Thursday, December 19, 2013

Gratitude - Opportunities for happiness in teaching

What keeps me happy when general morale in the workplace might be low, or when I have a particularly difficult class, or an onerous project to complete? What makes me walk strongly and confidently when I am in doubt or fear, or when I am just plain exhausted? You might be thinking the answer is the kids - that it is the kids that keep me going. Or maybe it is the challenge - the promise of always growing professionally in a challenging workplace environment. Of course, most, if not all of what I do is for the kids. Another priority is always growing professionally for this is what allows me to provide quality experiences for the kids. However I find problems are presented when I rely on people, places or things to provide happiness or contentment with what I do. A student might refuse to complete work in my class, a colleague might tell me something I don't want to hear, or I might be looked over for a promotion.

For me, gratitude is where it is at. I am most content in my workplace, no matter what is happening around me, when I am practising gratitude. Gratitude is so important to my teaching practice and always has been. When I feel exhausted, frustrated, angry, tired, or overworked, a sense of gratitude helps me no end. When I am feeling gratitude for my job, for the students I teach, for my colleagues who inspire me, and for my life generally, I am less likely to take my frustrations out on my students or colleagues, I am more able to manage my emotions in a healthy way, I am less likely to gossip and carry on in a negative manner, and I am more able to be a productive and positive participant of my school and the wider community.

However, I also know that a sense of gratitude does not always (ever?) come naturally. I need to continue to foster a sense of gratitude for what I do, and for what my life has given me. This takes a conscious decision. Like love, gratitude is not just a feeling but an action. Or a number of actions. Gratitude comes when I act in a way which says that 'I am grateful for my life/job/family', etc. even if I am not really feeling it. How do I continue to foster a sense of gratitude? I actually have to consciously and continually remind myself that I have been blessed with a job that is not only rewarding but has been utterly life-changing for me. I never wanted to be a teacher. I never thought I could  be a teacher. I happened to be guided into this profession by some amazing mentors, and I have been given a career that I love. Every day I remind myself of the amazing experiences I have had in my teaching career, and how far I have come since the early days of university where I could barely speak from nerves, let alone get up in front of a class and teach. In fact, my first ever 'teaching experience' was in front of my university peers, where I gave a five minute presentation on the artist Joseph Cornell and the Structural Frame. I was so nervous and so fearful of failing that I rote-learned my presentation word for word the night before. The next day I repeated each and every word as I had learnt it. I am a different person now, and I no longer have the same intensity of fear or anxiety. Although I may feel fear when starting a new project or dealing with a difficult class, it is nothing compared to those early days.

What else do I do? If gratitude is an action, it must be fostered in opportunity. It is hard to always feel grateful, and even harder to act gratefully when the feeling is not there, however gratitude can be fostered in everyday opportunities. When an opportunity presents itself, I try to take pride in all that I do, and I try to do everything to the best of my ability. I keep my classroom a tidy, colourful, fun and safe place for learning. I participate in my school community whenever I can in a positive way, and I try to give back to my school and broader community. Helping others gives my life meaning, and I need to give back especially when I am feeling sullen, selfish, or full of ego. Giving back might mean assisting a colleague, helping a prac student, saying yes to being interviewed by a pre-service teacher as part of an assignment, contributing to staff development days, and being involved in sub-committees or working groups. It might also just be making a cup of tea for a colleague or helping out with a playground duty without expectations of them 'owing me one'. These actions make my life very full and rewarding. There are still the bad days or awkward moments, however, a sense of gratitude helps minimise these moments that may affect myself or others in a negative or manner. I am by nature a selfish person, so when opportunities present themselves to go against what shortcomings I have I try to take them, even if I don't want too.

In saying all this, there are times where I stretch myself a little thin, but this just means stepping back a bit, practising gratitude in my classroom and trying not to take on anything new for a few weeks. This has taken practise and I am often out of balance, however, this is all part of the fun of growing professionally.

This week my first ever Year 12 class received their HSC results. I am so grateful for the opportunity to have taught them. I am grateful for the rewarding experiences that came from mentoring students with their bodies of works. I am so proud of their results. Their results did not show others that I am an awesome teacher, their results showed me that they worked to the best of their ability and enjoyed what they did. For that I am grateful.

There is one journal article that continues to inspire, motivate and help me in my teaching. I have kept the article on file for a few years, have recommended it to others, and I re-read it when I need just that extra little bit of support with my teaching. I recommend it to you...

The article I refer to is Practising Gratitude to Enhance Teaching and Learning  by Dr Kerry Howells, Faculty of Education, University of Tasmania.You can find this article at in an issue of Education Connect: Occasional Papers in about Social and Emotional Wellbeing, issue 8. Topics in this issue include: Gender and wellbeing, gratitude in education, teacher education and professional development.

This TED talk also talks about gratitude as a means to happiness as opposed to relying on happiness to feel grateful: David Steindl-Rast: Want to be happy? Be grateful.

If you have anything you want to share on gratitude, I would love to hear about it.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Wordle for name and define

I like to use Wordle as an opportunity to learn about and encapsulate key content or concepts. Often when I read and summarise articles I pull out the key words and concepts, and Wordle allows me to do this in a more visual, engaging and concrete manner. 
This is a Wordle I created for an education kit for VADEA NSW about the Australian artist Jonathan Jones. By collecting and bringing together all the relevant words associated with the artist and his practice from newspaper articles and other sources, I am able to gain a basic overview of what this artist knows and does.
I am hoping to use Wordle in this manner as a starting point for student investigations, where students start their thesis/investigations with a basic lower-order, but also very important, 'name and define'. I've not talked about Max Wood's ALARM Matrix for teaching and learning in this blog yet but I intend to... it is something I have been working on during the last term, and it is a very effective matrix for student response, guiding them from a basic name and define right through to critical evaluation.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Curiouser and curiouser

I like to tell my new Year 7 students that artists know stuff. This, of course, extends to teachers of art, art critics and historians. We know stuff. And that is why being an artist/art student/critic/historian/art teacher is so fascinating.

I love art theory. Art tells us about the world in so many ways. However, I'm yet to work out the exact equation that will make my students love theory as much as I do. For the time being I try to make my content and examples as interesting and current as possible. Art theory is not easy for students, I know. I love the following quote by Stuart Hall from Cultural Studies and Its Theoretical Legacies (1992). The quote begins Anne D'Alleva's Methods & Theories of Art History (2005).

I want to suggest a different metaphor for theoretical work: the metaphor of struggle, of wrestling with the angels. The only theory worth having is that which you have to fight off, not that which you speak with profound fluency.

A reassuring quote also, as it indicates that having my head in the books during christmas break in anticipation of teaching HSC art historical and critical studies for 2013 is OK. I do feel I am wrestling at the moment - I'm not sure it is with angels, however. I'll keep you informed.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Glossary of Key Words from the Board of Studies

A Glossary of Key Words

Account for: state reasons for, report on. Give an account of: narrate a series of events or transactions

Identify components and the relationship between them; draw out and relate implications

Use, utilise, employ in a particular situation

Make a judgement about the value of

Make a judgement of value, quality, outcomes, results or size

Ascertain/determine from given facts, figures or information

Make clear or plain

Arrange or include in classes/categories

Show how things are similar or different

Make; build; put together items or arguments

Show how things are different or opposite

Critically (analyse/evaluate)
Add a degree or level of accuracy depth, knowledge and understanding, logic, questioning, reflection and quality to (analyse/evaluate)

Draw conclusions

State meaning and identify essential qualities

Show by example

Provide characteristics and features

Identify issues and provide points for and/or against

Recognise or note/indicate as being distinct or different from; to note differences between

Make a judgement based on criteria; determine the value of

Inquire into

Relate cause and effect; make the relationships between things evident; provide why and/or how

Choose relevant and/or appropriate details

Infer from what is known

Recognise and name

Draw meaning from

Plan, inquire into and draw conclusions about

Support an argument or conclusion

Sketch in general terms; indicate the main features of

Suggest what may happen based on available information

Put forward (for example a point of view, idea, argument, suggestion) for consideration or action

Present remembered ideas, facts or experiences

Provide reasons in favour

Retell a series of events

Express, concisely, the relevant details

Putting together various elements to make a whole

Wednesday, November 7, 2012


I believe a little 'teacher therapy' goes a long way!

In the leadup to examinations, reports and marking, sometimes I need to pull out a little gratitude, and to get a little help with positive thinking.

"Students need a classroom where they feel welcomed, safe, respected, challenged. Make your classroom that space".

I love this book that I found at a new age bookstore in the city. Today the quote above will be my focus for the day :-)   Have a great day fellow teachers.