Saturday, 10 December 2016

Another farewell

So it's all over. Finished once again.
My kids have grown up, no longer need me and have decided to leave me.
After 6 years, it hasn't gotten any easier.

I am, of course, talking about other people's kids, not my own. I should probably ask permission from their parents before I start referring to them as mine... or at least give a blanket disclaimer at our parent night at the start of the year.
 "I know they're yours, but for the next 10 months they're mine too.
 I hope you're a good sharer!"

That would be kinda funny actually.

But..... my class. They were so wonderful. They still are. They just aren't mine anymore.

I tried to talk them into staying with me for another year, but they wouldn't have it for a moment. Except that one sweet boy. Who has actually finished his second year with me and was angling for a third. Bless that kid! The thing is, they are sooo ready for next year. And I am so very, very proud of them.

We (myself and my other grade level teacher) undertook a really cool action research project with one of our universities. The people running the project report to the government, so the information we were providing is really important for the future of the early years in our country. It was all about putting balance back into the classroom, letting teachers teach in the way they think best, and letting the kids move and play and talk to learn. Not just that awful 'I know everything, you sit and listen, then we'll go to our allocated desks and you can do a worksheet to show me how well you listened.'  Unfortunately, that has been happening a bit in some schools, and the teachers HATE it!

It was about following their lead (our job was to make sure we covered curriculum while doing that), and letting them have some freedom to make choices about what and how they learnt the content. Not free-range kids, but they did get to make some decisions about the direction their learning took. They loved it. They OWNED it. And they ACHIEVED in our focus area (writing). Not that they achieved higher than normal by the end of the year... it was that MOST of them hit the higher level! It wasn't just that one group of high achievers.... most of them became high achievers! Even the tricky lower group I had with ESL and special needs kiddos hit the benchmark. And because they got to have input and were in control of their own learning, virtually EVERY kid was engaged for EVERY lesson. Even though we focused on writing, it spilled over into everything else. You can't really ask for more than that!

But I got more than that! I actually had to ditch my behaviour management/reward system half way through because it became useless. The kids didn't care about the rewards, and I wasn't managing any behaviour. It evaporated. By the end, all they cared about was showing off what they had done, some hugs, and encouraging each other to be excellent! They made goals and analysed their own and each other's work to identify things to improve- part of being excellent is always improving!

One of the focuses we had was growth mindset. We had some Nervous Nelly's in our classes, some who were too scared to pick up a pencil and try to write because they might make a mistake.
The change in their thinking, largely, is so much better. It's hard to imagine some of these kids have grown so much in six months! One of the best resources we had was Class Dojo's Big Ideas videos. They not only have the cutest videos but each one comes with notes and questions to discuss after.

We used the content from these videos to unpack stories we read in class from different perspectives. It was amazing to see them pulling apart the characters in popular stories- people we normally remember as the good guys- and identifying their thinking and what they could have done differently. It was certainly educational for me!  Eventually, we worked up to re-enacting situations that happened on the playground and analysing those. It was pretty amazing.

One girl, such a beautiful young lady, had difficulty with the monkey bars. She just couldn't get across. She comes from a background typically known for their bulky build, and she was already very tall compared to the other kids. She didn't have the upper body strength to haul herself across, often only making it half way. After we started looking at growth mindsets, I noticed that many of the kids would encourage her to keep trying and not give up when she fell down. She practiced every day. Then one day, it happened. She finally made it. The most amazing thing happened afterwards.

The other kids stopped what they were doing.

They clapped and cheered for her!
It was incredible to see.

One of my class parents (who also works at school) popped in on Thursday (we ninja our calendar so that the kids finish on Wednesday, and then we have Thursday to clean. Friday we have breakfast together as a staff breakup). She took some pictures of my room to show her daughter how different it looks. One of those pictures appeared on the front of my Christmas card she gave me the next day. She reminded me that my classroom is in fact, an empty room. It's the sacrifice, the people, love and life brought into the empty room that creates the environment we cherish as a place of learning, love and laughter throughout the year.

Picture is blurry, sorry. It's a photo of a photo. And lets be honest, I'm not much of a photographer... yet! And yes.. that's me in the corner.
 
 Now we are here in our ridiculously hot and humid summer, Christmas around the corner and then a whole new group of little munchkins to fall in love with all over again. After meeting these guys at our transition morning, I can honestly say we are going to be having class outside as much as possible (meaning when it isn't a million degrees outside). Those guys are ACTIVE!!

Which is great! It means I not only get to start using some of the stuff we worked on during the project right from day 1, it also means that I have to get out of my box and try something a little bit more challenging! I'm so looking forward to next year!

Speaking of next year... I've been hiding some pretty BIG news for awhile.
Because if I mentioned it back in June when we made the decision we would have sounded crazy about planning something so far in advance!

We are going to Disneyworld for Christmas 2017!

FreeImages.com/Michael Sult
It may seem like not much to you guys from the US, but to take my family from Australia to Orlando for two weeks over Christmas/New Years is costing about as much as a house deposit... the airfares alone are around $10K, and the amount of planning and research I'm having to do is incredible!  But so worth it for a once in a lifetime trip.

I have to plan where I want to eat dinner more than 6 months in advance so I can make reservations!? There is so much to a Disney holiday, especially when you consider we don't have anything Disney anywhere near here and don't know the rides, the events.. nothing! I didn't even realise there were so many theme parks in the one spot. And then I have to make reservations for the rides we want to do 2 months before we go?

There are also a LOT of people who go way overboard about the mouse stuff (a lot of kids here don't even know who that is, so it seems very weird!) and have full on planning binders!
I can kinda understand why you would want a binder to keep all the info together though- there's so much involved! Surely it must get easier once you've been once or twice though?

So.. what would your Disney bucket list be for first timers likely to never return?
What's with the obsession with character meetings? Is there something I'm missing?
What are your favourite events? We're looking forward to the Candlelight Processional.
And most valuably, any tips for surviving the (in)famous Christmas crowds?
I would LOVE to hear your expert thoughts!

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