Saturday, 12 September 2015

First Week Highs and...One Low

Well, the first week is in the books and it was wonderfully successful. I tried some new strategies - mainly gleaned from my Personal Learning Network on Twitter - and there were only a few minor hiccups. Here are a few of the things I changed.

Photo used with permission

No Seating Assignments

After gathering my students in the gymnasium (it rained on our first day) I walked them over to my new (not-a-portable-hooray!) classroom. We paused in the hall and, after reflecting on the hard work our custodial team did over the summer, we entered. 

“Choose a seat for yourself”, I said (for the first time in my career) “they are not assigned.”

Students responded in three different ways. The more bold among my charges made quick eye-contact with peers and hustled to the desks that were clustered into group configurations. Some, looked at me speculatively, as if to confirm what they had just heard. I encouraged them with a smile and a reassuring gesture with two open hands. Some, it seemed, felt much like I did when first considered the challenges of this blog. They too seemed overwhelmed by the tyranny of choice and hesitated. It was as if this was a test or puzzle and there was a correct answer. This last group eventually filed into the available desks left behind by their scattering peers. 

My only concern was for the new students to the school who, unlike the first group, had no peer with whom to make eye-contact. Perhaps, they had waited patiently only to avoid risking social offence. There were also new students who arrived late to class because of unavoidable delays in the office. For them, there was no choice available. Additionally, as students arrived and my class roster grew, I needed the custodian to bring me more desks. That made things unnecessarily awkward for children who (likely) are already feeling anxious.

No Desk for Me

This isn’t actually a new thing for me. I got rid of the large, teacher’s desk two years ago. This was a practical decision as it took up too much real estate in my already cramped portable. Instead, I have kept a group of flat tables for my classroom computer for my supplies. Eventually, these become so cluttered that, ostensibly, they serves the same purpose as my old desk, without the convenience of drawers.

This year, I've switched it up further. I have placed my computer on a desk that is only slightly larger than the one used by a student in my class. This affords me a small space for a few supplies. I have moved my day-book to the Google Drive world (Example) and I have made a personal commitment to keep the nearby conferencing table free of clutter so that it can, at anytime of day, serve its intended purpose - conferencing. I hope to place some chairs around it next week - but haven’t had a chance to ask the custodial staff for more.

No Rules on Day One

I tried to talk as little as possible on the first day. I wanted the students to get a chance to know each other and to know me. I realized that almost every student (certainly by Grade 5 & 6) understand and respect the basic rules of a school and a classroom. There seemed little point in wasting time on introducing or creating a list of class rules - even if I did dress-it-up as a “discussion” or “group activity”. Obviously, I touched on the necessary issues that related to the first day and interacting safely and cooperatively. Generally, however, I assumed that all would be well if we didn’t bother reviewing things that they already know. In a way, I am respecting the good work their parents and former teachers have already done. Thank you.

After one Week - A Reflection

I think I may keep my class out of the room a little longer next year. This will give me time to gather everyone and, if necessary, afford the custodial team time to get more desks and chairs. Furthermore, we can try a few icebreaker activities to improve new connections.


Several students have asked to change seats because they have recognized that their first choice was not necessarily the best choice. Additionally, some members of one group have struggled more than others with attentive listening, independent work and organization. Consequently, I have redistributed those students to new locations to give them a fresh start next week. The open space created is now available as a new location for my conference desk. Even without a formal discussion of expectations and rules, the class is operating cooperatively and efficiently. More changes to come next week.

I love my "No Discussion of Rules" decision. As one might expect - the kids behaved like kids and made the same small mistakes that kids make. It was no better or worse than previous years. 

The Low
About an hour after school ended, it was announced that the Provincial Government and the Ontario Public School Boards Association (OPSBA) had walked away from the negotiating table with our representatives, the Elementary Teachers of Ontario (ETFO). I had not planned for my blog posts to take a political bent, but I have to admit that this news was like a punch to the gut. We, the Elementary Teachers, have been without a contract for over a year and are currently engaged in Job Action to put pressure on the government to bargain with us. After refusing to bargain reasonably for 12 months, the government finally returned to the table on September 1st only to walk away from negotiations on September 11.

I, like many of my colleagues, had hoped that a settlement could be reached. I won't belabour the specifics here; but, I know that the core issues are not for a financial windfall. We want our professionalism respected, our preparation time preserved and our class sizes maintained. We all worked through this week with the sincere belief that things would be resolved.

This decision by OPSBA was a real low after a week full of highs. It saddens me to realize that things will likely get worse. Regardless, here I sit on a Saturday afternoon - reflecting on my week, writing this blog post, preparing for Monday and hoping that negotiations resume.