and I can't wait to carry on teaching them in September!

The plot twist in my plan came into place on June 1st, when I noticed a dance/music job was posted at an elementary school very close to my house.  I wasn't sure if I wanted to leave my middle school to dive into the elementary world, but I decided to apply for the posting anyhow.  I ended up being the most senior/qualified applicant, so I also got that continuing contract! Now I am an elementary (K-5) and high school (9-12) dance (and elementary music) teacher in a .92 continuing contract! I can't believe it's only been five years since I graduated from university and now I am in an almost full time continuing job that I LOVE.  Life is good.

 

Congratulations to all the teachers out their landing in new roles and receiving that official continuing job! It's exciting times in this province and we are so grateful to be a part of it.


Cult of Pedagogy's Book Club

Exciting news!

One of our favourite teacher leaders, Jen, who blogs at Cult of Pedagogy, has launched her summer 2017 online book club and we are so excited to be participating this year! We decided to divide and conquer this online book club because even though we will be on our summer break soon, we still have a Masters happening (Meaghan) and a toddler to chase (Karley). We love how Jen chose the books for this summer's study via Facebook voting and we are intrigued by the relaxed approach this study will take. 

The first book up on the reading list is "The Hate U Give" by Angie Thomas.  Karley will read this one and partake in the online discussion because she has had her eye on it for a few weeks already.  Read the book and be ready to join the discussion, which starts June 14th! Click HERE and head on over to Cult of Pedagogy for more information on this summer's book club.

Happy reading everyone!

 


Lion King Jr. Musical

Hi everyone (specifically those of you in SD61),

This is a promotional post for my school's Jr. Musical, The Lion King.  I just got home from opening night and felt I should share on the blog about the show.  First of all, I got teary eyed several times.  Yep - seriously.  There is nothing like seeing "your kids" shine up on stage and truly own their role.  Because I teach the entire student population I got the "extra" gift of knowing every single student in the show! It was so neat to see each performer come to life in a way I sometimes don't necessarily get to see in the day to day life at school.  The performing arts are such a unique and important part of a school culture because students get the opportunity to become part of a tightly knit school community in a way they may not have experienced before.  Every single student I saw perform tonight put hours and hours into the preparation of this show and, as one of their teachers, it is so gratifying to see their hard work pay off in such an enjoyable and authentic manner.

Of course the staff and parents involved in the show's creation, from start to finish, also work super hard! 

Some of my favourite parts of the show include:

-the giraffe costumes (long necks and legs!)
-the background dancers/singers (such beautiful and subtle choreography and voices)
-Pumba and Timone (so well cast, these two individuals are the same characters in real life)
-the lead roles' singing! Amazing!
-the antelope (antelope?) in the stampede...incredible mask artwork and interesting stampede choreography for such a small stage space
-the hyenas (also brilliantly cast) were hilariously on point
-simple props on stage really allowed for the acting, singing and dancing to light up the theatre

I felt I should let you all know to go see The Lion King at Spectrum's theatre on Friday or Saturday evening (May 26th and 27th). Tickets are $10 for adults and $7 for students.  This middle school production is pretty fantastic!

Well done, Shoreline! You are all so wonderful!


The Golden Shoes

It has been a quiet four months on this blog; the unintended break was necessary, though. Since January Meaghan and I have both been working through some deeply personal "stuff".  We are willing to share some of it on the internet because our "stuff" has informed and impacted our teaching in various ways.

Early 2017 found me seeking professional counseling (for the first time) after a term of crying in my principal/vice principal's office every two weeks.  I thought I was going to counseling for birth trauma related issues and, while that is partially true, it turns out I had decades worth of other issues to work out as well. Funny how that works, hey?  After so much reflection, conversation with a trusted small circle and meditation I finally feel like I've got a slight handle on my head and my heart.

One of the reasons I haven't been blogging very much at all is because since September I've honestly felt like I don't have very much to contribute to this blog; I "just" teach dance, after all.  Self-worth and self-love were a hot topic of my counseling sessions this past winter. Also, my life is very busy; I have an active toddler, a house and a garden to keep, a husband who works full time and who just finished a 1.5 year renovation on our house, it's half marathon season again (how?!) and I work .7 FTE between two schools.  I'll be honest and say that when I do have those rare free hours of time I am actively choosing to not blog.  But then a funny thing happened to me tonight and I felt the familiar bubbling of a blog post idea surface and I quickly realized that maybe it was time to log back on to Wordpress.  So here I am and here are the Golden Shoes:

How awesome are those shoes? They belong to my sister; she wears them casually like how I wear TOMS, but her cool status is so far off the charts that she actually pulls those golden beauties off like she's Beyoncé.

Tonight my sister and I met for our weekly Monday spin at our gym and as soon as I set up my bike I realized I'd forgotten my runners in my kitchen. Since my daughter was born I engage in these "I'm getting dumber every day" moments all the time. It's a minor miracle if I know where my wallet is at any given moment and I am not even kidding. This newfound forgetfulness is frustrating for me because I never used to be this dumb.  In fact, I used to be so smart.  Part of this struggle seeps into my belief that maybe I'm just not smart enough (or good enough) to teach in a "regular" classroom or do a Masters degree.  Maybe I "just" teach dance because I'm too dumb to teach anything else right now.  I've been turning that idea over since September when I decided to go back into the school studio as a dance teacher.

So, I left my runners at home, but my sister had the Golden Shoes in her bag.  She offered me her sweet golden kicks and at first I thought, "No way! I can't spin in these!", but my other option was to spin in eight year old Birkenstocks so I tried the Golden Shoes on.  They fit, kind of. I decided to stick it out for as long as I could because I love my Monday spin class and I was already at the gym. After thirty minutes of spinning in golden high tops my feet started to blister and I decided to ditch the class early because, as I mentioned above, it's early in half marathon training season and I didn't want to waste my feet that much. I left my spin class early (I quit!), but I did my best with what I had for as long as I could. I quit.  Am I a quitter? I totally could have pushed harder. If only I wasn't so dumb then maybe I'd get a real workout in.  Was this spin class even worth it? Does the fact that I "just" teach dance mean that I'm a quitter in my career, too? What if I quit on my big dreams for my dance program? Can I do this alone?

Next year some big changes are happening at my middle school and I'm not sure yet if I'll be teaching at the high school again.  It's May, which interestingly is a season of major (impending) transition in BC schools. The unknown is both heart breaking and terrifying for me; I'll be the first to admit, I do not like change from what is already "a good thing".  I feel like doing my best with what I have for as long as I can is slowly becoming my teaching mantra.  I am so lucky to have this random skill set that allows me to teach school dance, which is something I truly love. I really do work hard at my job, despite the fact that it is, dare I say, easy for me.  And my dance teaching job is a real job, despite what many people might think.  One day the time will come to quit the studio and go back into the classroom, just like how I quit the classroom to go in to the studio. I'm learning that life's seasons will wisely guide me if I just slow down and lean in to the guidance. Thank you, counseling sessions and meditation.

Thanks to my sister's Golden Shoes for serving as an inspiration to me tonight.  It looks like I'm back on the blog!