Week One: The Joy of New Beginnings

11 Sep

I have always loved new beginnings. There's something really special about that blank sheet of paper, the possibility of the new. As the school year approached, the lessons were planned, the ideas still in their ideal state of endless possibilities, there was some anxiety. There always is. As a teacher, I hope that my students will feel welcomed, comfortable and cared for on those first few days, when everyone is nervous.

In past years, I have brought in treats to welcome students or for special occasions. This year, given the extreme heat that we had and the lack of air conditioning in our school, I decided to go another way. I hauled bags of ice, a cooler and soft drinks up the three flights of stairs so that my students would have some way of cooling down. It went over very well. There was a lot of care and attention  put into my room for that first day of school. My children and I came in the week prior to clean desks (yes, they helped out!) and place tables and chairs in the classic double-u-shape that I love for classroom discussions. 

The first day of the school year I try to get to know my students a bit better and to allow them to get to know me. This year, I opened the year with some inspirational quotes, a quick slideshow overview of my summer, and some games. Students picked questions out of my basket that they answered when introducing themselves (gets over that "I don't know what to say" hump). We played "Two truths and a lie" (some students got pretty creative with that one!). We laughed a little and learned a little about each other. 

I did mention in my last post that social justice would be a lens through which we will view the year this year. When I put together my presentation for the students, I began with the TDSB's Aboriginal Education Centre's acknowledgement of Traditional Lands and Territories. I was quite pleased to note that this year, our school will be acknowledging these treaties every morning after the anthem. My hope is that teachers will bring that prompt into the classroom and discuss it. 

My students were confused about this new addition and didn't know quite what to make of it. 

As I began my introduction, we unpacked it together.We talked about the "Dish With One Spoon Wampum Belt", its significance, and what it means for us today. The philosophy (or the three rules), "only take what you need, second, you always leave something in the dish for everybody else, including the dish, and third, you keep the dish clean…that was the treaty between us and nature, and then the treaty between us and everybody else" resonated with me (and I hope, with my students). 

Image: Museum of Ontario Archaeology

We talked about how these rules might help us to better understand our relationships with others and with the classroom itself. Of course, this is simply the beginning of the conversation. challenged students to think about how the findings of the Truth and Reconciliation Report and knowledge of the treaties might affect our classroom. Together, over the course of the year, I hope we will generate some meaningful ideas.

On Thursday and Friday I introduced all of my students to our online classroom space. Our Google Classroom is an extension of our classroom and I'm excited to apply the learning that I acquired last year (my first year using this tool) to enhance and enrich my classes this year.  Students filled out a survey for me with their likes, hopes and goals for the year. We went over the classroom space, where to find course outlines, how to email me and how they can make Google Classroom work best for them. Students were encouraged to sync the Classroom Calendar with their phones so that it could automatically import due dates and other important reminders. I hope that, over the course of the year, students will develop tools and habits to help make their technology work for them. 

This weekend has been busy as well. I have been gathering resources for introductory lessons next week (for all of my classes), reviewing student surveys and trying to incorporate some of their favourite things into the lessons, giving feedback on initial responses/reflections for my Social Media and World Religions classes and more! I have also been hard at work arranging for guest speakers and special events for the year... more on that next week!

As always, I welcome your comments below. How was your first week back to school? Parents? Teachers? Students?