Friday, 5 January 2018

Qs for The Magic Misfits

Qs for The Magic Misfits by Neil Patrick Harris for January 7th's #yabookchat

Q1 What were your initial thoughts about this book?

Q2 Did you like the clues/riddles throughout the book?

Q3 What were the book's strengths?

Q4 Who was your favourite character?

Q5 If a student liked The Magic Misfits, you would recommend reading what?

Tuesday, 2 January 2018

Non enrolling teachers

I have had some very enlightening conversations over the last few months around non enrolling teachers. Non enrolling teachers are an interesting breed. They tend to be a one-off in the school: the sole counselor, behavior specialist, learning assistance teacher, or teacher librarian. Those that I have talked to this year have had a rough year so far. Themes that I've noticed:

1. Philosophy. Every teacher has his/her own philosophy and the same goes for non enrolling teachers. The problem is that while classroom teachers can implement their philosophy at will, non enrolling teachers don't really have the same autonomy. Often managers, whether they be board office or school based administrators, see the realms of non enrolling as spaces where they can make an impact and push their own philosophy forward.

2. Support. This really is about the lack of support. When classroom teachers feel unsupported, they can retreat to their classroom, put their head down and concentrate on why they got into teaching in the first place: the students. For the most part, classroom teachers really do not have to interact with administration very much. The same is not true for non enrolling teachers as a lot of time is spent in meetings, informal and formal. When a non enrolling teacher is feeling unsupported, it's a little more personal as that teacher has to deal with administration on almost a daily basis.

3. Understanding. Non enrolling teachers have very interesting jobs and for the most part people do not understand exactly what the non enrolling teachers do during the course of the day. I try very hard to articulate to staff what it is that my job entails but still get barbed comments on almost a daily basis about how lovely it must be to work in a quiet library or how lucky I am that I get time to read during the day. To achieve understanding, non enrolling teachers must take time to explain their jobs.

If you're a non enrolling teacher, make sure you have a strong PLN, or at least one person you can talk to. Take the time to explain your job, all the time. Advocacy never stops.

If you're a classroom teacher or an administrator, take the time to actively listen to your non enrolling teachers and support them.

Thursday, 14 December 2017

Sharing a school with my son

This summer was a stressful one in our household for a variety of reasons. My eldest son was clearly apprehensive about the big move from elementary school to middle school. This transition is quite a major worry for many kids but we managed to make it even worse for my son by pulling him out of his catchment middle school and placing him in a school where he knew no one.

My boys have always know that once they hit grade 7 they would leave their catchment school to come over to my school. I know that the middle school years are very difficult and that it's during these years that students make crucial friend choices. I also wanted to try and streamline our lives a little bit; my husband teaches at the high school, my youngest son is at an elementary school and having myself and my eldest son together would mean that we would only have to keep track of 3 school calendars instead of 4. Sometimes it's a bit much coordinating everyone's spirit days, assembly schedules, and shortened days.

I don't think I really realized how stressful the transition is for kids until my own son went through it. Towards the end of August, there was a constant barrage of questions. What is the block order? How will I know what class I have next? Where do I go for lunch? What about lockers? How do term electives work? I think it took my son two weeks to get into the groove of middle school. At the end of the first month, I asked him what he thought of middle school. The one comment that caught me off guard was that he mentioned that there is always something going on and sometimes it was difficult to keep track of everything. It's something to ponder, I think. Society comments on parents overscheduling their kids, but I wonder if the schools are also guilty of always having something on the go and trying to entertain.

The change was hard for me too. When I walk into school, I turn my 'home' brain off. It caught me off guard at the end of the day, to be called Mom. It was simply just out of context for me. And then the first few times I saw my son during school, I was surprised and found myself thinking, "Oh, right, you're here now". The most difficult part has been after school as my son is waiting to head home but that 30-45 minutes after school is when I get to chat with teachers about library time and projects.
We've figured out a balance and I must admit that I really do like having my son at my school and I think he enjoys being there. Though that all might go out the window once grade 8 hits.

Saturday, 9 December 2017

Administrators and staff morale

When I was in the Leadership Academy some years ago, I learned that it is important for administrators to make sure that they had the ear of the individual on staff who is vocal, sometimes critically. I think it is important to make sure you don't surround yourself with people who think the same way you do. It's similar to the filter bubble that happens on-line; you hear only what you want to hear because you are only listening to like minded individuals or people who simply want to please by agreeing to whatever it is you say.

Although I have been teaching for 18 years, I have unfortunately come across only a couple of incredible administrators. Reflecting on my time at the school when those administrators were in power, I've been trying to pinpoint what they did to make me feel so determined to work harder to make the school a better place. I think it boils down to being valued.

An administrator that values his or her teachers understands:

1. That staff is working as hard as they possibly can
2. That he/she will always support the teacher in conversations with students and parents
3. That when a staff member ventures into the office to talk, that he/she should listen carefully
4. That time is precious to everyone
5. That it is important to communicate information with everyone

When I think of the best principal I've ever worked with, the best thing about him was that he didn't play favourites. There was no inner posse. There were no negative comments made. There was a sense that we were all working hard to make the school the most dynamic place we could. We all tried to improve our craft and make lessons more student centred, more engaging, and more innovative. And we dreaded that raised eyebrow from the principal which conveyed so much disappointment. We worked hard. At the end of the year, we could look back and see how much we had grown as professionals and how much the students had progressed. There was the sense that all that hard work had paid off.

But memory is a strange thing indeed and perhaps my memory of it all is a little shinier that it truly was. What I do know is that I absolutely loved going to work each morning because I knew I was making a difference. I'd love to find that feeling again.

Saturday, 28 October 2017

New year, new goals

After last school year, which I decided was the worst year of my teaching career, I decided I needed to make some changes and fast. I am happy to report that so far I've done well to stick to the following the new goals for this year.

My goals have been:

1. 10 minutes. I have asked that teachers not bring their classes into the library for the first 10 minutes of class. Often teachers who were doing project work in the library would have their students just meet in the library and we would proceed from there. Great in theory but in practice it meant chaos. Those first 10 minutes are when teachers are sending me test writers and random students requesting items for staff. I've communicated with teachers that I want that time for students to be able to sign out books to read. It's meant that I can have those great conversations with students about books because suddenly I'm not being pulled in as many directions as I was before. That 10 minute buffer also means that I can deal with those emergencies that pop up such as tech not working, a crying student, or a jammed locker.

2. Re examining commitments. Last year I felt like I was constantly going to meetings and at the end of the school year, when my library assistant and I were talking about what needed to change, she said, "no more meetings." Unfortunately I do have to go to a fair number of meetings but I looked at my district commitments and scaled those back, determined to focus on my library and my library program. When school based meetings come up, I take a moment to reflect and check if it's necessary or useful to me before committing to attending.

3. No. I've been saying, "No" this year a fair bit. With an increase in teaching staff but no increase in library staff, I've had to curtail all the extras. I promised myself that I wouldn't agree to covering people's classes (unless there was some emergency). Last year, I was being asked every week to cover someone's block for some reason or another and I realized that covering classes meant much more work for me. I was caught off guard this year when I was asked to cover a class on the very first full day of school. I stood my ground and said no, and I've kept saying no for the last 8 weeks. It hasn't just been covering classes that I've been politely declining to do. As a teacher librarian, I get a lot of odd requests from ordering classroom supplies to doing photocopying. I'm standing my ground and calmly articulating what my job is exactly.

4. Reading. Last year I didn't read as many YA books as I would have liked. I found that I was spending my evenings on school work and simply too exhausted to read. I love books and I enjoy discussing great books with students. Eight weeks in to the school year and I have 24 YA books on my "What Ms Hart has read this year" bulletin board. Not fabulous but a much better start than last year.

I'm pleased with how well I've maintained my goals and hope I can continue working on making them habits. I still have so much work to do.

Thursday, 22 June 2017

Same old mismanagement

I know it's the end of June, and teachers are on edge as summer can't come soon enough. Students saw the beginning of summer around the corner weeks ago and packed up what little work ethic they had and kicked it to the curb. End of June at CNB this year though is one for the books.

It's June 22nd and we still don't have a master timetable. It's in the works. We have a large student population projected for next year and we don't have the classroom space to hold all the classes. We have yet to hammer out a bell schedule. We don't know what Career Education is going to look like. We are unclear as to the state of our mentorship/homeroom classes. And that's just the tip of the iceberg. So how did we get to this point?

Administrators are just teachers. Teachers who have decided to move their career in the direction of management. The trouble is that administrators never shake their teacher-ness and feel this need to connect with the student body and make a difference. Nothing wrong with that, the problem lies with the new generation of administrators who believe that making a difference means ensuring that every student makes it through the traditional public school system with nary a hiccup. Administration is constantly being tripped up by student issues and any attempt at vision and school wide philosophy is quickly undermined by a pile of minutia. Suddenly, students who desperately need structure are coming into the school and instead of entering a place of structure they are entering a dysfunctional system.

Don't get me wrong. CNB is a fabulous school. Indeed, I will be the first to yell from the rooftops how amazing the CNB teaching staff is. The teachers work too hard, care too much and wear their hearts on their sleeves. The teaching staff is the reason I'm ripping my eldest away from his peers and placing him an out of catchment school. I know his teachers will always have his best interests in mind. The administrators won't. Harsh? Maybe. True? Sadly, yes.

As we get ready to break for summer, I don't dwell on the negatives. I know, hard to believe if you've just read this post. But I honestly don't as focusing on the negatives will get me nowhere. What I roll around in my head are the gems - the incredible teachers, the cutting edge projects that people are designing, and how far we've come in terms of assessment. CNB teachers are constantly pushing themselves to make the learning environment more authentic and more engaging.

In the end, what matters most are the teachers in the classroom as they have the greatest impact on students.

Sunday, 4 June 2017

#yabookchat Bang questions

1. What did you think of the layout: history, present and tomorrow?

2. Sebastian is such a powerful narrator. What makes him so?

3. Let's talk about Sebastian and Aneesa.

4. How is Sebastian's friendship with Evan different?

5. Sebastian loves old things. Why?

6. What was your reaction when Sebastian revealed he remembered?

7. Sebastian doesn't believe that time heals all wounds. Is he correct?

8. Favourites? Scene, line, character?