Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Learning from Colleagues

Today I had my CRT (Classroom Release Time) in New Zealand we get 2 of these days per term.  It depends school to school how these days are used - in my school we are able to choose how we spend these days to best meet our needs.  So this means it can be anything from creating resources, viewing classrooms, testing, or one of the other million things we often have to do in our classroom lives!  This term I have been lucky enough to spend time viewing teachers from 2 other schools as well as my own on these classroom release days.  

I personally think that the more time we can spend with our colleagues and viewing other colleagues/classrooms the better.  It helps us to reflect on our own teaching and understandings to build upon these.  It helps us to view other ways to teach, to support and to learn alongside our students.  Even if you don't particularly agree with the way that person is teaching - there are things to take from those situations.  To reflect on and question how the way you support your students and if it is the right way for them.

"Everyone you will ever meet
knows something you don't"
- Bill Nye

This isn't something new or revolutionary - yet to me it speaks volumes.  In teaching I am continuously in awe of my colleagues, within school and within my PLN, on a daily basis.  There is always something new, different, exciting, thought-provoking or innovative happening to support our learners.  Conversations and reflections happening that will make changes or just reinforce that the road we are travelling, however slow, is the right one for them.

So, on Friday I spent some of my time in 2 of my colleagues rooms - different teachers at very different stages of their careers.  But each offering something to their learners that is right for them.  The time that I spent in these rooms and the time these teachers took to speak to me was hugely appreciated.  

In the first classroom I had the opportunity to see how in-depth and well thought out use of thinking tools and questioning was making a huge difference to the learners.  They were able to draw on knowledge and vocabulary to 'compare and contrast' different people of greatness.  They recognised different thinking tools and how they could be used to inform their investigations.  I enjoyed the conversations with the students and was so impressed in the way they could articulate their learning pathways using the thinking tools to support them.  There was a lot of visible thinking happening.  The conversation with the teacher supported the importance of visible thinking and thinking tools to support our learners.  It made me more aware of the choices I was making or not making in regards to thinking tools that would make my learners delve deeper and make connections between learning.  The teacher was carefully choosing thinking tools from her extended knowledge that would best cater and support the learners.  She was teaching them about why they would use the tools and helping them to extend these tools out into their everyday lives.  We were able to talk about a range of systems and ideas she has running through her classroom - what they looked like and why she had chosen them.  It was great to consider a different perspective on some things that happen daily in my classroom, and also some things that could happen more.

The visit to the next teacher was to see what she was doing as part of her writing programme.  This  year I have been investigating and re-working my writing programme, so I was interested to view another viewpoint or way of teaching.  I had heard through several teachers of the work this teacher was doing to inspire a love of writing in her students using a 'Writer's Cafe'.  So, on Friday afternoon I entered a classroom where, laid across the tables, were trays of brown sugar meringues for the students to enjoy.  The awesome thing was not the food (even though it was amazing) but what was happening around the food...  students spread out in small groups, pairs and solo writing. Writing. Yes, Friday afternoon and the room was a buzz of little authors who were penning their very own stories, chapter books, poems and more.  One group of 4 girls didn't bat an eyelid the whole time I was in the room as they were so engrossed in working through their storyline.  The thing for me wasn't the food, or even necessarily the writing.  It was the way this teacher had seen a need for her students and explored new ways of making this happening.  The food relaxed the environment - it's designed to be just like a cafe, where you pop in for a drink and a bite to eat and casually do your work... no pressure... no time constraints.  It is working for her kids.  She gives them the environment they need to be successful and she is seeing amazing results because of this.  It was a great opportunity to talk to the teacher about what teachers are doing with writing and how we support kids in their passion and love for writing.

It was such a valuable day and I walked away from these classrooms inspired.  I went back to my room to scrawl many notes, new ideas, reflections, thoughts and questions.  For me, it's not about replicating ideas and teaching styles, but rather about questioning my own, so that I am constantly monitoring how I can be doing the best for the learners in my room.  These teachers were listening to their students, their needs and wants and making changes to their classroom because of this.  Both talked of their own journey and learning pathways they had undertook to make changes in their classrooms that were benefitting their students.  I walked away in awe of two very inspiring teachers.

So, my challenge to you, is this...  If you haven't been out and explored your colleagues classrooms in your own school or others this year - make it your goal for Term 4.

"The most valuable resource that all teachers have is each other.  Without collaboration our growth is limited to our own perspectives"
- Robert John Meehan


Anne Kenneally said...

Hi Amanda,
What an absolute privilege to read that post and share with you the impact you had on me when I visited in 2011. So profound was the impact on my practice from that one visit that I clearly recall snippets of conversation and the deep challenges I made to myself on leaving your classroom.
I am in awe of your ability to share the value of spending time with others. I want to share this blogpost with the world...
MAGIC comes out of spending time in the presence of educators, constantly challenging ourselves to be MORE, be MORE in tune, and give MORE agency to all.
Only through reflecting on the practice of others are we able to dig into what we hold dear and challenge ourselves to go further.
Absolutely grateful to you all over again!
Anne K

nmasonrss said...

Great challenge! We can often get caught up in our own biz to see past our own noses... Ka pai to mahi - good on you for using your CRT release to improve your own practice.

We use ours (CRT) for music. Where we employ a trained music educator to immerse our kids with quality music education. It does mean we only have about 40 mins at a time. It was really hard to get used to but I'm used to it now... You just have to be efficient with your time.

Miss Signal said...

Anne - what can I say other than WOW. Thank you for such an amazing and humbling comment. I am really lucky to have made some strong and unbelievable connections through twitter, and I am privileged everyday to call you a friend and a colleague. I enjoy our conversations, challenges and the thoughts you bring to my practice. So, thank you!

Miss Signal said...

NMasonRSS - Great idea! We are really lucky to have an amazing Art specialist that our students have the chance to spend full days with - otherwise it is a normal day with a guest teacher for them! I do like having a full day to utilise, but I'm sure there are benefits to both sides!

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