Rock climbing; risky fun

New rock climbing wall in the adventure playground: An accident waiting to happen or risky fun in a safe environment? A reflection on risk & play in schools.  

Friday duty on the Adventure playground. I was dreading it for one main reason… the new rock climbing wall.

As I walked down to the playground, I was taking a few deep breaths thinking of what I would do when students fall off and hurt themselves. When I got there students jumped up and started to climb. I opened my mouth to ask them to get off thinking of an excuse like ‘it’s too wet from the rain’ just so I wouldn’t have to deal with any incidents. But I stopped myself. ‘Let’s just see what happens’ I thought.

As I watched I decided to change my mindset. Instead of thinking of all the things that could go wrong I started to watch as everything was going right. 

However, even with this mindset I was still waiting for the usual incidents to occur that I usually have to deal with whilst on duty. e.g. hands on, cuts and grazes from falling over, using unkind words with each other etc. However, as I observed with this new mindset, this is what I saw:

  • Students developing resilience. They all had a go and tried their best and if they couldn’t do it or if they fell off they jumped back up and tried again
  • Kind words and encouragement. When other students were waiting for their turn, instead of telling them to hurry up, they were encouraging their friends or helping them with hints of the best rock to place their feet 
  • Students practiced patience as they waited for their turn, giving the person in front enough space to enjoy their turn.
  • Students problem solving. When they couldn’t work out what to do they tried something different over and over again determined to work out a way to get to the top of the wall. 

After observing for a while I realised that, for the first time this week, I hadn’t had even one person come up to me to report anyone using hands on or any of the usual complaints or incidents. This made me think;

Is risky play more beneficial for students?

Does it actually make it easier for teachers to manage student behaviour on the playground?

These thoughts and wonderings led me to do a bit of research on Adventure Playgrounds and risky play. The biggest thing that stood out to me from what I read was this:

  • “A statistical analysis of serious student injuries that occurred during play was undertaken … Data was collected over a five year span…While serious injuries during play were rare, a statistically significant majority of them occurred on the fixed equipment playground. The adventure playground at the same school was found to be statistically safer.” – research by Morgan Leichter-Saxby and Jill Wood

I’m looking forward to my duty on the Adventure playground next week and have developed a new goal to find out more about adventure playgrounds and risk with play.

We’re all in this together… AGAIN!

We have done the unthinkable; almost a whole term of connected learning with the end still not in sight. As I look back on a term like no other, this is what I remember…

When lockdown and connected learning started we were more prepared and were able to jump straight back into it without as much anxiety or stress. The chaos of the beginning of the 2020 lockdown/connected learning saw us scrambling to put activities together to send out to families. This time we had activities banked, we had tested and tried timetables to suit the needs of our students and we got straight back into it. 

However, we ensured that we were continuing to communicate with our families to receive feedback and make updates to suit the needs of our students. 

One thing new for the SOF this term has been daily class zooms. These started off as 20 min check ins with one focus of learning. As the term progressed, and after receiving feedback, we extended these to 45 mins with more of a focus on an aspect of learning for the day. I’m not going to lie, I was hesitant and a little nervous when this was first announced. I already felt like a circus performer trying every trick in the book to keep these 6/7 year olds engaged for 20 mins so when I was told I would have to do the same for more than double the time it had me go back to the drawing board. What I realised was that I was already doing a lot of great stuff, I could just give myself the time to do them well and to not rush the kids through wellbeing activities or learning tasks. Currently my class zooms look something like this:

  1. Song and welcome with a slide showcasing great student work

      2. Zoom Expectations & The roll

      3. Feeling check ins

       4. Something I introduced last week to help with focus/engagement was a special codeword. When they hear the codeword they have to unmute themselves and say the response and it can happen at any time…

       5. Sometimes we go through a smaller activity like the spelling rule or we talk about a work sample from the previous lesson. So we have what you could call a “minor” learning focus

    6. Then we have a stretch break! This is just a short 1 or 2 minute clip that gives students a chance to stand and stretch – just like their very own mini brain break

        7. Then it’s time for the main learning focus of the day. As a stage we choose one activity to teach each day, this is usually an English or Maths focus. I usually do some teaching around the core topic, go through their corresponding seesaw activity and then have a bit of group practice. 

          8. Then it’s break out room time! – This has looked different across the week and kids have really loved talking in small groups with some of their classmates. I have let them choose a friend or two and then I have created groups but I am also trialling letting zoom “automatically” sort them to see how that goes too. A learning for me with breakout rooms was that I forgot to reintroduce social skills to the students at the start and we had some issues with students not feeling heard as they all started talking over each other at once. So I introduced breakout expectations which we read before every breakout room today. In the breakout rooms we have done things like news days and discussion topics. Last week I introduced some challenges, the up close photos “What could this be?” has been my favourite so far. Some of their creative answers have been great! 

        9. I then finish with some time at the end for anyone to stay back and ask questions or if it’s a tricky task I will offer an extra explanation/teaching of the focus task for the day.

 

So that’s my recipe of zoom. There are so many other elements of our work that I could have spoken to but this has been one of the bigger learning curves for me this term. 

Stay tuned for my changing recipe as we undoubtedly are all in this together for a little while longer…

As we started the new teaching year I decided to make a teaching “New Year’s Resolution” in the form of things I wanted to keep doing, stop doing and start doing.

KEEP

I was humbled to work with a very organised teaching partner last year (kelly) who taught me some life/teaching hacks to stay organised and on top of my workload. We would plan and organise our work to ensure we worked smarter not harder. Some of this included writing endless lists. It seems small and perhaps … but it really helped to prioritise tasks that needed to be done and not feel so overwhelmed by the never ending to do list of a teacher. This year I also want to keep doing things in advance instead of, like previous years, in stress induced state trying to do things last minute.

STOP

I would like to stop working endless hours into the night. I have started this by making a ‘go home’ time each day. This differs from day to day depending on meetings and time of year (i.e. reporting time). However, I have ensured that at least one day a week I give myself an early mark and leave very soon after my work day has finished. This will ensure that I can achieve a work/life balance, beneficial to my overall wellbeing. 

START

This year, at St Luke’s, we started with a focus on Wellbeing. In my learning space, Lion’s Den, we decided to start the day with a song as well as an inspirational quote to motivate the students for the day. We also ensure we have regular brain breaks throughout the day (which is something I will keep doing from last year). I hope to start and continue to have a big focus on student wellbeing in 20221 

 

Team Medley

Each year since commencing at St Luke’s my final blog of the year has had a theme around water. St Luke’s has always had a focus of ‘into the deep’ inspired by St Luke’s Gospel (5:4) where Jesus encourages us to go into unknown waters; “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” As a staff we are encouraged to move away from our comfort zones as we step out into the deep waters of teaching. In 2018, my first year at St Luke’s, I reflected that my year was all about keeping my head above water. Last year in 2019, I felt as though I was learning how to swim. This year, to continue the metaphor, I feel like I was a part of a team medley. I have learnt how to swim and now I am using my skills as part of a team to help others, but more importantly to be able to rely on others. 

 

With everything that has happened this year my key takeaway has been to allow myself to rely on others. I have always enjoyed team teaching and working with other teachers on a stage, but this year it became more prominent than ever that I can’t do it on my own, nor should I try to. As teachers we push ourselves beyond our limits everyday for our students. But this often results in unrealistic expectations on ourselves. I think this year with everything that has happened these unrealistic expectations escalated. With the realisation that I have a team of supportive, talented teachers around me, it has been easier to ease those expectations a bit and not feel as guilty about relying on others to get us across the finish line. 

 

Just like a team medley, everyone on the team has specific skills that they are good at and are relied upon to do well for the team. I was blessed this year to teach with one of the most organised teachers I have ever met! I thought I was fairly well organised until I met Kelly. This year I have learned to rely on this strength of Kelly’s (and many others!) and it has helped swimming the medley a lot easier. After teaching on Stage 1 for 2 years prior to this and Kelly being new to the stage, I also (hopefully!) feel like I was able to pass on some of my strengths and knowledge to Kelly. I did my leg of the medley. 

 

I have learnt a lot from learning to be a part of a team medley this year. Being a lifelong learner I look forward to all the skills I am going to learn next year and perhaps see where I go next with my water metaphor…

Wish upon a Seesaw

This term, at St Luke’s, we have been focused on giving students weekly feedback via seesaw. Each week students post one sample of work and teachers give feedback, in our stage, in the form of a star, star, wish. Although only a ‘snapshot of a snapshot’ or ‘one element of one area’ of work, it has been a positive step into providing families with a glimpse of what and how their child is doing at school. As a community, we realised that this would be important to maintain after students spent so much time posting work on Seesaw during the COVID home/online/connected learning earlier in the year. 

In Glinda’s Castle, we decided to use this as an opportunity to also develop students’ self evaluation and feedback skills. Each week when students post a sample of work, we also ask them to reflect and write 2 stars and a wish about their own work. This opened up opportunities for developing our students’ ability to  give specific and explicit feedback to themselves and others. 

We give our students the sentence starters of “I like… I like… Next time…” At the start, we found a lot of students were writing feedback like this:

Student a) 

Student b) 

As you can see, originally the students didn’t understand that the ‘I like’ was in reference to an aspect of their learning that they thought they had done well. They interpreted it as an opportunity to explain what they enjoyed about the task. Another observation we had was that students’ feedback to themselves wasn’t specifically related to the task.

The same students wrote these as their self reflection last week:

Student a)

(adjectives)

Student b) 

As you can see, both students are now trying to give task-specific feedback to themselves. The first student is now referring to the writing goal wall to check what she is doing right and what she wants to work on next time. The second student was using the learning intention and success criteria to give herself task specific feedback. 

This was as a result of almost a term’s worth of explicit teaching and modelling. Every week we ensure we practice self and peer feedback across KLAs. In this time we constantly refer to the success criteria and provide detailed examples and sentence starters to assist students to practice orally composing feedback to themselves and others. 

There is always room for improvement but it has been great to see the progress of our students as they continue to develop their ability to evaluate their own work. 

Perfecting a skill

Our current focus in the school of foundations is around reading. In our class, but also across stage 1, we have noticed that there are a large number of vulnerable readers who are not meeting benchmark but more importantly are not developing those key skills necessary to become succesful readers (i.e. monitoring and self correcting). This has led to professional development and coaching in the area of reading across the school of foundations. 

 

I was quite lucky to be given the opportunity to have a lot of coaching last year in the area of literacy. We worked on ensuring that the whole ‘literacy block’ was focused around student goals. So our modelled/shared reading was teaching skills to help students progress in their identified reading goals. We also started a rotation during this time for partner reading. This included time for students to practice expressing their goal, practice this goal whilst reading to a partner, then receiving goal specific feedback from their partner. This was followed up with another rotation of goal focused literacy activities. We planned and prepared activities that were targeted at their reading goals, ensuring that there were a few different activities for students to choose from to promote student choice. Goals were also the focus during small group guided reading with the teacher. Keeping all of this in mind, I knew that having developed my teaching in reading quite a bit last year, it was an area of strength for me. However, I am definitely not perfect in this area and always love receiving feedback on how I can grow and become an even better teacher for my students. 

 

Over the last few weeks I have been fortunate enough to be coached during guided reading sessions. As a result, I was able to ‘perfect’ my skills in teaching a guided reading session [Please don’t be decieved by my use of the word ‘perfect’ as I know I am NOT a ‘perfect’ teacher. I don’t think there is such a thing. That is the beauty of teaching… I learn something new every. single. day!].

One of the most practical pieces of feedback that I have implemented, as a result of this coaching, is planning my guided reading session using a planning proforma document [prepared by our fabulous stage 1 coach @KerrilynO]. Even though it has taken a while to get used to filling it out, I have found it useful as it makes my teaching in this session more focused, explicit and purposeful.

Tuesday W5 Wallabies

I will continue to use this great new tool and hopefully watch how it positively impacts on student learning in reading. 

Silver Linings

When I sat down to write my last blog (29th Feb) hoping to implement innovative practices that I had learnt in my professional learning trip to Barcelona in January, I had no idea what was just around the corner. In our current time, who would have thought that just over 5 months ago I was in another country! COVID brought around a ‘new normal’ that I never thought I would live through. 

It’s also hard to believe that I would be saying, even amidst this global pandemic, we would still be able to find some silver linings. Yet, after reflecting, the positivity in my realistic (some would say pessimistic) attitude has shone through. 

I think it’s safe to say that in the past 4 months we have gone above and beyond to do everything we can, to work our hardest and, even though it has been extremely difficult at times, stayed positive. So I definitely think we have a shot at a silver lining. 

So here are mine…

  • Working at new school for the last two and a half years I have often reflected on the feeling of ‘drowning’ or trying to fly a plane and build it at the same time. This has made me more flexible in my teaching and thus prepared me for what we were thrown into during the many phases of home/online/connected/face2face learning.
  • The silver linings for our students were many. One of the many messages we got from our students, apart from missing their friends and being able to run around outside, was that they were enjoying spending so much time with their parents and families, which they normally wouldn’t be able to do. 
  • This was also a silver lining among the parents in our learning community. Parents who were now having to teach their child were able to see firsthand how their child is going with their learning. 
  • A silver lining for me as a teacher was that I was able to work from home in my pjs some days! Only kidding! Although this was definitely a benefit, the serious silver lining for me as a teacher comes in the form of flexibility. Flexibility and permission from school, system and nationwide leaders in learning to be able to teach my students what they need. To be given the trust, as the classroom teacher, to plan and implement lessons that would allow students to grow and learn what they need to in order to move forward on their own learning journey. 
  • A silver lining for our education system is that it took a global pandemic and almost the total shutdown of our school system for policy and educational leaders to have another look at our curriculum. Even though hope is not a strategy, I am hopeful for the day when we see a curriculum, not packed with mandated hours to cover neverending outcomes, but a curriculum focused on developing students’ capabilities to deal with an ever changing world. 

Those are just a few of my silver linings. I wonder what yours are? 

 

Hola Barcelona!

During the January holidays, 10 St Luke’s staff members were lucky enough to travel to Barcelona and I was one of them! The purpose of the trip was to visit and learn from three schools who are striving for similar visions of learning as we are at St Luke’s. Each school had unique strengths which we were able to observe and learn from. There was so much to learn from each school (I could probably write a blog on each of them!) but here are just a few of my own key take-aways from each.

Visit 1 – Collegi Montserrat

During this visit we were re-assured of our direction at St Luke’s when observing similar teaching and learning practices at Collegi Montserrat. Some of the similarities that we noticed were:

  • Flexible seating and learning
  • More than 1:30 in a space
  • An inquiry/PBL focus from pre to post school
  • Focus on developing the whole child

A whole school focus that we observed was around social and emotional development – R.U.L.E.R

R – Recognising emotions in self and others
U – Understanding the causes and consequences
L – Labelling emotions accurately
E – Expressing emotions appropriately
R – Re-evaluating
This was implemented and embedded throughout the school in a number of ways. One, was through a grid/scale of emotions which was present in every class. The photo on the left is of a grid or a scale (for lack of a better word) of emotions. The red squares are for words to describe anger, the yellow are words to describe happiness, the blue are focused on sadness, and the green are focused on feelings of calmness. The photo on the right is a blank grid which students then place their photo or name on to self evaluate how they are feeling. We were told that this could happen up to three times a day usually once in the morning and then again after each break time.

At St Luke’s we have been focusing on social and emotional development of students through the introduction of social skills and embedding our six pillars of learning (especially Manage, Relate and Witness) into all teaching and learning experiences. This grid of emotions is something that we have tried to re-imagine in our calm down space or as we call it in Glinda’s Castle – ‘The Castle of Chill’. In this space we have zones of regulation based on the characters from the movie ‘Inside Out’.

Visit 2 – Collegi Mare de Deu dels Angels

On this visit we also observed some similarities with practices already happening at St Luke’s. Some of which are:

  • School wide Inquiry/PBL approach to teaching and learning
  • More than 1:30
  • Pre-post school

There were so many unique teaching and learning practices that we observed but I will just mention a few:

  • A big focus on developing the fine and gross motor skills of students from a very young age.

  • A focus on developing and introducing students to a wide range of co-curricular activities from a very young age. E.g. every child learns violin.

  • Multidisciplinary approach to learning (3 or 4 KLAs integrated into one project)
  • A whole school and multidisciplinary approach using chess as a teaching method. With a focus on mathematical thinking but also as a way to develop social and emotional skills through problem solving and consequences for actions.

 

Visit 3 – Learnlife

After this visit we were set the task of describing Learnlife in 25 words or less. Here are some of our reflections:

 “A learning community that strives towards a paradigm shift of purpose inspired personal learning.”

 “A collaborative learning ecosystem that encourages the learning of students through their interests, whilst preparing them to be global citizens that can respond to and promote change in an innovative way.”

“An emergent mainstream ecosystem of people, processes and partners which nurtures self determined learners by engaging with their personal interests, needs and passions.”

If you can’t already tell by these reflections, Learnlife is unlike any other school or learning community that I have ever visited or heard of. This was probably the visit which left me the most mind blown.
During our visit we were fortunate enough to spend time with the co-founder of Learnlife, Stephen Harris. Stephen talked us through some of the key thinkings behind the learning community. Some of the things that stood out to me were:

  • One of their goals is to “un-school” their learners. So in they have replaced traditional school terminology with: Learning Guides, Learners, Co-learners, Learning Spaces
  • A big focus on self-determined learning (The difference between personalised vs self directed vs self determined learning)
  • Striving to develop life long learners with members of their learning community utilising spaces that are beyond the traditional school age (post school learning)
  • Collaborative team approach to teaching and learning
  • The encouragement of students to express their learning in their own home language
  • Their learning spaces are designed and set up differently to other settings:

So what now? 

On our final day in Barcelona, we came together as a team to debrief and discuss what we had witnessed as well as what we could now bring back to our own setting. We split into groups and designed projects that we could trial and implement back at St Luke’s.

The pilot I am working on is called “The Home Language Project.” The objective of the pilot is to offer opportunities for students to express themselves and/or demonstrate their understanding by using their home language. For the initial pilot the students will incorporate their home language into the welcoming narrative and to express their thinking for a mathematics problem solving task. With so many students within our setting speaking english as a second language we thought that this was an important project to trial at St Luke’s. At this point of the term we are still in the process of collecting and analysing data so keep an eye out for my next few blogs to see how the implementation stages go!

 

Learning to swim

Over this last week I have been trying to think about what I was going to focus on for my final blog of 2019. I decided to reflect on this year of teaching by re-reading my previous blogs starting with the one that I wrote this time last year (Oh what a YEAR!). This is what I found… 

All I can say to my 2018 self is “ditto”. I still feel like I am part of the furniture and that I have blinked and it’s all over. Yet, I also feel like I am in a very different place now then I was this time last year. On a personal note I have had many changes this year; the biggest being getting engaged! And upon reading my blogs I have realised that I have changed and grown a lot professionally too. During this reading and reflection I have decided that the theme of my 2019 was professional growth and development. Further down in my 2018 blog I also spoke about the feeling of drowning. So to continue the metaphor; if 2018 was all about trying to keep my head above water I think 2019 was all about learning how to swim.

 

I could not have achieved any of this without the help and support of my incredible colleagues. I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to work with such a hardworking and dedicated group of educators. As a result, I have developed and grown in so many different aspects of my teaching. 

 

One of the people I have felt so blessed to work alongside and learn from was my teaching partner @misscalvertblog. At the start of the year Sophie, although having done a couple of casual days at the end of last year, was basically a complete stranger to me. She was a beginning teacher from England bouncing with energy and enthusiasm. Sophie is now a very close friend.  Although it has been an absolute pleasure working with Sophie it also brought it’s challenges. The first being what I call our ‘language barrier’. Sophie, although from an english speaking country, has a very thick accent and there has been multiple times throughout the year where one of us has said something and we have just stared blankly at each other trying to work out if what the other had said was in fact english. I am now (almost) a fluent Sophie translator. 

On a more serious note, communication was in fact a big challenge for Sophie and I this year. Both of us had signed up to work as a part of Activities Club which meant that  between us we were out of class 3 mornings a week. Throughout the year, due to meetings and duties, Sophie and I had no time together before or after school. The only time we had was our joint RFF. This meant we had to be very flexible and creative in how we communicated plans for each day. After trialling many things we settled for an online joint weekly planner. This was something that we could both edit to ensure we were prepared for the week ahead and if something needed to change due to a previous lesson we could communicate on this doc. So thanks to our working arrangements I have been able to develop my flexibility, creative thinking, and communication skills this year. 

 

However, I think my biggest growth has been in the area of teaching literacy. This year I was very fortunate to work quite closely with our leader of literacy @ncolburt1. This year Nat worked alongside Sophie and I to try to create a more meaningful, purposeful, authentic and goal-centred approach to teaching the literacy block. This is still a work in progress but it has been amazing to see the difference it has made to the students in our space. I can’t wait to continue to develop this area of my teaching next year. 

 

Next year will bring it’s own joys and challenges but I can’t wait to see how the metaphor continues as I move into a new decade of teaching. Bring on 2020. 

 

Because teaching’s worth it

Crazy, exhausting, hectic, manic. A few words many in the education world would use to describe term 4 (or perhaps any term as a teacher!). 

Yes term 4 comes with it’s challenges and it is all those things and more. However, for this blog, I have decided to reflect on the positive things that we get to experience as a teacher during Term 4 (and throughout the whole year!).

“Teaching is an exhausting, people centric job. But we’re in this work to change lives.” 

Mark Scott - IOTF6 conference 2019 

I am not sure I would word my reasons for teaching in this way but I do agree with Mark that teaching is: ‘an exhausting people centric job’. Teaching is exhausting because we walk alongside our students sharing in all of their experiences; suffering the lows and celebrating the highs. So much so that I usually end up calling them “my kids” or “our kids” with my teaching partner Sophie (@missclavertblog).

Term 4 is known for end of year reports, student led conferences, and parent meetings. Although these events bring exhaustion and stress, it also provides opportunities to reflect on how far ‘our kids’ have come. Each child’s learning journey is different. Some rocket through while others struggle over each and every hurdle but every achievement or ‘victory’, however big or small, is always celebrated with great joy. 

Just yesterday Sophie and I were dancing around the room cheering with excitement for a student’s small victory.

One of ‘our kids’, a year 2 student, has had quite a few struggles with their reading this year; having had a significant drop at the beginning of the year from the end of last year and working so hard all year to re-develop their reading skills. Yesterday, during a running record (reading assessment), they easily and fluently read a level 21. Now this doesn’t mean much to the outside world. Even within the teaching world or amongst their peers there would be questions and doubts about why we are cheering for this insignificant achievement, especially considering they still have a long way to go to be working where they need to be. BUT in our eyes this was HUGE. They have worked so hard all year and yesterday we could not have been prouder. 

This is just one of thousands of times that we have celebrated the small victories of our kids. Teaching is exhausting but it’s moments like these that make it all worth it.