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  • Writer's pictureKaren Caswell

Looking back in order to look forward

Updated: Sep 25, 2019

I was inspired by a Teachonomy Talks podcast by Chuck Poole, which asked the question, “Do you remember how good you are?” In it Chuck talked about how at this time of year we often start to shift our focus forward, maybe making resolutions, setting goals or identifying aspirations for the new year. Before doing that, Chuck encourages teachers to stop, look back and reflect, and focus on our highlights before deciding what we need to do to improve. One way to do this, is to make a highlight reel, similar to those for athletes, where all our achievements are identified in order for us to remember our ‘why’.

I have a tendency to dwell on my mistakes and failings, so, I decided to follow Chuck's advice, and here is my Top 5 Highlight Reel for 2018 (in no particular order):

* Big Rock 1 - Relationships. Connecting with my students and developing meaningful relationships with them was a definite highlight. This year was my first year teaching Grade 4, and as an Early Childhood trained teacher I was initially concerned about connecting with these ‘big kids’. However, I thoroughly enjoyed the rapport I developed with them, the jokes we told, the conversations we shared, and their appreciation for my love of puns! On the last day of school I shared a poem I wrote for them, and there were a few tears (not all of which were mine).

* Big Rock 2 - Reading. This is my passion! My goal for this year was to reignite student’s love of reading. For the past few years I’ve slowly watched the joy being sucked out of reading, as the focus became solely on reading instruction. Without a doubt, teaching students to read is vital, however if the only reading they do is reading what they are told to read, when they are told to read it for instructional purposes, how will they ever discover a love of reading? Developing a reading community within my class by sharing my love of reading, establishing a classroom library based on their interests, and intentionally providing students time to read books THEY have chosen to read, was one of my biggest accomplishments this year. But the ultimate highlight, was when students who rarely chose to read found books they WANTED to read, and who started seeking time and space to be able to. It was also exciting to provide my students with an authentic reading experience as they joined other students in editing Allyson Apsey's new children's fiction book 'The Serendipity Journal', which they loved!

* Big Rock 3 – Student Engagement. Like so many others, after reading “Teach like a PIRATE” by Dave Burgess, I was inspired! Inspired to provide uncommon experiences for my students, instead of just lessons. Inspired to do whatever I could to engage students in learning. Inspired to be great. The decision to teach like a pirate was made, I charted my course and set sail! There were many days where I watched as students were fully engaged, laughing and having fun while learning. Receiving cards from students, and overhearing conversations in the last week of school, where students said how much fun they had had and that this was the best year ever at school, was the icing on the cake. We were also fortunate enough to have Dave talk with us via Skype, and as anyone who has seen or heard him speak before would know, that is an experience!

* Back to Big Rock 2 – Reading. My passion for reading was so evident, that it began to be noticed by others. I was involved in coaching other teachers, sharing on professional development days and, most exciting of all, I was tasked with purchasing books for our school Professional Library. Can you imagine how exciting it was to be able to choose books to add that would motivate and inspire educators! Of course, as I’d been reading Dave Burgess Consulting Inc books - Kids Deserve It by Todd Nesloney and Adam Welcome, Teach Like a Pirate by Dave Burgess and Be Real: Educate from the Heart by Tara Martin at that point - all of which had a significant impact on me professionally and personally (I've written about this in previous posts), I went straight to the website and started there, along with including books by other awesome authors. It has been a big hit and the books fly off the shelves!

Our growing Professional Library and #bookshelfie photos.

* Professional Learning Network and Twitter. I joined the Twitter educator community this year, to take advantage of the awesome professional learning opportunity it provided, and began to develop my PLN. At first, this involved mainly me reading, liking and retweeting tweets from the amazing educators I discovered there. I gradually became more involved and started to share my own thoughts, ideas, experiences and accomplishments, and I truly value the connections I've made. A couple of the Leaders of Learning at my school were also exploring Twitter and could see the value being part of a Twitter PLN offered educators, so decided to share this resource with staff. I was able to share my experiences with other teachers and help them take advantage of the benefits offered, and we had about 20 teachers join Twitter that morning. I also started the #TLAPdownunder Twitter chat (with Dave's permission) in order to provide the opportunity for a #tlap chat in a more accessible time for those of us not in the US. I have been surprised, and overwhelmed, by the scope of this chat – we not only have participates from Australia, but also Singapore, Hong Kong, Japan, Switzerland, UAE, and England! I am so grateful to others for their support and jumping on board. I’m hoping to continue to grow the audience and participation next year. If you're interested, and in a 'friendly' timezone, the chat is on Sunday nights at 7pm AEST.

So there it is! Often we are hesitant to talk about our accomplishments, for fear of appearing arrogant or 'up yourself' (to use an Australian/UK term), however by acknowledging my achievements for this year, not only am I ending the year on a positive note, I’m also able to identify my ‘where to next’ – which is to continue to build and strengthen relationships with students, and provide engaging, relevant learning experiences for each of them; I’m going to continue to advocate for reading for pleasure and have a plan to develop a whole school reading community; and I’m going to continue building my PLN - please connect with me at @kcasw1 - and developing #TLAPdownunder. As well as some new, bigger challenges coming my way!

So, thank you Chuck, for asking the question and challenging me to look backward and remember how good I am, before setting my sights on where I need to go. I encourage you all to do the same, and please share your highlight reel with me as I'd love to celebrate your awesomeness with you. Bring on 2019!


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