Monthly Archives: February 2012

Aumangea – resilience

February 22nd 2012 is the first anniversary of the devastating Christchurch earthquake. A tough post this one, but it’s been brewing in my head for a while and it’s probably better that it comes out.

At the end of 2011, I’d been on placement in a North Island school when the September quake hit, and the next week in class we discussed evacuations, emergencies and earthquakes. We wrote letters, we conducted science experiments on seismic forces, and we covered all the relevant sections of What’s the plan, Stan? I felt out of touch and very distant from my family and friends living in my hometown of Christchurch, but my family and I moved home again just in time for Christmas. We ate souvlaki and shopped in the city centre and celebrated Cantabrian community spirit.

At 12:51pm on February 22nd 2011, I was sitting at my office desk, skyping with My University study-buddies around the country when the 6.3 quake rolled through. I hid under my desk and hoped that my children, at school and at child-care, were safe and not frightened. I text my family and friends to make sure everyone was ok. I went outside and checked my chimney. Then I got a Skype message from a buddy in Wellington telling me buildings had collapsed and people were injured, and worse. It focused me. I collected my children. My fiancé didn’t come home for more than a few hours over the following days – he was managing the catering service that was feeding the thousands of people that went into action helping others after the disaster. The days became a haze of streaming news reel and keeping my children close, as I waited for names of the missing and deceased to become public.

For weeks afterwards it was difficult to concentrate for more than a few minutes at a time, as every vibration or noise sent my body into tense readiness to react. Every trip to the supermarket was accompanied with escape plans, a list of emergency kit supplies, and a fully charged cellphone, and, after a while, it became normal. Normal to not sleep for more than a few hours at a time, to take a study break every 5 minutes because I had lost my train of thought, to constantly check news reports for confirmed identities of people who had lost their lives. The updates condemning my childhood home to the red-zone, the demolition of my high-school, my first flat, my first workplace – they came as additional blows which knocked the energy out of me, the scale of damage was just too much to comprehend.

I headed out to my 4-week practicum placement in the midst of all this, as a nervous wreck. I forgot to take in lunch or lesson plans one day, forgot to photocopy resources another. I had given myself a stomach ulcer. I wasn’t coping at all.

But I had a wonderful moment one day, on practicum, when the students and I wrote poetry together, about the earthquake.

It began as a group brainstorm – I scribed all their suggestions on the interactive whiteboard; what could you see, hear and feel (inside and out) and what you did. Their willingness to share and the way they described the event was inspiring. We wrote a poem together and called it ‘Tuesday’. It was a safe way to share our fear without being scared.

For the rest of the year a copy of that poem sat on my desk, as a reminder to recognize my fear and to keep going; and as a reminder to me that when you’re working with children you can’t be the one losing your head – you need to be able to role-model and reassure. My practicum kids had taught me about resilience. I have a whole unit plan now on disasters, but my session on poetry and making sense out of how we feel, is by far my favourite.

Here is a video on a magical Arts based unit used in Christchurch schools after the earthquake. May we remember the 185 who were lost – and support those who remain.


Tautoko – support

It’s taken me a little while to get used to the Twitter style of social networking – at first I thought maybe I would listen on a dozen or so teacher-tweeters; then I found some useful tweet-chats and, now, I have just gone through the ‘following 150’ barrier that I set myself (after a dozen, I extended it to 50 – then 100 – and it has just kept growing). How many is too many? I have no idea but I can’t imagine I’m just going to strike upon a nice round number and suddenly stop listening to new voices – especially when there are so many teaching tweets out there that support my ever increasing knowledge of teaching, learning and life at school.

At first I was a little overwhelmed at the stream of information that can be carried through 140 characters, and thought I had to read it all as it arrived in my tweet stream. I think I developed a small case of tweet anxiety – that is, in that one tweet I didn’t read, there would be a link to something genius.
In 6 weeks, this is what I have found:

Good ideas don’t get tweeted only once (supporting learning)

Good ideas get passed around, or retweeted, commented on, discussed and blogged about. A good idea for teaching and learning gets refined by many minds and continues to circulate on the Twitter feed. At the beginning of the school year, teachers are discussing what’s happening in their learning space, how they are setting up the initial week or two, and what new things they are going to try and it occurred to me, as I was frantically trying to keep up with all the interesting ideas, they will discuss it all again next year. There is no requirement to remember, or favourite, every great tweet ever made, because when something is good, it stays in there, being passed around like a favourite chocolate cake recipe or directions to the best teppan-yaki in town.

If you’re not sure, you can ask (supporting teaching)

Maybe it’s something to do with tweeting to teachers, but everyone likes to help. I often have tweet queries appear in my feed, sometimes I know a link that might be helpful, most times I don’t, and there are times I will Google or follow the lead in order to learn more. Perhaps it is has something to do with why these teachers are on twitter in the first place – they enjoy sharing and will pass on knowledge when and where they can.
Finding support on Twitter – like walking into a room saying “Hi, I’m looking for a maths resource for financial literacy” and out of a crowded room several people look up and say “Hi, I can help”. It’s amazing.

It’s called “social networking” for a reason (supporting community)

That’s right – it’s all about being social. You wouldn’t turn up at a staff meeting in order to rubbish people’s ideas or pass out pornography (why on Earth porn-spammers exist, I just don’t know) so have a bit of courtesy for the wonderful people that are putting themselves out there to connect with virtual strangers. There are many teacher-tweeters who take the time to welcome, thank and nurture their follower networks, as well as write blogs. I really admire their style and think they are great, distant, professional role-models. These people can make a joke and take the time to wish a tweet-buddy Happy Birthday, as well as tweeting technical teaching-turkey.

What aspect of teachers on Twitter would you like to celebrate?

"Celebration" CC Image courtesy of bfick on Flickr

Whakamine – gather together

This week has been really exciting. I’ve been off experiencing the first few weeks of the school year with a room of 7 and 8 year olds. I think the most important piece of learning has been how to ensure your students feel happy, welcome and safe when they get to school each day. Half this success is getting to know and appreciate each student as a unique individual, and the other half is helping each student become part of a supportive learning team.

There are formal and informal ways of getting to know your students.
Formally, you may have a variety of activities organised so students can share personal aspects of their lives, such as all-about-me posters, books or games; as well as a variety of assessment strategies so you can ascertain student’s skills and knowledge in order to tailor your teaching.
Informally, there is before school conversation with students, and contact with parents, which helps inform you of student out-of-school interests and past-times, activities and commitments.

The team-building grows alongside the get-to-know-you strategies. Students need to get to know each other and learn to learn alongside and with each other, through a range of independent, paired and shared activities. One of the best I saw this week was the improvised band.

In groups of 4 or 5, students selected from a pile of ‘junk’. The junk was recycled boxes, bags, plastic bottles, cans and paper. Over the next 20 minutes, the groups developed a soundscape of thunder and rain which they then performed in front of the other groups. The results were varied, interesting and very, very loud. The skills of sharing ideas, negotiation and thinking “we” instead of “me” are setting up these students as a learning community which values collaboration and communication.

What activities are you using to get to know your students and/or nurture a team?

Te Tiriti o Waitangi – The Treaty of Waitangi

Every year on February 6th, we in New Zealand celebrate a national holiday to commemorate the 1840 signing of Te Tiriti o Waitangi. The treaty itself is not a long document, only consisting of three clauses, but the interpretation of those clauses differs between the English language and te reo Māori versions and has led to disagreement and reparation between the signing parties: iwi and government.

Over time, laws in New Zealand have begun to refer to the ‘principles of the Treaty of Waitangi’, and no doubt if you work in a New Zealand school you will be bound by the school’s Treaty of Waitangi policy to act in accordance with these principles.
Do you know them?

If you are interested in reading more information on Te Tiriti o Waitangi, for yourself or for your students, I recommend ‘The Treaty’ by Marcia Stenson and ‘An Illustrated History of the Treaty of Waitangi’ by Claudia Orange.

What do the principles of the Treaty mean to you?