It was nice to see -- as I passed my old classroom -- that the new teacher there had left up my safe space sign and rainbow flag, and had even added a welcoming sign of her own just outside the classroom door. Definitely gave me a much needed boost after the discouraging world events earlier in the week!
I felt a little bit like a rock star as old friends greeted me with big smiles and open arms. It was so nice to see everyone again, and catch up -- I admired many reorganized classrooms and launched into excited conversations with teachers about their observations about the impact on their students of adopting a more democratic process around setting up the learning space, where the students themselves had had a say in how things evolved.
One teacher in particular had spent a great deal of time on this, and I wished I had thought to take photos in her classroom.
Not having classroom responsibilities of my own made visiting a unique experience indeed, and I joyfully cut paper squares in preparation for one teacher's lesson and offered to make some last-minute photocopies for another. And still I had time to spare to say hello to some old friends before the bell rang!
Paper Folding Math
Soon, though, it was time to get down to business, and my morning host and I did a brief run-through of the lesson we had planned, one of my favorite low floor - high ceiling tasks, courtesy of Jo Boaler's You Cubed site.
The learning goal they'd begun working on, he explained, was communication. More specifically, communicating thinking effectively in math. We brainstormed what this might look like, and together with the students, posted a few possible success criteria (later in the lesson, we added another, and were I coming back to this class another time, I might facilitate a conversation with the students around what a makes an answer "complete", ie how to craft a fulsome response, and add something like that to the list, too).
And then it was time for the lesson -- students worked in small groups to meet as many of the five challenges as they could, and one recorder in each group documented her peers' thinking on Edmodo, using a personal device or one of the class chrome books.
Afterwards, I was able to check in and respond to some of the work students had posted online...
Impromptu Music Lesson
Afterwards, I was invited to join another friend and former colleague to do some co-teaching in music, as the teacher there was working with the choirs in the gym. As we were unable to locate the lesson plan after a cursory look around the room, we decided to facilitate an impromptu conversation about hip hop in different parts of the world.
We asked students to identify their favourite musical artists; perhaps not surprisingly for middle school aged kids, North American hip hop artists topped the list. Then I asked whether any of the students had seen the recently released film, Queen of Katwe, chronicling the rise of Ugandan chess contender Fiona Mutesi. Disappointingly few had seen it, or even heard about it, but I did not let that deter me.
Thank goodness for the Internet; my friend quickly pulled up the video on Youtube, and the students actually seemed to really like the song, engaging with the beat, and being drawn to the colourful local language the performers sing mainly in.
I loved where the students moved us with their interests and knowledge in our short 40 minutes together, and it make me miss working with Grade 7s!
Effective Classroom Management
I was reminded during my morning in the classroom, how critical a role classroom management plays in effective teaching and learning, and also how complex elementary school classroom teaching really is.
Whether you prefer to call it "creating a safe and inviting learning space" or "fostering an effective learning climate" or whatever, it's important, and without considerable time spent there before, during and after the students arrive on the scene, the rest of the package just falls apart. Having the luxury of contemplating and discussing in great detail one facet of education (such as assessment, for example) in relative isolation, or even two or three or seven factors, is a completely different reality than the 11 000 factors that come into play all at the same time in a real life classroom setting!
I know this of course in theory, but it was good to have a concrete reminder once again.
Lest we Forget
Next it was off to the gym, where the second of two multi-media Remembrance Day assemblies were in full swing. Although I have mixed personal feelings about the value of such observances, it was nevertheless comforting to be altogether in one place like that, with more or less a common goal for an hour.
The music teachers had worked hard with other staff on the assembly team, and the choirs sounded truly lovely. A highlight was listening to one Grade 7 girl sing -- I'd known her since Grade 3, and she had been an elective mute! What a beautiful, clear voice she had. My belief in the far-reaching benefits of music (and the importance of highly qualified music teachers!!) were affirmed.
It was so encouraging to see so many happy, hopeful faces. I've had many classes and students near and dear to my hear, but my time at my last school was special in that it was a middle school that several lower elementary schools I had previously taught at fed into, and so some of the students I worked with last year had been known to me in some capacity or other since Grade One!
Shopping Mall Dates and Challenge Winners
Too soon my morning at school drew to a close -- after catching up with some colleagues and new Syrian arrivals in the ESL room over lunch, I signed out in the office and Uber Pooled to the mall, where I started in on a little Christmas shopping and met my partner so that we could buy her some decent winter boots.
After finding suitable footwear, we enjoyed an eclectic dinner together at the food court, complete with Japanese dessert and bubble tea.
Then we happened across a Metro, which I grabbed, eager to see whether my submission to their recent Arts Challenge had been published. What a pleasant surprise I had when I discovered that my "emoji epic", chronicling my burn, had not only been published, but also chosen as the contest winner!