Tag Archives: personal philosophy

Why I say No to rewards

22 Jan

Recently I shared on my facebook page a post from Blogging Through the Fourth Dimension titled “Put Your Name on the Board – A Tale of Why I Gave Up Classroom Discipline Systems” and it got me thinking… At the end of last year, colleague offered me some bits and bobs to add to my ‘surprise box’ and was baffled when I responded with ‘no thanks, I don’t do rewards’.I'm not telling you it's going to be easyDuring courses at university it became evident that classroom behaviour management relies on students having a firm understanding of expectations and the consequences if expectations are not met.  Discussion around this topic often focused on preventative measures of behaviour management in the form of rewards systems; whole class and individual.  The idea behind these systems is to externally motivate students to work towards meeting expectations in order to gain something positive for themselves.  On professional experience placements I was confronted by students who did not respond to the sticker charts, table points or treat boxes according to the text book examples I had studied.  I saw children demonstrating whole body listening when I was holding a whiteboard marker (just in case table points where on offer) and then bickering and teasing when my back was turned.  I heard the words “I’m not picking that up, it’s not mine” until pack up time when the first group to clear up received bonus points.  I felt the disappointment of students who didn’t care about producing their best quality work and when provided with opportunities to improve, they simple shrugged and sighed ‘I never get any table points anyway’.  I was disheartened to say the least.

I became more and more unsettled with the idea of using such systems in my classroom.  I believe that teaching is preparing students to become active, effective, positive members of society; equipped with the skills to think laterally and creatively, work collaboratively and persist in problem solving when things get tough.  I thought, if these are the traits that I hope to see in these future adults, what can I do to nurture them in their childhood? I can believe in their ability to do their best, support them in making mistakes and developing resilience and nurture their desire to be a part of a caring, safe community.

It's ok to not know but it's not ok to not try

I want my students to realise that they have control of the learning environment that they participate in each and every day.  I want them to truly believe that the expectations we have agreed on together are there to protect them and help them be successful.  I want my class to feel empowered to make a difference in their own lives and the lives of their classmates.  I want them to be intrinsically motivated to do their best, be their best and push others to do the same.  How can I say that this is what I believe and expect of my students, and still provide superficial rewards ‘just in case’ my high expectations are not enough?  I can’t.  So, from the beginning of my first year of teaching I decided that I do not do rewards.

This is not to say that students in my class are never rewarded.  Not at all.  Rather, the kinds of rewards they experience are those they work to achieve for themselves.  Not every child is intrinsically motivated, nor does every child come from a background that values or models that kind of drive but I don’t believe that means I should lower my expectations of them.  How much more important it is for those children to have the opportunity to learn these skills!

These are some of the ways that I set my students up to experience success and create their own positive learning environment, sans stickers, points and prizes.

  • Providing consistent, explicit, high expectations for ALL students in regards to their behaviour and work ethic.
  • Modelling ways of supporting others to successfully meet expectations (We talk a lot about strengths and areas for development and how we can constructively share our observations of these with our peers).
  • Giving LOTS of positive reinforcement and public praise, ensuring feedback and is specific and outlines what it was that allowed the student to be successful (“I love how you persisted with that activity and broke it down into smaller parts when you found it difficult”).
  • Talking about the things that they value about our classroom and the impact they personally have on those elements (“If we do not put things back where they belong things get lost and we no longer have access to equipment that we love to use”).
  • Using quality children’s literature to highlight examples of the expectations that we are looking for in our classroom.
  • Regularly referring to our school’s Learning Assets (collaboration, self-management, communication, deep thinking, researching) as they are demonstrated by students.
  • Creating opportunities for whole class problem solving activities when consequences need to be reflected on and a more positive alternative to the behaviour identified for all students.

These are just some of the ways that I create a positive, student centred classroom environment in which all students have the opportunity to do the right thing, not because they will be rewarded but because they value the effects of working as a community and appreciate the excitement of achieving through persistence and hard work.


Day Two and Three: Zero to Hero

12 Jan

DAY TWO: What’s my name?

Teacher on Training Wheels

As I become more experienced as a teacher this blog title may appear less appropriate… I mean, surely a teacher can’t be ‘in-training’ forever, right? Well, yes and no.  The time will come, as I become more experienced, for me to support and mentor new teachers as they begin their own journey.  It will continue to be important for me to step up and seek out leadership opportunities – whether formal or informal.  In order to do this I will need to be confident in my own teaching philosophy and trust my professional judgement.  Training wheels in this context may not seem so fitting.

This is where my beliefs about the importance of teachers being lifelong learners come into play.  I love learning.  That is a huge part of why I became a teacher – because I have a passion for learning and want to encourage and support children to become passionate learners as well.  For me, it is less about the content and more about the attitude.  I want to see children WANT to learn – to be excited about asking questions, to seek ways to apply their learning, to pursue learning for the joy of it (rather than because they ‘have’ to).  I’m sure you’ll agree that children learn a huge amount through what they see modelled.  As a teacher I want to be modelling what inquiry looks like in adulthood.  I want my students to see me asking questions, seeking feedback, applying my new understanding and reflecting on my growth.  This is where I hope that the title “Teacher on Training Wheels” will always be relevant.  I never want to lose my drive to learn.  When I do it will be time for me to find a new career.

So, that’s a little bit about my name.  Even if you don’t have your own blog have a think about what your title or tagline might be for your own teaching career? Is there a phrase that sums up your philosophy or beliefs? Is there a headline that could keep you accountable for becoming and being the type of teacher that you believe is best for your students?

Quote #1

DAY THREE: What’s on my mind?

Is it just me? Am I the only one?

I found my first year of teaching an absolute whirlwind of thinking and reflecting.  I struggled to get my thoughts off my mind and into blog posts and that is something I am hoping to change this year.  To start with I would love to hear from you.  I am sure you all have had times when you have asked yourself “Is it just me?”… well this is your chance – what would you like to hear about? I would also love to have some guest posts this year so if there is something you are passionate about let me know.  Feel free to comment on this post or message me on Facebook.

Beginning the Year with Confidence

14 Jan

We all remember the feeling when our mentoring teacher gave us positive feedback on our very first professional experience placement.  Since then we have had many more mentoring teachers and, in many cases, more positive feedback.  Throughout our university degree we are taught to believe in ourselves and are encouraged to learn confidence.

While on my very first placement as a paid teacher I began to wonder if my learnt confidence was all a facade.  The challenge was not simply working full-time, getting to know the kids or finding my way around the school.  The challenge, rather, was establishing what kind of teacher I hope to be and finding my voice amongst experienced colleagues.  I am very blessed to have the most amazing mentor at my school as well as wonderful friends at other schools and thanks to these support networks I am well cared for and continually encouraged.  It is a sad fact that many graduate teachers do not stay with teaching due to perceived lack of autonomy as professionals and the unmet desire for consistent and genuine peer/colleague support.

As many of us look forward to beginning our first year of teaching at the end of this month I wanted to encourage you and remind you to be confident in the teacher that you want to be.  That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t learn from others, or be flexible – but it does mean focus on the passion that you have for teaching and the exciting things you have learnt and want to have a shot at in the classroom.  I’ll leave you with some words of encouragement from another fabulous mentor of mine, Misty Adoniou.

“The summer before you begin your first teaching position is usually filled with  both excitement and apprehension. For a start, some of you haven’t heard about  a job yet, and that news can come even after school has gone back. Others know what school they are going to, but are unsure what grade they will be given. And even that can change in the first week as enrollments in schools sometimes following unpredictable patterns.  Some lucky ones know their grade and have even seen the room they will be teaching in.

Whatever your situation, you are already starting to imagine ‘your’ classroom and wondering what ‘your’ kids will be like. As tempting as it is to spend your holidays laminating birthday charts and pencil tins…..spend your time now reminding yourself what it is you want to achieve as a teacher, and think about the actions that will help that happen. For example, do you think teaching is about making connections with students and working with their strengths? Then, what can you do in the first few weeks to help you get to know your students, both their academic and non-academic strengths?  Do you think learning happens when children work together? Then, what can you do in the first few weeks to build community spirit and shared visions in your classroom?

Your room doesn’t have to look perfect by Week 3, and you don’t have to have your programmes all underway in the first week.  By Week 3 you are going to be sooooo tired, simply because the newness of it all is going to physically exhaust you, and the responsibility of it all is going is going to mentally exhaust you. So don’t make things even harder for yourself by trying to have everything up and running.  Use the time to establish relationships and routines – it will be time well spent and will pay dividends as the year goes on. 

And find a kindred spirit. Find the person in your school who wants the same things you do out of teaching, who talks about the children in ways that feel good to you, who has ideas that resound with you.  And if you can’t immediately locate that person in the school, stay connected to the person who did that for you at university.  Maybe it was a fellow student, or maybe it was a lecturer or a tutor.  Friends and family are going to be very important morale boosters this year, but a kindred spirit who is a fellow educator will help you to remember the teacher you want to be and support you to be that teacher.  And if I know one thing about teaching, it is that the satisfied and happy teachers are the ones who are being the teachers they always wanted to be.  When you are a beginning teacher, particularly in this current challenging educational environment, it isn’t always easy to do the teaching that you want to do. But you should never lose the vision – find the people who will help you realize your vision and stay connected to them. 

Finally, a piece of very practical advice. Take the time now to make some dinners and put them in the freezer. You will be too tired to prepare a decent meal for yourself in the first few weeks, but you really do need some nutritious food each evening in order to be on top of things the next day. Two minute noodles or a bowl of rice bubbles isn’t going to cut it! ”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAMisty Adoniou was a classroom for teacher for 20 years before joining the Faculty of Education at the University of Canberra where she lectures in language and literacy and keenly follows the careers of newly qualified teachers. 

Tagxedo Learning Tree

10 Oct

Tagxedo turns words — famous speeches, news articles, slogans and themes, even your love letters – into a visually stunning word cloud, words individually sized appropriately to highlight the frequencies of occurrence within the body of text.”

I have created a “learning tree” to represent my philosophy of teaching.  The tree represents the many ways of learning, the process of growth and the communal nature of education.

This is a fabulous resource for incorporating ICT simply into classroom activities.  Students could engage with this website in a variety of ways including writing, values education, vocabulary building, critical analysis and more.  I’d love to see work samples if you do try this resource with your students.  Feel free to share them on the Teacher On Training Wheels facebook page.

Game Sense?!

3 Aug

What is game sense? The Australian Sports Commission has a great explanation (if you’re interested) and defines Game Sense as:

“a method which develops the broader meanings of sport and physical activity as it focuses on developing thinking through problem solving using physical activity.”

Students engage in games which promote problem solving and critical thinking in order to play effectively, achieve desired results and work successfully as a team. These games are usually modified versions of children’s sports with varied rules and equipment or minor games which require certain game skill components. Instructions are limited and explicit teaching takes a back seat to student discussion and consultation. The focus is not on the achievement of skills or being ‘sporty’, but on contributing to the game.

In one of the health units that I completed as part of my Minor in Health and Physical Education we were taught using the Game Sense approach and I must say, as a reluctant PE participant (for the duration of my schooling and even now as an adult) I actually loved learning this way. For once the academic, non-sporty me had something valuable to contribute. I could think laterally, strategise and feel like I was playing an important role in the success of my team.

This brings me back to my Kindergarten unit of work – that’s right, KINDERGARTEN! How on earth was I meant to step back and expect 5 years old’s to 1) play a ‘sport’ (their gross motor skills often leave a lot to be desired) and 2) problem solve and think critically without teacher support!?

So I have adopted a version of Game Sense which I think any teacher could and should use (and probably does without noticing) in all PE they do with their students – regardless of age. And it all revolves around Questioning!

I think one of my favourite ‘strategies’ that I have been ‘taught’ at uni is questioning – just one, well thought-out, pointed, purposeful question can light up so many brain-bulbs and challenge understandings at so many levels!

So today’s Game Sense lesson, focusing on underarm throwing, went a little like this…

Mrs W: Today we are going to learn a new game… (BLAH BLAH BLAH)

<resist giving instructions in too much details and don’t stress out if the first attempt at the game is mayhem – it’s a good thing!>

Mrs W: So how did that go? Did your team work well together?

Kindys: There was too much happening! It all went too fast! That was tricky! I don’t want to play, it’s too hard!

Mrs W: What could we do to make it work better?

Kindys: We could slow down. We could talk to each other. I think that we should take it in turns.
But it didn’t work because they couldn’t see us, so we need to say each others names so we know to turn and catch… ETC…

We had this conversation (or similar) 3 times over the course of a 1/2 hour game. Each time we came back, talked about what did work, what didn’t and how we could make it better, before playing again thinking about our new ideas.

It was exciting seeing how frustrated they were and how this led to them seeking solutions. It was really encouraging to see what a huge difference thinking critically and sharing ideas made to the way they engaged with the game.

I would really encourage you to give it a go. The Bluearth Teachers’ Resource Centre and Sport New Zealand have a whole heap of fantastic games that can be used as they are or modified to suit the skill you want to focus on, the age of your group and the amount of autonomy appropriate for your class. With older kids minor games and variations of adult sports can be introduced.

How have you been using questioning to hand responsibility for learning over to your students?

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