Tuesday, 17 March 2015

To Maker or not


The Maker movement has been gathering some momentum over the last little while and many are trying to find a way to shoehorn Maker into the public school system. It has been suggested that Makerspaces should be in the library while another idea is to create Maker classes. As you can probably already tell, I fall deep in the anti Maker camp for three reasons.

1. If you have specialist teachers, you don't need to incorporate Maker because you already have it within your school. My husband is a shop teacher and he encourages students to problem solve and create new projects. But before students can tinker, they need to be taught skills and taught how to be creative. I am fortunate to work in a middle school of specialist teachers and see firsthand the skills the students are taught and the creativity they have as a result. When an Art teacher is teaching a full slate of art classes and that is her area of expertise, she can look at the scope and sequence for her courses and scaffold skills for students over the three years that they are in her course. Towards the end of their grade 9 year, students have the grounding in art theory and the practice to start delving into more creative projects. I think the same can be said for all our specialist elective teachers and their approach to their programs. I've also seen what happens when an elective is stripped of its specialist teacher and divided up amongst other teachers. Suddenly the course's scope and sequence dissolves and it isn't valued as much by the staff because it is that extra course to prep for. Enrollment dwindles and people begin questioning why we even offer the course in the first place.

2. Teaching skills and creativity does not fall to the elective teachers alone. Indeed, I believe that specialist teachers should be in the academic courses as well. If you have teachers who are comfortable and passionate about the curriculum, they will be able to see the scope and sequence much more clearly. As a result, they will be able to see ways to create opportunities to 'play' within their classes. For example, as the teacher librarian, I sought funds and purchased 3D printers.  I saw the potential for using 3D printers within the classroom, not the library. Yes, I could have the printers in the library but that strikes me as gimicky. How the Math and Science teachers are using the 3D printers in their classrooms (from tessellations to gamifying volume) is incredible and much more enriching to the students.

3. Even if we did carve out a Makerspace within the library, when would it be used? Maybe just before school and at lunch? These 2 half hour blocks of time do not seem like enough time to tinker with Maker. Don't get me wrong, I do have lego, chess and other games students can play. Students can game in the library or work on art. Am I going to set up a duct tape centre or a coding station? Uh, no.

If having students think critically, be creative and have opportunities for hands on learning is important, then perhaps the implementation of these skills should be taken seriously. Giving students the chance to craft with popsicle sticks and pompoms certainly isn't the way to do it.

Friday, 13 March 2015

A day in the life of a TL

It always bothers me when people walk in to the library and happen to catch me in between classes and they say comment on how nice and quiet it is. It might be just me, but what I hear when someone comments like that is: Must be nice to sit in a quiet library all day and sign out books. It bothers me because I am very busy during the day. Even during the rare lulls I'm very busy, usually working on planning a project or reading up on books to purchase. Today I decided to document my day

Before school:
     Touched base with the secretary about the 5 students were withdrawing today. All 5 still had outstanding books that I needed to track down at some point.
     Made it to the library for the quick staff meeting only to find out a student was returning textbooks and wasn't one of my 5. Raced around trying to notify the right people about the 6th withdrawal (without paperwork)

1st block:
     Taught a lesson to the English 9 class about formal emails and attachments. Took a little longer than I anticipated but it also went better than I thought it would.
     Nipped downstairs and led an English 7 class up to return their literature circle novels. Book talked a table of new books, a table of dystopian books and a table of my recommendations.
     Back downstairs to grab a second English 7 class to do a book return and book talk.
     Grade 9 English class came in to sign out reading material for the break.

2nd block:
     An exact repeat of the first. English 9 lesson and 2 English 7 book talks and an English 9 class grabbing reading materials

3rd block
     Co assessed English 9 speeches which also took much longer than expected because of tears and a trip to the counselor.
     Restocked the tables for the final book talk of the day in 4th block
     Lunch presenters arrived to set up.

Lunch
     Student arrived to present her speech.
     Much needed staff potluck lunch.

4th block
     Slated to teach the English 9 email lesson but couldn't.  
     Student writing a French test.
     Co assessed more English 9 speeches. More drama.
     Final English 7 book talk of the day. Phew.

5th block (assembly)
     Caught up on email (found out a student would be by in 4th block to write a test)
     Planned to work on a Socials 9 project
     Science teacher came by to collaboratively reflect on a project. We tore the project completely apart and sketched out the framework for the new version.
     Worked on an award application    

After school
     Chatted with a student teacher about planning a library project. Booked library time. Much more collaborative planning needed
     Tracked down the owner of a cell phone left in the library.

What this running log fails to capture is all the interesting conversations I had throughout the day. I talked to a Socials teacher about Socrates. I chatted about reflection and blogging with the Foods teacher. I talked about the collaborative planning process and how can we teach it with a Socials teacher. I talked about gold panning. I love working at my school because my colleagues constantly challenge me. They all think so very differently and thus they make me think about things and in ways I wouldn't normally.

The log also fails to capture what teaching is all about. My email lesson which I thought was just a review lesson was much more important than I initially realized. That 6th withdrawal today was a heart-breaker and I really didn't want to lose that student. I was so proud of that grade 9 student for finding me at lunch to do her speech. And I had many good conversations about books but one stood out.  I asked a boy, who hasn't really talked to me before, about a book he had just read. His face lit up and he started speaking so passionately that it was simply delightful to listen to him.

An exhausting day but an incredibly awesome day.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Gems from Leadership Academy

This year I am part of the school district's Leadership Academy. The Leadership Academy is for those who would like to venture into the world of administration. A quick disclaimer: I am not interested in becoming an administrator.  I'm participating in the academy for a variety of reasons but one of them is that I want to become a better leader within the school. I have been told by my administrative team that I need to step up and be a leader within the school.  This has struck me as odd because I thought I was a quiet leader, so clearly my definition of leadership is not the same as my administrators' definition. And thus my quest for common language began with the Leadership Academy.

In yesterday's session, we talked about the traits of a leader as we do each and every session but this session really resonated with me. We talked about influence and how every word and action has a positive and/or negative impact on all. There was also a discussion around how important it is to be authentic in your intent. The word trust was mentioned a fair bit too. All very interesting but it was the Simon Senek video about "The Golden Circle" that tied it all together. I've seen the video multiple times but it was the line "if you don't know what you believe, why would anyone follow you" that struck home. Now let me clarify that I don't have this overwhelming desire for people to follow me. What struck me is that it is imperative for any leader to know what he/she believes in. Not only must that leader know his/her beliefs but use those beliefs to guide everything. If you aren't true to yourself, then you have lost your credibility.

We finished up the leadership session with a discussion about what kind of boat you are when it comes to change: a kayak, a sailboat, a speedboat or a cruise ship. (I am a cruise ship through and through but that could be a whole post by itself). We also talked about our upcoming homework assignment: the gift others see in you (I drew a blank). As our facilitator explained, it is important to know what your strengths are and be able to speak to them.

My takeaway was that although I am very hard on myself and find it very difficult to talk about myself (in a positive manner), I am very cognizant of what I believe in. What I am very good at is staying true to my beliefs no matter what.

And I'm content with that.

Friday, 6 March 2015

Argh. That frustrating time of year.

A colleague of mine told me recently that she thought non enrolling teachers should move every twelve years.  By the twelfth year, a non enrolling teacher's plate is typically overflowing with those tasks that people have come to expect you to do and it is very hard to get any one item off the plate. Starting at a new school allows you to sit back and figure out the school and what you want to take on. In the midst of my twelfth year at CNB, I have that itch to change things up.

It certainly is that time of year.  I am noticing that my colleagues are tired and wondering about this teaching gig. Is it this hard everywhere? Are all the little things piling up for other teachers at other schools? Or is it just me that's feeling like every time I take a step forward, I am knocked back a couple? After two very frustrating days of unanswered emails, vague talks that didn't address anything and a couple of snide comments, I am finding myself wondering what could I possibly do to make things better?

I don't have clear answers but I've started concentrating on working with students. I am focussing on why I became a teacher in the first place and working with teenagers is incredible. They'll answer you, being anything but vague and be snide with a dash of humor. I had awesome conversations with students today and that alone made me smile.

I have to remind myself that this feeling happens every year. I get frustrated with the lack of everything. What I should do is stop and think about what is fabulous about my work. What's fabulous? My colleagues, the students, and my library. Got to keep focusing on the positive.

But I'll be looking at the May job postings along with my colleagues.