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
So saying my journey to Microsoft’s E2 Conference didn’t go to plan would be an understatement. Here is a quick rundown:
- Flight out of Brisbane delayed by over an hour;
- Missed connecting flight to Toronto;
- Got to do three laps of LAX due to a certain airline messing up my new connecting flight ticket;
- Lost my coat somewhere in LAX;
- Had the pleasure of a full pat down from a US customs officer due to forgetting to take gum out of my pocket when getting body scanned;
- Arrived 8 hours after originally planned only to find that my new airline lost my luggage;
- Oh and the next morning the hotel locked me out of my room
My luck turned around when I just so happened to meet fellow Australian MIE, Jess, in the elevator. Like a guardian angel, Jess pointed me in the direction of a shopping mall where I could begin the mission to feel human again.
After already spending a day in Toronto, Jess played tour guide and we went exploring. We just so happened to bump into a very “unique” St Patrick’s Day parade. Let’s just say it’s not every day you see an Irish hill billy float that included a man with his pants down sitting on an open toilet and a Chinese drumming group.
Later that evening, got to finally tick off something that has been on my bucket list for 25 years – attend a NBA game. It was everything I expected and more! Air Canada Centre is an amazing venue and to top it off the Raptors got the win and scored over 100 points – free pizza for everyone!
After the rocky start, the first day in Toronto has been pretty awesome. The locals have been really friendly including this lady we met walking her cat in the CBD as we were off to get dinner.
Late last year, I conducted professional discussions with our teachers. We reflected on the year, shared successes and discussed how we can continue to improve our school. As part of these discussions I asked “How do you make your classroom a magnet?” That is how do you make your classroom a place that students feel safe, supported and challenged in. A space where they are willing to ask questions, take risks and collaborate with others.
It was during one of the conversations that a teacher referred to himself as a switchboard operator. He said that to be able to create a classroom that was a magnet for learners he needed to be able to tap or tune into each student’s agenda. He needed to know them each as an individual and know how to switch the learning on and make connections.
It was during one of the conversations that a teacher referred to himself as a switchboard operator
To put an educational spin on the notion of the “switchboard operator” – it is basically the need to differentiate. As educators we are always considering the need to differentiate in the curriculum to meet the needs of our learners. But how often do we plan how we will differentiate for the social and emotional needs of our learners?
Our students walk through the door with varying levels of confidence, resilience, and persistence and differing capabilities of getting along with staff and peers. It is a challenge to meet the diverse range of social and emotional needs our students bring.
But we know that for children to be successful, to live positive lives then we need to tap into these needs and provide the environment, support, lessons and the role model that will allow them:
- To develop positive friendship skills, social values and empathy;
- To understand feelings, develop emotional awareness and coping skills.
Each Friday I take a group of Year 4 students and we focus on developing our persistence, resilience and confidence. I thoroughly enjoy teaching the group as I have watched them develop a mindset that has more green thoughts than those that red. Green thoughts mean we find the positives in the variety of situations we face and focus on them.
As an adult we can take it for granted that we can just do that – find and focus on the positives. Two examples over the last few days have demonstrated to me that a positive mindset is something we continually have to work on.
“A positive mindset is something we continually have to work on.”
I was talking to one of our wonderful cleaners and during our conversation she mentioned how she couldn’t stop thinking about the Dream World tragedy and the unfortunate drowning of two children in a pool. I agreed they were tragic accidents but we can’t allow our red thoughts to dominate. I asked her what are some of the positives from the week, the green thoughts? After a little deliberation she explained her son just got a job, her children were healthy and happy and to top it off she was getting her hair done tomorrow. As I left for the night she exclaimed “Hey I really like the idea of green thoughts!”
We can have permission to have red thoughts but I think the issue is how long we let them dominate our thinking and ultimately our behaviour. Recently an issue got brought to my attention and I went into full red thought mode!
My initial reaction was one of frustration and disappointment with a good dose of anger thrown in. With the red thoughts dominating I was thinking irrationally – I’m going to send an email to address this right now (10pm at night) or pick up the phone and unload. Actions that would probably have made me feel good in the interim but would have left me regretting my decisions in the long run.
“With the red thoughts dominating I was thinking irrationally.”
On the advice of my life coach aka wife, I decided to sleep on it. With as good a sleep as you can have with a five month old baby, I reflected over a morning coffee on the issue and the red thoughts that were dominating my mindset. I had taken the easy route by allowing negative thoughts to outnumber green. When in fact, yes the issue was disappointing, but there had been many positives to come out of it. I then realised if I continue to focus on feeding the positives and the people who have a positive impact then ultimately we will all be better off.
Looking at our world through green coloured glasses is something we continually have to work at. Just like we work on our fitness, practice an instrument to get better, we must work on the skill of turning red thoughts into green ones.
Over the last three weeks I have been exploring RedCritter. No it’s not a creature I found in the courtyard but rather an online positive behaviour reward system. This is something I have been looking at implementing in the Junior School for quite sometime. My wish list for an online positive behaviour reward system is:
- Align with current Student Enhancement Program and positive behaviour initiatives
- Be engaging and interactive for all members of school community – teachers, students and parents
- Provide data to monitor positive behaviour, classroom management and ultimately improve student outcomes.
- Strengthen partnerships with families
- Easy to administer and maintain
We currently have a number of excellent positive reward systems that both teachers and students are engaging with. So this brings me to my biggest challenge or rather biggest question – will my colleagues see the value in using RedCritter that I do?
From this question comes my challenge – getting “buy in” or developing the shared vision. Getting teachers to share my excitement in bringing our already excellent reward system into the 21st century, getting teachers to see rather than more work this will hopefully lead to a more streamlined approach, and hopefully get them to respond with a little bit of wonderment and awe.
Over the last week I have changed the trial model a number of times as I learn more about RedCritter. Once we have the “buy in” the aim is to trial the system with Years 3-6. The main actions of the trial will be:
- Identify key features that we want to focus on during trial
- Provide initial and ongoing professional development to teaching staff
- Use usage data to monitor weekly engagement with system at a student, teacher and parent level.
- Midway through trial gather feedback on strengths, weaknesses and most importantly opportunities of the system.
- Provide feedback to developers to enable any identified opportunities and/or weaknesses to be addressed.
- At conclusion of trial provide detailed report to Senior Executive on engagement with program and feedback.
So wish me luck…I don’t need luck!
I’ll keep you posted on how we are going…