Monday, January 30, 2012

The Great Swimming Debate

Suddenly, with a massively high number of drownings this summer, the press and many agencies have got on the band wagon for swimming and the responsibility of schools to teach all children to swim.

The primary school that I attended took us to swimming lessons once a year for a block of time, and it was then my parents' responsibility to teach me or take me to lessons. I have taught in schools with their own pools and schools without them. Wherever there was a school pool, we flogged the lessons for a short 6-8 weeks if you were lucky, one lesson every 2-3 days, too many children in the pool at one time to be effective or children sitting on the side waiting for you to stretch yourself 4 ways in the 30 minute sprint that was the session.

The schools who have pools struggle with the high costs of maintaining a piece of equipment which is only able to be fully utilised for a maximum of 3 months a year. They have the problem in many cases that the children who need to learn water safety the most urgently are the ones who don't bring togs or have parents who opt them out of the swimming.

As a parent, I have never left the responsibility to someone else. From the moment my kids were cleared to swim after their first vaccinations, they were water babies, dipping in and out of the pool in every season. Only ear infections or tummy bugs deterred us and we lived in the local pools during the winter and swam almost every day at the beach when the weather allowed in the summer. I paid for lessons from experts, even though I am a qualified swimming instructor. I wanted my children to be taught by professionals in a sequence that was considered correct for their age and stage. They did block lessons of 5x a week during the holidays, learning snorkelling skills and other water skills. They attended a school that took them to Waterwise and ensured that they experienced challenges in the water within the safe boundaries of a supported programme.

Do you imagine then, for one second, that I would ever consider the life of my child and their personal safety in the water to be the responsibility of their teacher or school?

The ONLY way to ensure that our children in New Zealand are safe in the water, as much as we can, is to look for ways to give access to swimming lessons to the children who are most at risk. The children whose parents cannot afford lessons. The children whose parents do not swim confidently themselves. Our local council gives every child in every local school free lessons - okay, it's only 8 lessons over 8 weeks, but this is a start. Our school community provides volunteers who go with our children to Waterwise for 4 days a year. We include water safety and water activities at our school camp. We take every child to swimming lessons at our local pool - again, our council has stepped up and bears the majority of the cost for this. Why? Because they see the lives of our children and their safety in the water as far more important than the cost of lessons. Our local pool is free which means everyone has free access to a safe place to swim and learn water confidence.

So here is my thinking - what if we simply stopped griping as a nation about the lack of pools in schools and the lack of help from teachers around the country, and actually put some pressure on all of the local councils to provide free lessons for every child? And how about getting some sponsorship for all children to have 4 days of Waterwise in Year 5 or 6? And what about all local pools being free so that families who cannot afford the cost of lessons have the chance to get their kids in the water, with no costs involved?

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Biggest Staffroom In The World

"Social media allows the creation and exchange of user-generated content. Social media is media for social interaction as a superset beyond social communication. Enabled by ubiquitously accessible and scalable communication techniques, social media has substantially changed the way organizations, communities, and individuals communicate." (quote from Wikipedia)

So - if this is all available anywhere and at any time, why are there still so many teachers who haven't joined the biggest staffroom in the world?

Got a question about assessment/learning styles/class layout/student teachers/promotions etc. and want a frank, experienced or even fresh answer? Use social media! No need to look inside the 4 walls of your own school - step outside the walls and dive into social media to explore what others think, feel and know!

Quite honestly, I am blessed to teach with a large and incredibly inspiring staff and our staffroom is rich with conversation, challenge and discussions. But I also have a bigger staff in a staffroom without walls and they are my PLN - their opinions and ideas are thought-provoking, their advice is supportive, their experience adds up to decades (probably centuries collectively!) They collaborate naturally, think broadly and challenge deeply. They hold me accountable and also value my ideas and opinions.

Doesn't that sound like the perfect staffroom to you?!

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

The Things That I THINK I Want For This Year!

This is doomed to be an epic failure.

Every year, I start with gusto, leap into a million projects and ideas and then, with every good intention in the world, I get all distracted and they fall by the way.


This year, I am determined to iron out the past mistakes of old, learn from the failures and move into the school year one step ahead of myself. No promises or new year resolutions, no lists of things I have to do, but just a more realistic approach to the year ahead.

The things I WANT for this year are going be vastly different from what you discover has actually eventuated at the end of the year, but I am okay with that, really I am. I need to have goals, I need to dream and I need to have a purpose and design in my head, that's just the kind of the gal I am. But I am also blessed with a dreadful sense of discontent that plagues me continuously and means that there are so many holes in my ideas, that the kids control the momentum and direct the learning and I just allow the opportunities to shape themselves.
Notice I don't say PLAN although I do plenty of that. "The best laid plans of mice and men, often go awry..." is a catch phrase that relates well to me and my teaching. I can make the most elaborate of plans and end the day smiling at the realisation that we ended up elsewhere!

So, the things that I THINK I want for this year have to be big, broad and generic. They have to encompass personal growth, change and challenges or else, why am I bothering?

  1. To learn as much as I can from student teachers - let's be honest peeps, they are the freshest fruit in the basket and have plenty of rich, ripe ideas to steal!
  2. To challenge anything that looks stale - okay, there is a food theme developing unwittingly here, but what I mean to say is that I am not going to just accept the norm or the directives without challenging HOW they will positively influence my teaching and learning.
  3. To push every boundary and limitation in eLearning and tech - I want to give as many new things a try with my class, never be happy to rest back as if 'that is enough' but drive on in search of more to come.
  4. To be as collaborative as I can be - my dream is to utilise the PLN I have to the fullest potential and I think that is only just starting to happen. How much more? Not sure, but willing to find out and explore!
  5. To be able to see tangible change in my own practice - this is a constant and a given for me - if I am not constantly changing and adapting for my students and developing my personal learning, then I can never offer them the best of me.
Will 2012 end up looking like this? Who knows?! But the journey will certainly be fun - it always is with teaching and learning!

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The Best Teacher Ever

It's not about accolades. It isn't to do with notoriety or fame, acknowledgement of peers. It isn't to do with a well-known name or face. It has no connection to write-ups, books, articles or mentions. It isn't how many others can name you or talk about you. It has nothing to do with even being noticed within your own school or by your leaders.

It's not about being the best teacher in the school, town, city or nation. It's not about who votes or how many nominate you.

What is it judged by then? Who really can say that they are/were 'the best teacher ever'?

None or us and some of us and sometimes ALL of us.


Because it's about 2 little words and a moment in time.

I remember.

It's about that moment in time when a person says - oh I remember when Ms. Smith made model ships with us and we journeyed across the classroom pretending to be sailors. I learnt all about the parts of a ship and it made me want to know more.

Oh I remember when we learning about Egyptians and Mr. Crowe helped us to make papier mache mummies and then we turned the classroom into an Egyptian tomb and spent 3 weeks pretending to live in Ancient Egypt with the Pharaohs.

I remember when my parents got divorced and my teacher was really kind to me and helped me to forget about the stuff going on at home by being busy with the stuff going on in school.

I remember when my teacher told me that I was going to be a doctor one day and then he helped me to find lots of interesting books about the things I was fascinated by about medicine.

I remember...

Two very simple words. But when you run into a past pupil you will hear them if you have got it right. They will not be able to resist recounting a wonderful moment in time that you were the reason for. They will have to tell you how you made a difference, how you impacted their life, how you changed something in them.

You may have to wait a while, perhaps a few years of teaching, but the words will come.

I remember...the BEST teacher ever...

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Citizen Journalism Returns

I couldn't resist re-visiting this concept - the idea that we, as everyday people, can affect the way news is reported and more than that, WHAT news is reported.

The first tool we take to a gun fight now is our mobile device! In this report, the people watching did the only thing they could to avoid being hurt - from a carpark, they used the most powerful tools available to them: their phone and the internet. As a result, the people involved in this altercation have been caught and charged. If we need a better deterrent for future criminals, then I really don't think we need look much further than citizen journalism.

How else do you think citizen journalism could affect our future?