Journalling My First Few Months

COLEMANGAFor the first couple of months of my teaching contract I have been keeping a journal.  I have always strongly believed that reflecting on mistakes and experiences is the best way to learn.  I feel like I am a reflective person however I have never been one to sit down and write out my thoughts into a journal or diary.  Creating a journal presented a unique opportunity for me to further engage in the reflective process.   Sharing my journal has challenged me to think about challenges and experiences to a depth that I do not think I would have done otherwise.  I believe that keeping this journal for my first year of teaching has enhanced my experience in the following ways:

1. Increased depth of reflection.

Being asked to share my journal and my reflections has challenged me to go deeper and resulted in a higher quality of reflection.  I believe very strongly that sharing my work created a level of accountability that I would have struggled to have otherwise.  Knowing someone is going to read your reflection challenges you to create something that reflects the passion you have for the profession.

2. Enhanced/increased number of learning experiences with other professionals.

A lot of my journal was focused on various initiatives within the division and education in general.  Focusing on the experience of other professionals challenged me to begin conversations that drew out there opinions around a particular idea or practice.  One of my favorite things to do is to share my philosophy and ideas with other educators.  Having this journal helped to focus my conversations into something that I could potentially journal and share later.  I was able to learn more about different initiatives and different teachers’ successes and failures because this journal challenged me to ask questions that probed deeper into these issues.

3. Increased frequency of reflection.

Ideally teachers reflect on the successes and/or failures of every lesson that they teach however there are times when commitments outside of school or a need for balance takes away from this experience.  Keeping a journal challenged me to continually reflect on all aspects of every lesson even though I did not journal or share on every aspect.  I would reflect on each lesson I did trying to draw out particular ideas that I could reflect on further in my journal.

4. Encouraged to try (or transition to) new things quicker.

As I was continually reflecting on my lessons, experiences, interactions, etc. I was more aware of any successes or failures that I had.  This heightened awareness allowed me to quickly identify things that worked well or not so well with certain classes.  I was able to switch quickly to something new if I needed to because I was very conscious of how successful my current method was.

5. Greater confidence in what I was doing and why I was doing it.

Being able to share ideas and receive feedback on them was such a confidence builder as a first year teacher.  Sharing my journal presented a great opportunity to receive affirmation about the practices and lessons I was attempting from people who were knowledgeable and appreciative of these methods. Having a system of support and affirmation is an important thing for new teachers and without my journal it would have been harder to find.

Everyone’s situation is unique and what may have worked for me may not work as well for somebody else.  Differences aside, reflective practice is at the core of what it means to be a teacher.  A teacher committed to the profession is a teacher committed to developing their skills and practices.  Keeping a journal is one of the simplest (yet probably the most effective) way to continually engage in a process of life long professional development.

As you read this journal I hope that it offers a unique perspective from a first year teacher.  I would recommend a process similar to this for any first year teacher.  Keeping a journal and constantly reflecting on experience can be annoying and time consuming however in the field it can be one of the only forms of accountability you have.  Engaging in authentic reflective practice will help you learn faster, be more effective, and experience more success more often in your first year on the job.

Here is my journal (it has gotten quite long):

Journal of a First Year Teacher

My Summer Job

This summer has been loads of fun so far.  I got hired on by Minds in Motion, a science camp put on by the University of Calgary.  Minds in Motion has basically been my dream job.  We get to go around to different schools and put on science workshops and once school is out we start with our weekly science camps.

It’s been awesome getting to plan for the summer camps…this basically consists of us playing around with different science projects.  I’ve personally been doing a lot with sciencetoymaker.org ‘s projects; some of the things I’ve really enjoyed have been the big mouth gliders and pop pop boats (Thanks to Mr.Macdonald for hooking me up with that site).  This summer is giving me a chance to try out different activities and I think this is really going to help me get ready for my internship in the fall.

How Do I Mark Myself ?!?

I think that currently, the more I look at it, I’m in a unique situation.  In my pre-internship year, I’m not quite a teacher but learning to look at situations from the perspective of one.  At the same time I am still kind of in student mode and my learning curve is pretty steep right now (and if my profs are right it is only going to get steeper during my internship).  This has resulted in an interesting process as I synthesize some of the things I am learning with things I have experienced as a student.

One thing that has really been on my mind lately has been the idea of assessment.  There are three different factors that have brought this topic to my attention lately.

#1 My ECMP classmate Stacey wrote a post about her experience with assessment titled “Thoughts from an IB Mind”

#2  Stacey’s post caused me to become more aware of how assessment is probably the largest topic in #edchat.

#3   It’s the end of the semester and so assessment in some form is all everyone on campus is talking about.

In ECMP we were asked to take some time and assess ourselves and that this would be weighed heavily in our year end evaluation.  This was not a method that was unheard of to me, in fact I’ve done this same thing numerous times in group projects from high school straight through university.  Looking back however I don’t think I have ever assessed myself ‘well’.   By this I mean that as I look at things more and more from a teacher’s perspective I don’t think I was assessing my skills, learning or development as much as I sought to find a number that justified the work I did in relation to others in the class.  I wasn’t as much concerned with how I grew personally as much as I was concerned with where I fit in the hierarchy of grades in relation to the rest of the class.  Is this inherent to assessment and grading?  I know when I work hard and do good work (I usually do..really) and I know when I take shortcuts and don’t do my best but I have a hard time quantifying that with a number.  I feel like with me it is either more of a thumbs up or a thumbs down kind of thing.  Grades to me end up being a form of competition and I end up wanting to beat everyone else more than I want to see how I may have grown.

That is my perspective as a student.  As a teacher it differs slightly because as a teacher assessment is going to be a substantial part of my job.  As a teacher I think it becomes important to understand different forms of assessment, ways which give you the best picture of a student’s total learning.  I’m finding this very interesting and true within my education program.  In five classes I have had five different styles of assessment and none of them have been the classic sit down and write a two hour final typical of my biology degree.  In my ECMP class our instructor actually did the final with us (it was a four minute, self-guided, visual presentation displaying what we learned).

I’m excited for next semester to see what I will learn in the assessment classes that I will be taking.

I’m thankful that education is showing me some alternative forms of assessment in contrast to some of the traditional ways I have experienced.

I’m interested to learn from others what some alternatives to grading and ranking students there may be.  Are there any good ones?

Photo by: sitzmansitzman