Jess joins Just A Teacher Podcast to share how her experiences in high school shaped the teacher she is today. Jess shines a light on how she breaks down walls and opens doors in STEM for girls and how she went about deconstructing silos and fostering collaboration. Finally, Jess shares the incredible opportunity she now finds herself in – opening a new high school!
American librarian, John Cotton Dana once said “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.” This is one of the main things that has separated teaching from other profession’s for me – the need to be a lifelong learner if you want to be considered an expert.
“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”
I find learning to be exciting and challenging and the ability to transfer it into improved practice and outcomes is exhilarating. This is also the case in school leadership. As a school leader I believe it is even more imperative to be a lifelong learner – to embrace that being a professional means you are continually improving.
With this in mind I sought a new learning challenge at the end of 2017. I have toyed with the idea of completing my Masters but to be honest many of the Masters’ programs on offer didn’t entice me or I felt wouldn’t value add to what I did. However, at the beginning of 2017 I was fortunate enough to be asked to provide feedback on a Micro Masters course for MIT – Launching Innovation in Schools and dipped my toe in University of Michigan’s Leading Ambitious Teaching and Learning course.
Late last year I saw an invite come through to undertake two of UM’s Micro Masters courses – Designing & Leading Learning Systems and Improvement Science in Education. I have to admit I was apprehensive because in the past I have found online learning challenging. I enjoy the social aspect of learning – conversations, discussion and feedback, however, have found that it can be missing when learning online. It can be challenging to find the vested interest to allocate the time and energy needed to complete courses. Anyway after some deliberation I decided to fork out some $$$ and enroll.
*I will be honest being a die-hard “Fab Five” (famous UM Basketball team) fan as a teenager did play a factor in enrolling. Still holding out that UM might offer me a basketball scholarship…
I jumped into the first lesson of the Designing & Leading course and reached the task component that required you to form/join a team and complete a task related to the content. It is at this point that my perception of online learning began to be transformed. The “learning gods” must have been smiling down on me because I ended up forming a team with three educators from North America who were passionate, professional and personable.
Rather than communicate through online chats and discussion boards we organised a video hook-up through Google Meet and from our first discussion it was obvious that I had struck collaboration gold! It was an added bonus that two members of the team were undertaking the post-graduate course and could elaborate and provide more depth on lesson topics. We added an extra Aussie along the way and the Dream Team had been formed.
From there the collaboration, conversation and feedback flowed freely. I knew from course outlines that the topics and content would be relevant but it was the team dialogue and collaborative development of weekly tasks that has proved invaluable. My team has provided the motivation and inspiration to undertake the learning to ensure I make valuable contributions to the team .
At times when I am juggling work and home priorities it is the commitment to the team that pushes me to make time to complete the course work. I have found it ironic that as I learn more about learning systems and improvement that our team has become it’s own system – an interdependent group of people and processes working together towards a common purpose.
Their laughter traveled across the water park as they chased each other in the shallows. I watched my son from the distance encourage the other boy to continue the game. They were about the same age, four years old, and obviously enjoyed similar games.
What was different was that each boy spoke a different language. “H” fluent in English and this other boy who appeared to be of Middle Eastern decent spoke a different dialect. Although the boys faced a language barrier they did not let it detract from their game. As they continued their “super hero” game, the other boy’s mother came up to the water’s edge and watched the boys at play. We both looked at each other and smiled.
In a World where it seems the media and politicians want to so often highlight our differences as a thing to fear, these boys could not care less. It got me thinking – when do we start caring? When do stereotypes start impacting us?
It got me thinking – when do we start caring? When do stereotypes start impacting us?
Leading Anti-Bias Educator, Lousie Derman Sparks, states in a lecture, to the UUA Assembly in 2012, that at around 6 years old we start exploring our self and group identity e.g. gender, cultural and racial. At 8 years old we can identify and critically think about interpersonal dynamics of racism, sexism and classism, and how to interpret them. They understand scientific explanations for skin color and how individuals get their skin color. Understand nature and harm of stereotyping. This understanding continues to grow and with it the impact of misinformation and stereotyping.
This impact was highlighted by recent comments from political leaders at home and abroad. Peter Dutton, Australian Home Affairs Minister, declared that Melbourne residents were afraid to go out to restaurants because of African Gangs (Peter Dutton says Victorians scared to go out because of ‘African’ gang violence, The Guardian, Wed 3 Jan 2018). The leader of the free World, Donald Trump, then decided to refer to African nations as “shitholes” (African Union, African UN envoys demand Trump apology, CNN Politics, Jan 13 2018).
Rather than put our hands up in the air, it should make our belief in the need for schools to combat this stereotyping and fear mongering, even stronger. In my teaching career I have been fortunate to teach in schools where multiculturalism and diversity were celebrated. My first permanent teaching position was in a school that at the time had students from around 82 different cultural backgrounds and over 57 different languages spoken at home.
What have these experiences taught me? That often it is the adults that impose the stereotypical views and barriers upon young people. Children have an amazing ability to see past differences, be it cultural, racial or socio-economical. I have seen Vietnamese girls Greek dancing, African students singing traditional Maori songs and Caucasian kids understanding the meaning behind Aboriginal artworks. I have seen friendships blossom oblivious to the cultural and social divides that may make it impossible to outside the school gate. Children, families and colleagues have taught me not to tolerate cultural diversity but to embrace it.
As Thomas R. Hoerr explains in his book, The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy, and Other Success Skills, “Embracing diversity means understanding that we should recognise and appreciate the difference among us. This attitude acknowledges our history of differences while empowering every person to succeed and enables all of us to come together in a caring, respectful, and productive way.”
“Embracing diversity means understanding that we should recognise and appreciate the difference among us.” ~ Thomas R. Hoerr
It is the easy option to use our differences to form negative stereotypes and judge others. As teachers we must challenge and support our students to not take the quick and simple option. We understand that teaching children to embrace diversity can be challenging. Hoerr explains why “teaching children to embrace diversity will be an uphill struggle because we are running counter to centuries of prejudice; we aren’t starting from zero.”
The struggle is worth it. Through appreciating and embracing diversity we are ensuring our students are tearing down the mountain that centuries of prejudice has created.
In this episode of Just A Teacher Podcast, we are joined by Matt, a teacher with over 14 years experience, for what is an insightful and entertaining conversation. Matt shares his experience of teaching in regional areas, the UK and metropolitian schools. He discusses his passion for story-telling and how teaching brings out the best in him.
“I’m just a teacher” – a comment that I think nearly every educator has made at some point in their career. I know I have made it more than once. As educators we make the comment even though we know how complex teaching is, the challenges involved and the stress and pressure that comes with accepting the role of a teacher. Not everyone can be or would want to be a teacher but yet as a profession we still downplay the role and it’s impact.
This is even though over 5.2 million people have watched Taylor Mali’s video of his poem “What do teachers make?”. Many of those 5.2 million would actually be teachers!
So WHY do we choose to utter the words “I’m just a teacher” when faced with the question what do you do? When receiving praise for the amazing job majority of teachers do or when asked to share something incredible they are doing in their classroom?
My personal opinion it is the perception of teachers and status in society that has been reinforced through many media outlets and political agendas. Education being used as a political football and the subsequent effect of the headline grabs sees teachers having to defend what they do. The use of high stakes data like NAPLAN and PISA by media outlets to create league tables, results in pressure from education systems, schools and parents that flows through to those in the trenches – teachers.
Don’t get me started with how old comments like “you are always on holidays” and “you only work 9 till 3” get!
As educators we need to be the biggest advocates for the importance of teaching and how multi-faceted the profession is. Teachers are faced with many challenges on a daily basis and pressure from multiple angles but there aren’t many jobs more rewarding.
Teachers know the rewards that happen between the “four walls of the classroom” far outweigh any extrinsic reward. There are not many professions where you can literally change the life of another human! How amazing is it to see a young person learn to read, discover a love of learning and develop the confidence and resilience to overcome challenges life presents.
What am I doing to advocate for the teaching profession I hear you ask…
I never allow like “I’m just a teacher” or “I’m only a teacher aide” go unchecked. I reinforce that there is no JUST about it. This has then led me to create the podcast Just A Teacher.
A podcast that aims to shine a light on the people who accept the responsibility of being a teacher. Explore why someone would want to become a teacher, how teaching really is a profession where you never stop learning, examine the challenges faced and most importantly share the many successes experienced. I am hoping there will plenty of insights, affirmations and take aways for not just people in education but everyone across our society.
Click here to listen to the first episode of Just A Teacher podcast
Definition: The excitement of developing and/or attempting a new learning experience that you believe has the potential to engage and challenge students.
Recently I got “teacher excited” about an idea I had come across on my favourite professional learning network, Twitter. The idea involved using OneNote to create an Escape Room Math experience for students. I read about this on the OneNote Education blog and instantly thought my Year 3 math enrichment students would love this!
I am always looking for new ways to engage the young mathematicians while also consolidating their learning and challenging them in new ways. The Escape Room seemed like the perfect tool to achieve these aims.
Rather than escape from actual rooms students were required to work their way through a number of sections on a OneNote Notebook. Each section was password protected. To unlock the section, students needed to solve a math problem and use the correct answer as the password for the next room or section.
During the semester, we had been learning a range of problem solving strategies and the Escape Room provided a great way for students to put this understanding to the test. I intentionally selected a range of questions that required different strategies and progressively got more difficult as they worked their way through the rooms.
Now back to my “teacher excitement”. I wanted to take the Escape Room to the next level so I included a video introduction and a special video in the final room of the challenge. I stayed up past my bedtime creating the Notebook, choosing the math problems and making the video segments. I emailed the finished product to one of my colleagues to triple check the layout, video and passwords worked.
The next morning I raced into her office and asked if she got my email? She said she had and then went on to say how cool it was and she wanted to make one for her Year 5 students. I said that would have to wait a minute because I needed to share the Escape Room with my Year 3 group.
I sent out the Notebook link and then literally raced to the Year 3 classrooms…
“Check your email, check your email I have sent you something really cool!”
Students weren’t 100% sure what I was on about when I started rambling about escape room, math, passwords…then students checked their emails and they were in!
The challenge of unlocking the rooms had students instantly hooked. I had students outside school hours (remember they are in Year 3) emailing me about the questions and strategies they needed to employ to solve the questions and get the next password. I was impressed with the confidence and persistence the learning experience generated. The collaboration between the students took me by surprise as I had set the task as an enrichment activity and had foreseen them completing it individually. However, before school and at breaks they were discussing questions and how they had worked out answers.
On completion of the challenge, students shared that they really enjoyed having to solve the problem to unlock the next room and wanted to know when I was creating the next Escape Room. It was great to see my excitement for the task matched by the students.
“Teacher excitement” is one of the best things about our profession. The opportunity to be lifelong learners, accept challenges and light a spark in a young person’s life are aspects of teaching that set it apart from other vocations.
“I love my job.” #teacherexcited