My writing breaks lately have consisted of taking mid-afternoon walks. I have really enjoyed connecting with nature and taking in the sights and sounds of my neighbourhood. What I have really loved is capturing what I see with my iphone camera. As you can see from my various photos posted here, an iphone camera is pretty incredible. If you have an ipad, ipod etc. and you are not using it, you may want to consider using it with your kids when you are teaching. Some examples of what you can do in your classroom:
- Nature walk
- Math Curricular Connections (i.e. capture the various patterns in the playground)
- Capturing Art in our World
- Starting an Inquiry
- Stories told through Pictures
Of course this list is rather limited and there are so many others ideas I could list. However, if you aren’t using digital cameras or devices in your classroom, you may want to give it a try. I find it especially helpful in an elementary classroom where often kids struggle with their fine motor skills and it provides an alternative for these children to show what they know. One other benefit of using a digital camera is that students can revisit their learning later. Perhaps they can reflect in their journals or blogs about a particular picture at a later date. It also a great way to engage in formative assessment for teachers. These pictures can be part of a pedagogical documentation panel or something you show during a parent/teacher interview.
I know a number of you following my blog are recent teacher graduates and about to embark on the journey of being a substitute teacher or Teacher on Call. Like so many, I also started off as a substitute teacher. Here is some advice for those of you starting out:
- Have business cards handy. There is often a sign in book in the front office and I use to leave my card with the secretary or with the teacher I was substitute teaching for. Other substitute teachers I know pop their cards into teachers’ mailboxes at the end of the day. What should you put on your card? I would start off with your name, telephone number, email address, specialties, and if you have a website include this. If you are tech person, you may even want to put a QR code in place of your “website URL.” Business cards can be created a number of ways. You don’t have to break the bank to do it. Please see below for some options:
- At the end of the day, I usually left a note for the teacher on my own personal stationary (i.e. header with my name, email address and contact information). It is simple to do by pre-creating this stationary in Word and then photocopying or printing a few sheets and bringing it with you to your sub job. If the teacher loses your business card, there is always your personal stationary around to aid them if they want to contact you again.
- Bring your updated resume with you. You never know when you will get a chance to speak with the principal or assistant principal in the school. It is always a good idea to be prepared.
- I often had games in my bag (i.e. a ball, Mad libs, picture books, etc.). There are times when the plans the teacher has made do not fill the time.
- Bring a whistle. You never know what you will be asked to teach. I was always glad when I had to teach PE and I had my whistle handy.
- Bring a notebook with you. Substitute teaching is awesome especially for new teachers since you get a chance to learn. I always wrote down the many teaching ideas I got in my notebook. It will be helpful when you have your own classroom in the future.
- Get to know the layout of the school (i.e. washrooms etc) and emergency plans (i.e. exits, fire drill routines, lockdown procedures etc.).
- Introduce yourself to the neighbouring teacher. You never know when you will need something and they will be able to provide you with the answers.
- Arrive early. It gives the principal and staff a positive image of you.
- Enjoy it! It’s a great opportunity to practice your classroom management on the fly and experience a variety of different teaching settings.
I am finding more and more as I work in my profession of educating teachers that “research and theory” are not connecting with teaching practice. I imagine it as a seesaw. Research and theory on one side of the seesaw and practice on the other side.
Often when we begin the journey of learning to teach (at universities) we are focused solely on the theories and research and not considering how these ideas connect and have implications for teaching practice. In my experiences teaching teacher candidates I have learned that the best way to present an article is to connect a highly dense academic article back to practice and how it can potentially impact a classroom. I always return back to the idea of “why.” Why is this academic article important and significant to teaching?
On the flip side, within school districts, teachers are more concerned when attending conferences and workshops about “what they can take back and use in their classroom tomorrow.” However, the focus is not on the research or theory that makes this particular “teaching tip” important but on getting something tangible to use in the classroom.
My concern with both of these situations is that innovative teaching practice comes back to understanding the research and theories and applying them into a classroom context effectively. Research and theory should guide teaching practice. Teachers should understand why a certain research study has merit in their classroom and apply what is learned into their daily planning. The other concern that emerges is like any other profession, teachers need to be current and up to date with the “new” ideas and research that is occurring. This professional development helps their teaching practice to evolve, change and become more effective.
At an English Language Learners teaching conference right after I finished my masters I was asked to speak about my work on SMART virtual word wall work. I started my presentation out with a focus on the literature review that I had conducted that lead to this concept. After the presentation, I had several teachers comment on how I placed too much emphasis on the theory and I should have just gotten to the “good stuff” faster which was “showing them how to use this in their classroom.” I was disappointed. However, I also understood why these teachers were more interested in the “teaching tip” rather then the theory. Teaching is a tough job and when I was a classroom teacher attending a conference I would have just wanted the presenter to provide me with something practical to bring back and use the next day. However, my question focuses on how do we get teachers more engaged with the academics (research and theory) and encourage these teachers to want to engage in their own inquiries around the material that could transform their teaching practice? How as a teacher educator do I engage teachers in wanting to connect with theory and research? This task will not be an easy one because teachers do not use the term “ivory towers” to connect with universities for no reason.
One of my main concerns in terms of academia is how there is lack of connect with the teaching profession. Sometimes it appears that at universities we are in our “ivory towers.” I read this great innovative research on a daily basis while working on my PhD. I am also aware of all these great scholars and the work they have done in K-12 classrooms, however I have doubts that teachers are reading what I am reading. Academic journals are often inaccessible (both language wise and physically) to teachers. If you look at the program for teachers’ conventions, we don’t often see the names of leading scholars. How can we change this imbalance? How do we get both academics and teachers to be more engaged in each others’ work? It seems like it is simple and something that should be happening but at least from my experience it isn’t always the case.