By Daniel Steele
It’s fairly safe to say that right now teaching and education is in the spotlight. The tricky part about discussing school and education is that, with everyone having attended school, we all feel like experts.
Chances are, school has changed a bit since you were there. Maybe. Hopefully.
A typical day of teaching in 2018 is vastly different to 50, 30, 20, even 10 years ago.
And, whilst collaboration seems to be a new buzz word within staffrooms, it is becoming an incredible weapon to not only fight the contemporary traps of increased demands, accountability and change management in today’s schools, but to also develop greater work-life balance, teacher capacity, teacher recognition and integration.
But, don’t take my word for it — well, not just yet.
Come and take a walk with me through a typical day in the life of a teacher. Shockingly, it doesn’t start at 9:00am, nor does it end at 3:30pm.
(Side note: as a leading teacher, some added roles and responsibilities are present)
Arrive — is there anything better than the smell of whiteboard markers in the morning? Read through journal responses and writing samples from yesterday’s groups to identify possible whole class or small group area of focus (or ways to celebrate when a kid has nailed a skill we’ve been focusing on by sharing with the whole class).
Time for checking emails and triaging importance.
Check all notices from yesterday were sent out … too many leftovers ….a couple of kids forgot. Need to follow up to make sure parents have what’s needed.
Update visual timetable on the whiteboard for the day’s event as forgot to do it yesterday afternoon. Place up “Dad Joke” on the whiteboard next to our classroom door … choose one connected to a previous conversation with the class last week about playing with homophones.
(PS Why did the baker become a banker? He wanted to make more dough).
8:10am (you get the idea)
Grab second coffee. Well, technically first coffee … at school.
Follow up previous conversations and discussions with team members about concerns about students, resources that could assist or professional readings.
Double check planning documents for the day ahead and check all resources are ready to go. Finalise visual welcome slide to assist students with seeing what is expected, what’s coming up and highlighting key dates to add into their diaries.
Wander through level corridor and staffroom to touch base with team members and check in with how they are going and feeling before today. Use as time to drop in reminders about upcoming events, key things taking place today and any follow-ups needed for our teams.
Check staffroom whiteboard to check who is in or out today. Note possible interruptions and extra meetings or visitors happening for staff and school.
Make sure door is open and that I’m facing the doorway so I can get a read on every student coming into the room as they come in. Offer massive high-five and smile as a way to check in who reciprocates it and who avoids it today … make mental reminder to check in during this morning with the two who casually avoided the high-five. Use the 10 minutes of eating time before students head out for lunch to touch base with the three who seemed tired or upset.
First bell goes. Beam massive smile to students while greeting them. Focus on telling what I’m excited about with the day ahead and positively prime them for a successful day.
Go over what’s on for today … try not to go on tangents, even when students bring up The Avengers.
Two usual latecomers enter. Give them a thumbs up, warm smile and nod to say welcome.
Point to our whiteboard so they are aware of our visual reminders and can get organised while outlining key messages for remainder of the class.
Drop in reminder about using our “desk partners” as people to check in with if we feel we might have missed any key instructions, or our class non-verbal signal for needing an instruction again.
Second bell goes. BOOM — school is officially happening. Learning can commence.
Learning commencing. Introduce specific reading strategy we are focusing on — Using text features to guide our reading. Focus on varying between students feeding back to the whole group with sharing to a partner to build engagement in discussions.
Revise our class expectations during our Literacy Block by having students name these out loud … they’re the same every day, but reminders never hurt! Class is nailing their routines. Catch the eye of a few who don’t seem to be listening. Use our class non-verbal signal about missing information (subtle point to my temple and then to student) to check understanding … student shakes head so I reword my instructions.
Students move into their partner/small group/individual literacy learning time. Give them a few minutes to settle. Remind the two students I am taking for a reading assessment during this session that we are doing some reading together today.
Start reading assessment with student.
Warm smile mixed with stern eyes to remind student distracting mates around him to be on task. Give him a thumbs-up after he makes a great choice and moves spots to stay focused. What a legend. Keep listening and following the conversation during reading assessment. Focusing on student’s comprehension of a text. Use some follow-up prompts to check deeper understandings.
Wrap up assessment and enjoy a chat with student about their fluency and ability to explain the themes and main message within the text. Make mental note to re-assess on higher level to find a more challenging level of text.
Brain Break — silent ball today. An amazing game which always leads to laughter. Helps transition class between learning times.
Student gets blood nose (please note: not from silent ball). Another student yells out something about vomit. Manage to get tissue for student suffering blood nose, while also moving other student calling out away. A third student, who has seen the blood nose and heard people talking about other bodily fluids, is looking like they are getting quite white in the face.
Calmly open door to adjoining classroom and ask the teacher — with a smile on my face — just to help keep an eye on the class for a second. Successfully distract class by mentioning that a word may or may not be misspelled on the big word wall in our class. Get tissue for student with blood nose, check they are squeezing in the right spot on their nose and don’t have head back. Student is calm and begins to tell me this happened quite a bit last year. Grab more tissues for student, just in case.
Escort White-Faced Student out into corridor to get some cool air and sit down on the bench right next to our doorway. Use this time to connect what’s happening with our year long focus on mindfulness and mindful breathing, Catch eye of another colleague in their office nearby. Through hand signals and mouthing, organise for them to help. Let student know what is happening, that another person is also here to help, that our class door will be open and I’m right nearby.
Organise to check in with colleague and White-Faced Student in two minutes to see the mindful breathing is helping. Kid gives me a big thumbs-up and say thanks — poor thing.
Wrap-up time for brain break and thank students for the focus during our reading session. While students are throwing out fruit scraps, swing past student who yelled out about vomit. Quick chat about what they would do differently next time. Student owns mistake and what to do — genuinely remorseful for upsetting anyone.
Print Walk — teachers’ way of saying, “Playing a game to draw students’ attention to areas in the classroom that have words or sounds we want you to start to use”. Get my word nerd on. (FYI, peregrination is a GREAT synonym for a long, meandering journey).
Bring whole class together and commence a short shared writing outline about why we might need new blinds in our classroom. Connect this to the class pointing out the poor quality of our blinds the other day. Bring on engaging them in real writing to persuade our awesome principal that some new blinds would be great for our classroom. (It’s all about equality and inclusive for all to fully participate in their learning, according to my class).
Kids begin to let loose with exciting and fantastic reasons why blinds would help us — mental and physical high-fives all around.
Use energy for writing stimulus to shift students into our independent writing time. Quickly guide them to outline their expectations to maximise their writing times. They nail it and shift into their independent spots quickly. Make mental note to recall this moment next time I have a crap lesson, meeting or day!
Draw independent writing time to a close by asking students to come together to share any word, sentence, phrase or paragraph they are really proud of writing. Remind them about explaining what they are proud of and why (helps us with quick and informal assessment to see which kids can name specific grammatical, linguistic or spelling aspects … or if we need to follow up to help a student unlearn something!)
Sharing writing samples and pieces.
Lunch time. Student wellbeing meeting with other leading teachers, school leader and classroom teacher to touch base about needs, supports and interventions (for students and teacher). Eat lunch during meeting.
Check digital resources for next block are working, finalise any paper resources and make sure they are purposefully spread out and easy to access to ease flow of students during lesson.
Send parent email and set calendar reminder to call this afternoon about some behaviour concerns, as well as identifying positives and next personal learning goals.
Check image outlining our quiet, mindfulness transition activities is up on the interactive whiteboard for students to see as they walk in. Good to go!
First bell to signal end of lunch rings. Get out and start high-fiving students lined up as our signal to remind those milling around they should be lined up and transitioning from the yard to lining up spots.
Second bell rings and class walks into class together. Whole class quiet mindfulness activities: origami, mindful drawing or gratitude journal to help settle and get set for next learning block.
Kick off whole-class strategy game session focused on building up students’ knowledge of multiplying by 2, 4 and 8… bring on Double, Double-Double and Double-Double-Double Time!
Pack up and celebrate new insights some students have made about doubling. Get a specific couple to name what they’re proud of to test what the trust levels in the class are. Outline the upcoming session for maths, making clear the intention of the session and the connected verbal reflection that we will be sharing at the end.
Guide students to name our class expectations on how we move to tasks, what being focused looks like, who we can see for help if we are stuck. Utilise think, pair, share response as a way to get students to rename our focus for the maths session … check body language and facial expressions of students as this happens to identify the few who are still unsure.
Rephrase the learning focus and use inclusive statement to let students feel safe that they still aren’t sure about what to do … go with an usual approach of, “If I haven’t made my instructions clear, let me know by hanging back so I can reword them in a different way for you”. Two kids stay back. Reword, they smile and give me a big thumbs up before grabbing their visual tools to help with their task.
Do a bit of mindful wandering of the room for two minutes as students settle on their tasks. Choose specific spot that allows me to see all students’ faces, including those down on the floor up the front with hands on materials, so I can catch those who can get easily distracted and give them the “secret signal” we’ve developed to remind them about being on task and that I’ll be checking in with them in 5 minutes.
Grab a small, targeted group of students focused on deepening knowledge of factorising and its connection to solving algebraic equations. Kids all get it … and share some awesomely insightful reflections about things they’ve discovered — YES!!
Draw students together and revise our reflection question about how our thinking has changed around factors. Drop in hints to two groups of students that they will be sharing (always helps to give them a little bit of thinking time) while also having some students share their perspectives.
Really interesting conversation with students taking over and starting to have a conversation among themselves, not just telling me what they think I want to hear — YES!
And that takes us up to 1:00pm — just over halfway!
There’s still two hours of teaching to go and a yard duty thrown in (which usually involves carefully dodging footballs, basketballs and lovely, but now inappropriate, hugs from preps). That’s then followed by an after-school professional learning meeting focused on using relevant student data to know where they are at, and need to go to next, in their mathematical learning. Then bookending the day with a final check and triage of emails and correspondence.
Schools are busy places, full of incredible learning (and some intense admin). The more we understand about learning and the ways we can impact learning, the greater the role of collaborating and building each other up becomes. (Along with greater knowledge of time management and efficiency).
No-one person can do this job on their own.
What has been a surprise over the past 10 years is how hard it can be to convince people of the power in collaborating to support and build up one another up in schools and staffrooms.
While time may not yet be a friend of teachers, I really believe it could be at some point.
If schools and teachers spoke about the ways we could collaborate and build our collective efficacy around it (read: build a shared belief that it can make a difference for us and students) as much as we discussed NAPLAN, Finland or how over-crowded the curriculum is, I wonder what the impact might be on our day-to-day experiences, teacher burnout, work-life balance and, importantly, students’ outcomes?
Daniel Steele is a primary school educator with a masters degree in Educational Leadership from ACU. He is the founder of the education website Upgrade Think Learn.