Monday, March 27, 2017

Thank you, IRCC !

The closer it drew, the more I'd been looking forward to the change of scenery a day-long professional development event would provide. The conference was funded by Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; the organizing committee, made up of people from each of several service agencies around the city, didn't disappoint.

Paul Huschilt warmed us up for the day and got us feeling silly with the Seven Humour Habits for Workplace Wellness; he was an absolute riot. I wouldn't hesitate to recommend him to anyone planning a conference.

Morning sessions focused on the wellness of the frontline worker; that's us. Since I have completed a course in Reiki, I thought "The Healing Arts for Personal & Organizational Wellness TM " might be a bit redundant. I've attended Maria Margaritis' recent webinar and am lucky enough to have her right in the next classroom from mine, so I chose to let someone else have a seat in "Practical Approaches to PTSD." Compassion fatigue isn't a concern for me right now, so I kept reading on down the list of options. The last workshop was "Live, Love & Laughter," which sounded a tad cheesy, but online political squabbles have me feeling in need of some lightening up these days. I enjoyed Rosemary Heenan's session a great deal. I appreciate that she made us do the work rather than just explaining the benefits of such things as deep breathing, visualization, and counting one's blessings. The last few minutes were spent on laughter yoga.

As always, the culinary arts students did a great job on the luncheon. And anyway, who doesn't appreciate a free meal?

I had not read over my program completely and was surprised when the MC announced that Lieutenant-General, the Honourable RomΓ©o Dallaire was giving the keynote address! I had never had the privilege of hearing him in person before, and wow! He was riveting. I don't know how HE avoids compassion fatigue after all the years he has spent watching people slaughter each other, watching children starve, and all the other types of senseless mayhem that U.N. forces go in to mitigate.

After his talk and the question period, we had break-out sessions based on sector. All the English teachers went to "PBLA-Aligned Assessment Toolkit" by Adrienne Horvath Cortes of Conestoga College and two colleagues. I was pleased to get to attend this since I hadn't been able to get into the same session in Toronto this past fall yet have been trying to muddle through figuring out how to use their bank of ready-made rubric templates for a few weeks now.

I'm happy to report that all my concerns and questions were answered. I now fully understand how to use them. Even before today, I was finding that the more I use them, the faster it goes getting them ready. Now I know that I've not been doing everything in the optimal or intended way, so I'm looking forward to correcting those errors the next time around. The best news? Yes, they are working on a set for literacy: foundations, CLB 1L, 2L and 3L. Yay!

Today's mini-conference was one of the best organized PD events I've been to. So thank you, IRCC and organizers. Encore, encore!

Sunday, March 19, 2017

PBLA - Six Week Update

I got myself into a bit of a panic this past week when I realized I am NOT on track to meet the artefact quotas I've been handed for my classes: a morning class (multi-level for seniors) and afternoon class, which is CLB 1L adequate reaching for the beginning stage of 2L. I am supposed to have about eight artefacts per skill by the end of this term. Actually, we've been asked to have them in the portfolios by the end of May so that some auditing, etc., can be done by the lead teacher in June. Well, if I continue at this same rate, it looks like I'll get about HALF that number by the deadline in order to make decisions about promotion.

I was feeling a lot of stress and resentment over this fact, almost feeling as if I've been given an impossible task. That was until I sat down with my calculator and did the math. The whole number of artefacts notion is based upon the premise that it takes about 300 hours of instruction to move a benchmark level.

Now I am feeling comforted a bit by two facts:
  • With the term having begun on January 30th, by the end of May my students will have had about--and this is an optimistic estimate--just 164 instructional hours;
  • Not all demographics make progress toward a benchmark at the same rate. Goodness knows new arrivals still getting settled, missing a lot of school due to myriad appointments, make slower progress. And we all know that those over the age of 60 AND do not fall under and should not be placed together with those under the same umbrella as mainstream settlement English learners.
So, a) I am on target if you consider that our term really includes just over half of 300 instructional hours. And b) at least in the case of my morning class, I have a strong case if I choose to argue that they should not be subject to this artefact collection quota in the first place. Let us collect examples of our best work at our pace since no promotion ever takes place. I'll let you know if this plea of mine ever bears fruit.

Other notes:

With seniors and to some extent with literacy, Back to the Well and Martine's Rule Number One continue to cut down on the ridiculous amount of time I once spent on lesson prep. Both classes seem to benefit from my turning work over to them that I once would have done. Example: literacy students can help me make flashcards, seniors can create dialogues that I simply check, seniors can go 'materials light,' etc.

Better self care continues to contribute to a drastic lessening in my stress levels.

I do not mind creating detailed module plans when there is already one in the Manitoba Module Planning Framework for me to riff off of for that topic and level. It takes me only 5 minutes to go through and take out what I'm not teaching, substitute what I am. Otherwise, the module plan all typed up with every single one of those 36 boxes filled (some with multiple levels of detail) feels like busy work, duplication of information that can be found on my rubrics/checklists and monthly report, a cruel bureaucratic hoop I'm made to jump through, and VERY time consuming.

I continue to find ways to help the students become more independent of me when it comes to classroom and school routines, housekeeping, etc. Below are two examples of classroom management innovations that I believe save me precious time when it's all added up. They are:

1 - Keep a box in the classroom where students returning after an absence know to look for prior days' worksheets. I always make exactly the number of copies as there are students in the class. After passing out papers, I jot down the names of absentees on the tops of the extras and put them in "the box." It then becomes 100% the responsibility of that absent student to check the box and collect all missed worksheets upon her return. Teachers who consider writing the names a burden might consider having a helper do this part.

2 - I keep a wall calendar where I colour all "no class" days in orange highlighter. Events are also written there, such as Health Access Day and other school-wide events. I will announce upcoming events and closures at least once and will write them on the board, but the students have the ultimate responsibility to keep an eye on those orange squares. This cuts out time wasted on multiple unnecessary repetition of announcements. I often see students referring to this, pointing out dates to their peers, all without the need for me to get involved.

3 - A third classroom routine I'm hoping to introduce this week in order to establish a boundary that will help me with my sanity is the reporting of a classmate's absence. I just realized last week that my seniors are lacking when it comes to some tiny issues of common courtesy; one of them revolves around being dismissed, and the other is knowing how to politely interrupt someone who looks busy (that's me before 9:00). I am planning to ask that they change how they report the classmate's reason for absence to me. I know this is going to sound cold-hearted, but that time before 9:00 is mine. Because of how my brain works, I need that period to be as free from interruptions as possible, and I get a very anxious and impatient feeling welling up in me when I am interrupted and then have to smile politely while my student slowly, with many pauses, tries to convey the message. They do not first ask, "Do you have a second?" or "Is this a good time?" No matter what I'm right in the middle of, they launch right into their agonizingly halted explanation. That's my bad. I have failed to teach them how to politely interrupt someone.

My idea is to give them three options:
  1. They can ask me if it's a good time and then act upon the answer; 
  2. They can wait until 9:00 and then let me know either aloud from their seat or by approaching me and whispering; 
  3. They can write the message on a sticky note for me to put inside the roll book and later convey to the administrative assistant. I will explain that if it's before 9:00, the sticky note should be passed to me wordlessly or put into my roll book without a bid for my attention. 
Perhaps this problem is specific to a seniors' class; I don't see too many teachers with loads of students who arrive more than 15 or 20 minutes early every day. There are certain prep tasks that I cannot accomplish anywhere but in the classroom. So I am going to attempt to teach them about my need for this boundary.

How about you? Are you doing well with work-life balance? How is PBLA going? Does your admin have a reasonable artefact quota collection schedule that you can comfortably meet? Would love to hear.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Blogger Unblocked

This is going to be a bit of a messy blog post, I think. The four-day delay, by the way, had two causes. I didn't post on Sunday or Monday due to a last-minute decision to travel to Waterloo and Toronto to blow off some steam during March break. The additional two-day delay has been due to writer's block.

A comment I got on my last post left me feeling paralysed. Don't get me wrong! ALL comments are welcome here. But that one forced me to say out loud something I know about myself but am not terribly proud of. I'm glad that anonymous commenter prompted some introspection on my part. I haven't reached resolution, but today I am ready to share with you the thoughts I'm working through.

Maybe I'm not the only person on earth who sometimes feels they are comprised of more than one personality. I was born a people pleaser and remained a painfully conscientious child until adolescence. That's when rebel Kelly pushed her way out of the shell and tried to find her voice. It wasn't always pretty, a fact to which my dear mother can attest. But even during those rebellious years, I had secret corners of my life where a certain teacher could still bring out the good kid in me. That kid was so good that other kids often pressured her to stop being such a keener. (And stop setting the darned curve so high, will ya?)

Today the two personalities reside inside me and compete for air time. I'm proud of the rebel, the revolutionary, the strong woman who has on occasion fought to right an injustice or walked into the CEO's office uninvited to protest an unfair policy or illegal practice. I'm not as proud when zeal verges on bootlicking. But I understand how Goody Two-Shoes came to be. I have compassion for her because I know how her perfectionism, OCD (yes, I've been professionally diagnosed) and the disease to please came to be part of her survival arsenal.

The advent of PBLA has brought out at least two instincts in me.

First, it pings my injustice radar. Something is rotten in Denmark. We are being asked to comply with requirements that put undue stress on us, all of which may or may not be of value to our particular clientele, and which require us to do more than can be accomplished on the clock. We are already a group that is easily exploited for our kind and caring hearts. Our "donated time" has been taken for granted for years. Most teachers also dig into their own pocketbooks for supplies, realia, etc., or spend free time sourcing realia and otherwise working to take their lessons from what is minimally required to enriched. Many of us are at our wit's end trying to meet the artefact quotas without resorting to fudging, without compromising our personal integrity.

Some of the other personae that PBLA awakens in me, none of which clashes with my usual work persona, are: the keener, the problem solver, the fixer, the sharer, the rescuer. When I figure out a shortcut or innovation, when I create a tool, when I hear of a misunderstanding whose clarification means less stress/work for us, I just want to carry that gift out to every teacher across Canada who is struggling with PBLA.

I feel bad when I learn that the beneficiaries of my standing up and speaking out feel betrayed when the other me gets her airtime.

So that's where I am. I have to say that being the fixer is a lot less lonely. When I share, I get instant gratification knowing a resource that otherwise would have languished in my file cabinet is going to be used by another teacher. An idea is going to save someone time. Being an advocate for suffering teachers considering leaving the field due to unrealistic expectations that they are not finding a way to fulfil has not, so far, brought with it any rewards. Very few other teachers have been willing to join their voices in solidarity with mine. It's lonely in the rebel constructively critical camp. I KNOW there is an entire back channel buzzing with criticism and desperate cries for help, but that barely reaches me.

So that's where I'm at.

I hope you're enjoying March break and are treating yourself to some precious and very needed down time. πŸ’š πŸ’š πŸ’š

Saturday, March 4, 2017

PBLA Drove Me to Better Self Care (and other good news of the week)

No black cloud is without its silver lining. At the end of 2016, I was about ready to start a work-to-rule protest due to how much extra stuff I was expected to do as part of my job. I was expected to continue creating the content for my courses and was simultaneously expected to take on the new responsibility of meeting artefact collection quotas while creating all the tools, forms and trackers that should have been handed to me with the roll-out of Portfolio Based Language Assessment. As you might have noticed, I nearly snapped.

I love the organization that I work for; in the end I chose not to stop my main volunteer activity. However, I knew I was stressed out, testy all the time, sleep deprived, and not taking proper care of number one. With January came the idea of making some self-care resolutions for 2017. Here are some of the promises I made to myself two months ago:

  • Adhere strictly to Martine's Rule #1. For the morning students, who can handle it, adopt Back to the Well like never before.  This will free up time and energy for the new bureaucratic demands of PBLA.
  • Bring a balanced, healthy lunch and enough healthy snacks in my lunch bag to keep my blood sugar even throughout the day, to keep my brain functioning well and my moods level.
  • Stay hydrated. I'm very bad about not doing this if my only choice is water. Lately I've treated myself like a princess by indulging in RISE lemongrass kombucha. Talk about feeling pampered all day! (No, I'm not being paid to say that.)
  • Wear comfortable footwear every day. I'm not the only teacher who wears Blunnies. And no, I'm not being paid to say that, either.
  • Wear non-binding, soft, comfortable clothing every day.
  • Ask for help when I need it, including from the students themselves.
  • Ask maintenance crew to help me rearrange classroom furniture so that I once again have a desk of my own (instead of cramming my stuff onto one corner of the students' picnic-style tables).
  • Ask administrative assistant for any and all supplies that will make teaching easier or will make it easier for me to stay organized.
  • Go to bed on time, get up early, get to school well before class starts (I hate feeling rushed).
  • Do not allow anyone--not students, not manager, not colleagues--to steal that before-class time from me. It's mine. Lock doors, be firm at the risk of appearing rude, but guard that time.
  • Eat lunch in a quiet space and do not multi-task. Chew slowly. Do not rush.
So! I am happy to say that two months out I have stuck to all of these resolutions with only a few minor instances of relapse, quickly getting back on track when I slip. The result? I'm a different teacher. I'm smiling again, breathing again, teaching well again. 

Seniors are doing fine with my materials light-light-lighter approach and their new responsibilities. In fact, two of them wrote on a recent learning journal entry that they felt they had benefited from learning how to break down and simplify a difficult text. (Simplifying/grading an authentic text is one of the things I would have done for them using hours of my own time at home before PBLA.)

Other good news from the past week:

πŸ’š  I finally found an iPad app that looks promising for my student with low vision. I'll blog about that on a separate post after we've used it for a week or two.
πŸ’š  One of my literacy students, a super keen Syrian man who has taken charge of his own learning, asked about ordinal numbers while we were discussing the date. He wanted a list of them. I was able to direct him to the Language Companion's Helpful English section. He didn't take it home, but was very pleased and thanked me. So, yeah, LC came in handy in literacy for the first time. I hope it's not the last time.
πŸ’š  I had a week (in literacy) in which I can honestly say that PBLA had a positive effect on my teaching, at least on the organizational aspect. I managed to get every duck in a row: module objectives, dates of assessments, tasks and accompanying assessment tools typed up and ready to go well before assessment day. This means I was able to show students the checklists several times, reminding them of the expectations and practicing for success. The difference between the dry run and assessment was that they didn't know WHICH bus route they would get on test day, which time of day would be used in the role plays, etc. (No two students had the same route schedule = no cheating.) Best of all? With the exception of a very new student, they all achieved the task without assistance and ended up feeling VERY proud of themselves. (By the way, all the materials for these assessments are free to download from my site.)

So, yeah. Things are good. How about you? Are you doing good self care and minding your work-life balance? How important is that for you in staving off burnout?