Saturday, 26 October 2013

Learning from every experience...the good, the bad and the ugly.

My perspective on my life experiences has changed this year. I can't put my finger on when or why but I've altered my mindset. Previously, I reflected on various experiences and said "if only" or "what if?" Thinking this way will not change the reality. I'm trying to view my past experiences in a more productive way and will apply these to my learning and teaching journey. I'm sharing three experiences which I call the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Ugly - I loved Preschool and Kindergarten. When Mrs Murphy sang 'Two Little Apples', her arms would wobble and make me laugh (I don't find wobbly arms funny now!). Mrs Smith looked like your stereotypical teacher of yesteryear; tall and skinny, with glasses perched on the end of her nose. I don't remember learning anything in particular from these teachers, but I remember their kindness and how much l loved attending. They said that I was a leader who sometimes became the liaison between teacher and student. Two years later I was enrolled in the local school where my siblings attended. My first year of school was extremely difficult. The teacher was expecting someone more like my sister. My quiet, introverted, 'ask no questions' sister. I was enthusiastic, outgoing and I did ask questions...a lot of questions. If I had a dollar for every time a teacher told me 'you ask too many questions', I would be blogging from my yacht. 

While my memory of the events of my first year of school is hazy, I remember how I felt. You know that saying, “They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.”- Carl W. Buechner. I cried daily and refused to go to school. I began to lose my hair so it had to be cut short and to make matters worse, I needed glasses. It was a rough year. The following year everything changed for the better. Teachers have a powerful influence on their students' experiences.

Teaching Lesson - Don't compare siblings as each student is unique. The best thing about teaching a sibling is that you have already established a relationship with the parents. Encourage parents and teachers to find the individual qualities of each child and discourage the comparison of siblings. Embrace student's questions as it reflects student engagement. Don't underestimate how influential you are. You create the classroom culture.

The Bad - In high school I was placed in advanced maths. There was a textbook, no talking and a plethora of homework which was marked in class, in front of everyone! You know where I'm going with this...don't you? Why aren't you getting it? No, that's not right. What don't you understand? Needless to say I was 'dropped' to social maths. I went from a 3 in advanced (rating 1-7) to a 7 in social maths and I loved it! I always finished first, so I was 'allowed' to share my thinking with others. I helped those who struggled and we talked about maths. Now this teacher wasn't thought of as the 'best' maths teacher. And while she occasionally looked for the answers in the back of the book, she demonstrated the ideal classroom. She created a classroom culture where you were allowed to make mistakes. Talking about maths was encouraged. If we weren't being assessed, collaborating wasn't cheating. And yes, teachers don't always know everything!

Teaching lesson - Allow students and yourself to make mistakes and acknowledge them. This will assist with identifying misconceptions. Allow collaboration and encourage maths talk. So what about being grouped according to perceived ability? This experience and recent study has me perplexed about ability grouping. I see the benefits of clustering the highly able students but see the detrimental affect ability grouping has on self esteem and self-efficacy. I want to learn more about what research says about ability grouping.

The Good - After my first year of teaching, my Principal asked what were my aspirations. I shared my long term goals with her response; "How can I help you reach your goals?" At the time I thought that it was kind of her but now I see it as a learning experience in leadership. Lead teaching standards states that leaders need to support the involvement of colleagues in external learning opportunities. My principal was not trying to meet a standard but took a genuine interest in my aspirations. Today I see this gesture as a great teaching lesson. Imagine if we said to students or even colleagues, "How can I help you attain your dream?"

Teaching lesson - Support your students and colleagues' dreams and make it genuine.

Learning from the past, looking forward to the future...



  1. Great post Andrea, I love have you have used your personal experiences and taken teaching lessons from them.
    Working in HS teaching lesson no1 is also relevant to the history that a child brings from their primary years. Especially in Special Ed, students can come with a terrible record and lack of success. HS is often an opportunity to wipe the slate clean and start fresh. We should give kids this chance and not assume that the record will speak for them.
    Keep up the writing! :)

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts & lessons. I can relate to all of your experiences. Especially with the sibling and maths. I followed my sister into HS two years later and was constantly called by her name by my maths teacher who I struggled with for 3 years in high - she ruined maths for me at that stage. A change of school and teacher redeemed the whole subject. We do make a difference and I will heed your suggestions. Thank you and yes keep blogging :)