My 2016-2017 Classroom
During the first few days of school before the kids come in, every teacher is desperately trying to piece their room together in time for the big day. My process is usually quick (2 days) because I know exactly what I like and what I don't.
It's not unusual that over the course of these first few days that a few colleagues will ask me to take a look at their rooms, and offer any advice I have to make their room feel cozier, lighter, and clearer. I love to oblige to such flattering requests, and I thought I would share some of the hard and fast design rules I've developed over the last few years.
Symmetry is attractive
When you can, embrace symmetry. I visited a colleague's classroom and I offered simple changes to her room. She had 3 bookcases lined up on her front wall: tall, tall and small. I suggested she arrange them tall, small, tall. It made a big difference, and became more pleasing to the eye!
Never block a window!
Would you ever put a bookcase in front of a window at home? I hope the answer is no! Not only are you missing out on that beautiful natural light, but you are also making it harder to access the mechanisms to open said window. It's also important to work with the natural elements of your classrooms whenever you can.
Don't wait, just do!
The caretaker at my school and I have a running joke that I never need help for anything. It's far from true, but it started when he noticed me hammering nails to hang some frames. He offered to help, but I was already doing it! A few days later, he saw me climbing on my window ledges to install my curtains. He offered to help, but I was already up there!
What I'm trying to get to is that if you want to do something in your classroom, truly want to, you don't wait for someone to give you permission, or do it for you- you just do it! It's with this attitude that I quickly gathered the elements in my classroom toolbox. There's nothing major in there, only some light bulbs, tie-wraps, double-sided tape, Allen keys, and a multi-tool (screwdriver with all the tips). For everything else, I know the caretaker has the tools I need- and he let's me borrow without asking whenever I want!
The simplest way is often the best way
Once upon a time, I had a broken support system for my SmartBoard projector. It was taking the school board months to fix it, and I was tired of waiting. I lent the projector to my brother-in-law and he quickly built me a beautiful support for it out of wood and long metal screws.
However, once I brought the whole thing back to my classroom, the projector would slide down. I had to find a way for it to hold...at first I tried a million and one tie-wraps but the mess was so ugly, I chopped them all off and found a prettier, easier solution. I velcro-ed it in place. Whenever I am designing or creating something, I always consider the final look and function. Would 30 messy tie wraps have been attractive? how about sturdy? probably not. The best solution is often the simplest one. The same goes for placing classroom furniture!
People often tells me my classroom looks like a little home, or cafe. We seem to forget so quickly that for many of us, the hours we spend in school with our kids and colleagues far outnumber the hours we spend awake at home. We have so much artistic freedom as teachers- of course our rooms should be beautiful and function, like reflections of our homes! Your students will enjoy it more, and so will you!
Just like your home, you have to make your classroom yours. I have my signature touches, such as framing pictures of my student's playing or reading and hanging them up in class, but that doesn't mean everyone needs to do that. What are your musts? What are your signature touches?
It all started on a cold, cold, day back in December of '14...
Google Certified Educator - Level 1
Since then, Google has streamlined the process to becoming a Google Certified Educator. There are two certification available (Level 1 is $10, and Level 2 is $25), but you only need to pay if you want to do the final test and get the certification. The online courses and tutorials are available for free, to all, right here. Level 1 represents a basic understanding of Google Apps, and Level 2 is for a more advanced grasp of the subject matter.
Yesterday I completed the Level 1 exam. While I obviously can't share any of the questions, here are some things you may want to know before getting started:
I'm planning on taking the Level 2 next weekend...wish me luck!
Teaching is a very demanding field of work. Teachers have an increasing amount of responsibility in an ever-changing world. Hence, professionals in the field must seek and select the best research-based practices in order to effectively reach and teach all students. For example, with a growing to-do list, some teachers may believe they do not need to provide for gifted students, as they will no doubt succeed academically. In addition, it is important to remember that at the moment, there is no legislation protecting gifted students in Quebec education. However, many educators know it is essential to nourish and challenge our gifted and talented students, yet lack the knowledge or time to find cost-efficient and easy-to-implement strategies to empower teachers with. Therefore, the real challenge is to find a way to meet the needs of gifted and talented students, spread this information to teachers, all without adding to a teacher’s workload.
With that in mind, I have taken on the task of searching for research-based teaching strategies that easily differentiate to learners of all-levels, and sharing this information with others in my field. As an elementary teacher in an IB school, inquiry-based learning quickly became my focus, as I seek to confirm Problem-based Learning (PBL) as an effective and adaptable teaching strategy.
PBL easily presents itself as one of the top teaching methods for teachers to differentiate for learners of all levels. By exploring the origins of PBL and its links to gifted education, the many benefits of PBL for both gifted and non-gifted learners will convince any teacher that PBL is the one of the most-effective strategies for teaching gifted students.
Origins of PBL
PBL originated in the early 1970s, in the field of medical education (Gallager, 1997). In order to best prepare medical students for their important work tending to human lives, educators began presenting their students with real-world scenarios, so that their learning environments mimicked their future work environment. Teachers took on the role of “metacognitive coach” (Gallager, 1997), as they guided students’ to reflect and learn from their thinking processes.
PBL is easily linked to Renzulli’s (1976) three-tiered Schoolwide Enrichment Model (SEM). While the SEM provides opportunities for all students to learn, it also has built-in strategies to provide for the development of complex, higher-order thinking skills of gifted students. The first two types of enrichment activities appeal to all audiences, as they aim to develop students’ development of thinking and feeling processes through the use of learning situations (Renzulli, 1976). Type III level activities are developed with the gifted student in mind, as the student will be able to work independently on an inquiry-based project, with the teacher acting as an assistant to student learning (Renzulli, 1976). By exploring the many research-based benefits of PBL, teachers will be able to understand that this type of instruction is valuable to all.
Benefits of PBL
It is common knowledge that student engagement is fundamental to learning. As teachers aspire to increase their students’ cognitive engagement with the curriculum, many may not know how. Since PBL is a student-centered practice, one that allows students to take control of their learning and learn at their own pace, in their own style, higher student engagement is a natural byproduct.
Rotgans & Schmidt (2011) explored to what extent PBL impacts cognitive engagement. 208 students at a polytechnic in Singapore participated in a 1-day PBL process where two measures were utilized: a self-report measure to identify engagement created by the authors was shown valid prior to the commencement of the study, as well as student grades. Students self-reported their engagement throughout each of the five phases of PBL (problem-definition, independent study, collaborative discussion, independent study, and presentation).
Student engagement increased progressively over the course of the PBL process (Rotgans & Schmidt, 2011). Findings also suggested that engagement is a function of the learning event itself; the more students’ developed their knowledge and worked on their solutions, the more engaged they became. This suggests that the more often students are active learners, and participate in discovering information, the more engaged they are. Similarly, teachers would no doubt be interested in research that could determine whether lecture style teaching discourages student engagement.
Improves Self-Regulation by
(...) work pressure, job conditions, the ambiguities and conflicts of the educational role resulting from its complexity and from the administration’s conflicting demands, pressures exercised by educational leadership, professional growth, lack of resources, poor professional relations with colleagues, low pay, unacceptable student behavior, relations with the students’ parents, teachers’ expectations, lack of communication etc. (p. 656)
A better strategy would be to aim for “emotional consonance”- in other words, truly feeling the emotion that is portrayed. However, many training programs and many workplaces encourage emotional detachment (as cited in Coates & Howe, 2015), making emotional consonance an unpopular and infrequently used strategy. I experienced this first hand before I took a leave of absence from work due to burnout. Friends, family and colleagues would often advise me to “leave work at work” and not to carry that stress home with me. However, I very strongly believed (and still do) in creating and maintaining strong relationships with my students. How could I have those relationships and invest myself emotionally in my work, yet disconnect when the dismissal bell rang?
I felt pressure to remain professional, and emotionally detached, all while being encouraged to maintain close bonds with my students. Through the lens of Hochschild’s work, I can see that I was encouraged to be “surface acting”- the most damaging approach to emotional labour, as it is so emotionally demanding.
I did not know I was a perfectionist until I suffered from burnout. It was much later that I learned that it can be very hard for perfectionists to change their ways, because it leads to so many benefits. For example, it was my striving for excessively high standards that pushed me to succeed academically, be recognized with awards when I was in the army, run so many marathons, and so on. How could this drive be a bad thing?
Over time, I saw that my high standards and drive for perfection were both
preventing me from enjoying my success (I always wanted something bigger and better) and leading me down a road of exhaustion and despair. In fact, perfectionism has thus long been linked to high levels of stress and job burnout (Stoeber & Rennert (2008). Flett, Hewitt, & Hallett, (1995) authored one of the few studies exploring the link between perfectionism and job stress in teachers. As was predicted, results of their study demonstrated that teachers who indicated a higher level of perfectionism (compared to teachers with low levels of perfectionism) experienced higher stress.
you can't pour from an empty cup.
emotional exhaustion at children and young people’s mental health in Australia. Administration and Policy in Mental
Health and Mental Health Services Research, 42(6), 655-663.
Flett, G. L., Hewitt, P. L., & Hallett, C. J. (1995). Perfectionism and job stress in teachers. Canadian Journal of School
Geving, A. M. (2007). Identifying the types of student and teacher behaviours associated with teacher stress. Teaching and
Teacher Education, 23(5), 624-640.
Hakanen, J. J., Bakker, A. B., & Schaufeli, W. B. (2006). Burnout and work engagement among teachers. Journal of school
psychology, 43(6), 495-513.
Hochschild, A. R. (2003). The managed heart: Commercialization of human feeling. Univ of California Press.
Papastylianou, A., Kaila, M., & Polychronopoulos, M. (2009). Teachers’ burnout, depression, role ambiguity and conflict. Social
Psychology of Education, 12(3), 295-314.
Pithers, R. T., & Soden, R. (1998). Scottish and Australian teacher stress and strain: a comparative study. British Journal of
Educational Psychology,68(2), 269-279.
Stoeber, J., & Rennert, D. (2008). Perfectionism in school teachers: Relations with stress appraisals, coping styles, and
burnout. Anxiety, stress, and coping, 21(1), 37-53.
My name is
and I am a
French teacher in Montreal.
I am passionate about teaching, and
I love to learn and grow!
Back To School
Learn Like A Pirate
Unit Of Inquiry