Peer Coaching Reflections Day 1

I am currently undergoing training in Microsoft Peer Coaching.  This is three days of professional learning that has already challenged me to look at the way that I support and mentor my colleagues.  It has already started changing MY way of thinking, and how I approach team-building opportunities. The following is my reflections and some resources that have been made available throughout day one of the training.


What will I keep doing?

I will continue to provide support for my colleagues (both locally and globally), particularly in the use of ICT tools in classroom practice.


What will I take into my practice?

Listen attentively!  Take notes and respond appropriately!

There is more to responding than just nodding and smiling, reflections should build upon what has been said and support or challenge it.


What will I do differently?

I need to remember to develop careful plans for the ways that I am supporting staff in my school, not just attack it with an “ad-hoc” approach.  The idea of accountability has resonated with me this morning and I am aware that I am accountable to to my colleagues when in a coaching role.


What do I need to think about?

How does this fit in our school plan? How does this suit the needs of my students? How does this suit the needs of my colleagues?


One comment that has really resonated with my is something that I believe to be our purpose as educators.  I need to consider what I’m preparing my students for.  My Kindergarten students are going to be doing jobs that haven’t even been invented yet – they need to have the skills to succeed in a changing workforce. This quote has been taken from the  video, Learning to change, changing to learn

“[We are] making students better prepared, not just for school and university, but for life.”



What made you decide to become a teacher?

I am often asked, “What made you decide to become a teacher?” I have trouble answering this because it’s usually followed by, “It was because of all the holidays, right?”

The answer is no!  I did not decide to become a teacher because of the amount of holidays.  Sure, the holidays are nice, but that’s not a reason to choose a career path.

There are many reasons why I chose to become a teacher:

  • I love spending time with young people and guiding their learning experiences.
  • I love the moment when a child “gets” a concept and you can see the understanding in their eyes.
  • I love the collegiality I experience everyday in my workplace.
  • I love finger painting, and being messy as a form of learning.
  • I love dramatic play, running scared because the sharks might eat me if I stand near the fort!
  • I love listening to little people tell stories about their lives with such enthusiasm and excitement on their faces.
  • I love sharing ‘lightbulb moments’ with parents and watching the smile of pride spread across their faces.
  • I love feeling that I have the power to shape the future.


Recently my class participated in the South Western Sydney Regional Drama Festival.  It was a LOT of work, involving two hour long bus trips for rehearsals and a matinee performance and another car trip for the night time performance, not to mention the hours spent completing paperwork! This was time that I was completely happy to sacrifice for my amazing class because the final product was a group of learners who had achieved something they may not have otherwise had the opportunity to do.  All of the students represented our school with pride and performed on stage in front of a large audience, alongside primary and high school students.  

I’d like to share some comments that were posted by parents in our class Edmodo group.  These comments are part of the reason why I do what I do.


Well done 1-2 Orange!!!!! Job very well done……. 

I personally enjoyed the night and felt very proud to be sitting in the audience and watch you all perform. Appreciate all the hard work put In Ms Howard. :))))


True I couldn’t make it for the evening show, nevertheless, I thought the students were absolutely fantastic! It was such a pleasure to watch and couldn’t help but feel our school displayed the best play of all! Well done students!! You made all your parents proud 🙂 

FANTABULOUS!!!! Ok where do I begin??? Mmmmm Well first of all, I must admit your teacher picked the perfect name for this class….Seriously you are ALL STARS…. I was so nervous watching you all on stage as the spotlight shone and you all had to say your lines….I don’t think I could have stood up infront of so many people and performed with so much confidence as you all did… To be only 6, 7 and 8 and perform on stage and deliver it the way you all did is an accomplishment on its own. 
Second of all, Ms Howard you are an amazing teacher who did an amazing job leading this group onto the regionals. Also, a thank you to Mrs S who also helped out immensly behind the scenes.
Can I just say as a parent I am so proud of what my child has accomplished as well as the rest of the class. Sitting in that audience and watching our group up on stage was a real TREAT…. I loved every minute of it….. ÖH WHAT A NIGHT!!!!
I think we may have some Hollywood stars in the making 😉
THANK YOU to 1/2 Orange, Ms Howard, Mrs S and Mrs N for a memorable night.


So, my question to you is, why did you decide to become a teacher?

Teacher Burnout

It’s only the 6th week of a 10 week term and I think I’m getting close to the point of burnout.  I’m cranky, busy and just plain exhausted.  I have oodles of things to finish before the end of the term and I cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel!

I have plenty of strategies to deal with burnout.  They range from the sensible to the ridiculous and they all work! I promise.

  • Create a to-do list with all tasks that need to be completed by a certain date
  • Remove items that are not critical (usually with a big black texta)
  • Make a plan to work through these tasks
  • Consume copious amounts of chocolate while completing the tasks

The reality is that I spend more time planning how to do this huge list of tasks, than actually doing them. I know that I’m somewhat of a perfectionist and that I cannot settle until a job is completed to the highest standard I see possible.  I know that perfection is impossible, but it doesn’t stop me aiming for it.  I can see that this is probably one of the reasons that I am becoming exhausted and burnt out.  I aim for impossible standards and it takes a long time for me to get close to them.

With that said, I wouldn’t have it any other way.  I love my job and I love my studies.  I know that I’m putting in the best effort with my class and that I am challenging myself to be a better professional with my university studies.  Sometimes I just wish I had more hours in the day, and more energy in my body!!


How do you deal with teacher burnout?  Do you have any fabulous strategies to prioritise your tasks and get the job done?



Praise (Part 2)

I recently blogged about my realisations regarding what motivates our kids.  I had a pretty nice realisation that kids don’t need stickers and prizes in order to be motivated to learn.  Our regularly professional development meeting last week helped me realise what motivates teachers.

All classroom teachers have just finished submitting learning data to our boss.  She used this data to organise the results of our kids into graphs and we spent the morning assessing where our kids are up to, and where we need to take them next.  It was validating to hear, “You’re all doing a great job” from our principal.  I think this is the equivalent of the ‘hi-5’ that I give my students.  Like the students, we don’t need stickers or prizes to know that we are doing the right thing.  A simple, “well done” works just as well. It’s important that staff know they are on the right track, and this is one way of showing it.  People don’t need to motivated with extrinsic “stuff” like stickers, gifts or prizes.  This is a disposition that I aspire to in future positions.

For my readers who are in leadership positions, how do you praise the staff you work with?  Do you give ‘adult’ stickers (usually in the form of chocolate)? Or do you give genuine praise where it is warranted?


What motivates our kids?

Recalling my first year at university, I’m reminded of the buzz words surrounding student motivation.  ‘Intrinsic’ and ‘extrinsic’ motivation were terms that we bandied around, but I’m not sure I really understood it.  As teachers, we are generally really good at extrinsic motivation.  Entrepreneurs have built countless businesses upon educational stickers, stamps and prizes and I am guilty of stocking up a huge selection of these forms of motivation.  I even have the really special ones that say, “Miss H says great work!”

I realised this week that all of these stickers and stamps are neatly organised into rows in my top drawer.

This led me to wonder, what motivates my students? They’re obviously motivated to learn because they arrive at school happy and confident to enter my classroom.  They are making huge achievements, both academically and socially, but I’m at a loss as to what motivates them.  It’s obvious they’re not motivated by stickers because I still have a drawer full, and they’re not asking for them or wondering why there is no sticker on their work.

I taught a literacy lesson on noun groups recently, and my question was answered.  My students were directed to use a formula to create a noun group that describes a character they would like to write about.  I was surprised when one of my students raised his hand and offered, “crusty old grandpa”.  My surprise was because this student is not one who usually raises his hand and offers suggestions.  It was my response to this suggestion that answered my question.  I made a huge fuss of his suggestion with comments like, “Yes! I love it.  That’s a great noun group!”  I asked him to repeat it for those who didn’t hear and offered a hi-5.  It was this reaction that motivated the rest of my students to move beyond the standard answers they had been previously offering and challenge themselves to create more sophisticated noun groups.  Their subsequent writing was brilliant and I was suitably impressed.

I realised that my students all thrive on being able to please me and work tirelessly for such a reaction.  They are all craving the hi-5 that I offer when one of them has a ‘lightbulb moment’.

My next question for reflection is, how did I manage to set up such a culture in my classroom.  I assure you, it was a complete fluke this year!  I also wonder whether it is this exceptional group of students that I teach, or whether it applies to all students… a question that I’ll have to wait until next year to answer.

The one thing that I have learned is that I do have the ability to motivate my students in such a way that my wallet is happy as well!


Academic Writing vs Creative Writing

Obviously, there is a clear distinction between academic writing and creative writing.  How do we teach our kids to see it?

I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about the way that I teach writing recently, and what I am expecting of my students in each situation.  I’ve come to the realisation that I am squashing a lot of opportunities for creative writing at the expense of well crafted, grammatically correct pieces of work.  The reason why we write, after all, is to send a message to an audience.  If I spend all of my writing conferences with my students correcting their grammar and ‘fixing’ their writing, how will they begin to understand that their message has been received by the audience (me).


I have realised, that while I think I am allowing my students creativity, what I am really doing is teaching academic writing – how to write what the teacher/lecturer wants to read. I do this by setting certain expectations or success criteria before each writing lesson.  As I send my students to their desks, I can be heard saying: “Make sure you use interesting adjectives. Don’t forget I want to see capital letters and full stops.” I realise that I am probably destroying any creativity in saying these things before my students even put pencil to paper. My new focus will be to ensure that students know their message has been received by the audience BEFORE working through any grammatical features that need attention. It is vital they can see this in order to maintain their enthusiasm for writing beyond the classroom.


I now realise the importance of enjoying creative writing based on my own experience.  The last piece of creative writing I engaged with was titled ‘A Day in the Life of my Foot’.  I wrote it in year 7 (1998) and since I have not written creatively.  This is not to say I haven’t written anything, I just haven’t written creatively.  Since 1998 I have been deeply entrenched in the world of academic writing, i.e. writing what the teacher or lecturer wants to read.  It is for this reason that I am finding my current assignment very challenging.  I am required to keep a writing journal in order to understand how students might feel when we ask them to write.  I am using this blog as  my journal of thoughts, and I know that while my thoughts might be very disjointed and scattered I am gaining a deep understanding of what I expect my students to do.


If I gain nothing else from the experience, I will have the ability to empathise with my students.


My own crunchy eyebrows.

I started this blog with the purpose of documenting my crunchy eyebrows moments within my teaching and with the learners with whom I teach.  What I didn’t realise was that I would be having many more of my own crunchy eyebrow moments.

My university course this semester is titled Developmental Literacy in the Early Years and I’m knee deep in readings, thoughts, ideas and pedagogies about literacy for young children.  My own beliefs about literacy learning are being challenged and stretched and I love it.

My amazing study group has a varied background and huge wealth of knowledge across all sectors of education.  I can’t wait to tap into the resource that we have created together. This time around, I’m feeling more confident that I have something to offer than I did when I studied for the first time.

My thoughts are now heading towards the quality of pre-service teacher programs and whether students spend enough time in schools.  The other question would be the quality of co-operating teachers that pre-service teachers work with on their practicum experiences.  At the moment these are just thoughts, I’m not sure that I’ve formed a solid opinion just yet.  I know that I need to read further about pre-service teaching studies before I pass judgement.  What I do know, is that there are quality teachers out there and that there are quality pre-service teacher programs underway.  My question is, why are these programs not happening everywhere??




Shifting Focus

Wow! What a term!  I feel guilty for neglecting this blog, but encouraged that I spent the time focusing my energy on student learning and engagement.  I’ve done a lot of thinking recently about my fabulous group of learners and their strengths.  They are all very independent and motivated learners and I have realised that traditional teaching methods will not engage them as much as a larger project based on their interests will.

I was very lucky to spend a day with Ralph Pirozzo of Promoting Learning International.  His ideas about project based learning using Bloom’s Taxonomy and Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences have inspired me to shift my focuses as to how I teach and how I engage the students in learning.

I’ll have to start small as I get my own thoughts in the right space with this, but I’m sure the students will enjoy it.  To start with, I’ll probably just use the learning grids for one Key Learning Area (mathematics) and build from there.  Students will start with explicit teaching from me where we unpack the concept for the week.  We will then move into free choice activities where students are expected to demonstrate their understanding of the concept.  They will be encouraged to choose an activity that suits their learning style (based on multiple intelligences).

I realise there will probably be some teething problems to start with and the students will have to have a deep understanding of the behaviour expectations during this time.  I am, however, very excited about changing the way I teach based on the needs of the students, rather than continuing with a one-size-fits-all approach.


Let’s Get Started!

Beginning a new year with a brand new class can be very daunting.  Lots of new names to learn, classroom structures to put into place, and behavioural expectations to set.  As I am moving schools this year, I am also facing the task of learning new school structures and systems as well.

Here’s just a few ideas of how I start the year off on a positive note:

  • Classroom tour and expectations
    The first thing I do with new students is a classroom tour.  I talk about what’s in each storage area and whether they are allowed to access it freely or ask.  I explain the behaviours I’d like to see in reading corner and how to put books away appropriately.  I show students the IWB and give some rules about the use of it.  I show students our digital cameras, how to use them and how to pack them away.  Most importantly I set the expectations for how I would like to see students moving in each area of the classroom.  My school will be implementing the Positive Behaviour for Learning (PBL) system this year, so I will be using the common language of this model during this time.
  • Getting to know each other
    It’s important that I get to understand the students, but also important that they value the strengths that each other brings to the classroom.  I like to get the students to tell me a bit about themselves, their families and their interests.  (I understand this can be a daunting task for some students, and try to be sensitive to this – giving them a warning when it’s their turn).  Each student then completes a puzzle piece with some information about themselves.  This goes on our classroom door for the whole year with the heading ‘We All Fit Together’.  I usually spend some time talking about the interests students have written or drawn and about the vast differences we have in our classroom.
  • Making the classroom our own
    During the first week I like to do lots of crafty activities and display them immediately.  This helps the students to make the classroom their own and begin to feel ‘at home’ in the space.  We’ll be making name cards for desks and creating artwork using the student’s initials.  Within a week this makes the classroom a place where they can look upon the walls and immediately be proud of their achievements.


How do you start the year off?  Do you have a favourite activity to get to know your students?


Learning Spaces

1/2 Orange Learning Space


I love getting creative in my classroom and developing a learning space where students feel welcome and inspired.  I always have lots of bright colours and lots of student work on display.  It is, after all, their learning space, and I’d like them to have ownership of it.

My experiences in Early Childhood settings have encouraged me to design a learning space that has lots of smaller spaces or ‘nooks’ where learning can happen.  I worked with two amazing EC teachers who blog over at Inspired EC, and have an incredible learning space.  @neilfara has been one of my inspirations.  His work with secondary students creating working learning spaces where students want to be is just amazing.  I’ve also been doing some reading on learning spaces, inspired by @EduSum.  Today I read about this amazing Swedish classroom.  It would be a dream to teach and learn in.  Unfortunately, I don’t have an endless budget to create my learning space.

In the classroom, I like to have an investigation table with something intriguing on it, usually based on the interests of the students and for independent discovery.  I also like to create a comfy reading corner with lots of cushions.  There’s nothing better than curling up on a cushion with a good book.  The classroom always evolves as the students grow and change throughout the year.

Moving schools this year has been a great opportunity for me to clear out some of the resources I am no longer using and get rid of a lot of junk.  I moved from a classroom with a massive storage cupboard to one with very little storage space, so a clean out was a must!  In my new classroom I faced an even bigger challenge in that none of my storage shelves were movable.  All of the shelves and cupboards are fixed to the walls, making it really difficult for me to make the space my own.

I’m not a fan of clutter in classrooms.  I like things to be put away in their place, preferably where they can’t be seen.  For this reason, I have had to invest in some sparkly fabrics to cover the shelving. There is still a place for everything, but the clutter is hidden.

Uncluttered Storage

I’ve had to be quite creative with the furniture in the room.  I’ve managed to make a small reading area with lots of comfy cushions and a shelf with photo frames.  These will eventually have photos of the students, or photos they have taken.

Reading Corner


I am very lucky to have the connected classroom equipment in my learning space.  My students will be able to connect with peers throughout the NSW DEC network.  Such opportunities will continue to broaden their learning experiences and their understanding of their global presence.

Connected Classroom

You’ll notice in this photo that my desk is tucked away in the corner behind the mobile whiteboard.  I very rarely sit at my desk during the day, so it’s not important for the room to be visible from it.



I’m looking forward to seeing how the children work in this space, whether they fit comfortably, or whether we need to make changes.

What does your learning space look like?  How do you organise it to work with your students?