Saturday, 14 April 2018

10 Reasons why I choose to mentor pre-service teachers... and why you should too!

A critical component of every teacher's journey into this profession is a series of practical experience sessions.  Given how critical the practical education is, I am often surprised to hear student teachers mention that they have difficulty finding placements. On reflection, when I was an external university student, I was responsible for organising my own placements which sometimes proved difficult. Sometimes it was because I was calling and emailing on my own behalf and not the university. Most often though, the school administrators reported a lack of willing mentor teachers.

Now that I am on the other side of the fence, I understand a range of barriers that prevent teachers from volunteering to mentor a pre-service teacher. I haven't been teaching long enough, I'm not ready yet, I don't have the time to spare, my life is too stressful, I'm not good enough...

Lots of valid reasons. Some that a born out of fear.

The truth is, you may never feel ready, that you have anything to offer, or that you have the time. I agreed to take on my first mentoring role in my second year of full time teaching, which was my fourth year of teaching. I didn't feel ready. In fact, I asked my supervisor when he offered me the opportunity if he even thought I was ready!

Now, I take on several a year. I will NOT allow an aspiring teacher to struggle to find a placement if I can at all help it. Since January, I have already had one student come in, and she is about to return for a second block, with another student coming immediately after. I also have a student completing her teacher aide course coming in once a week to get her hours completed.  I have found it a very rewarding experience, and the class adore having new people to show their cleverness to!

Not to mention, they come offering good help!

The truth is, there are many benefits to mentoring a pre-service teacher. It just takes a little stepping outside of your comfort zone. And because we have growth mindsets, we can do that, right!?

Here are 10 reasons that I believe that mentoring pre-service teachers is an awesome opportunity for both of you!

1. Rising to a challenge
Often, it is intimidating to have people watching you teach. You might have been observed before, and found it nerve-wracking. Your own practical experiences may have been anxiety-inducing. The idea of having someone sit in your class all day long, potentially for weeks, can be enough to make you run for cover!

Or, with your growth mindset, you can rise to the challenge. See it as an opportunity to showcase your best practice, but also see it as an opportunity to show the reality of teaching. It's not always perfect, or pretty. It can be hard, lessons can derail and we all have bad days.  It's perfectly okay to let them see you mess up and not be at your best! Pre-service teachers need to see and know this!

2. Grow
As scared as you might be about being watched... think about your student! Remember your own practical experiences. Do you remember that feeling?
Just like you're going to be rising to the challenge, so will they. They are also being educated in the latest pedagogies and best practice.

Take the opportunity to learn from exposure to a new educator in your world! We're all life long learners in this, benefit from the opportunity!

3. Invest in the future
This is so important! You won't be in the classroom forever. Someone will have to take over one day. I know you want those people taking over for us to be amazing, just as much as I do!

So do something about it! Play a part in imparting your wisdom, knowledge, tips, ideas, practice and passion to the next generation of teachers. Who knows, they may end up teaching you children, grandchildren, or mentoring a teacher who teaches them!

4. Lunch breaks
This is going to seem weird... but I actually manage to get more lunch breaks when I am mentoring a pre-service teacher. Why? It's simple really.

Often, I will have to comment or even grade their ability to work with other staff professionally and engage in discussions with colleagues. Part of this interactivity happens during lunch breaks in the staff room. I might make it to my staff room once a term, but when I have a prac student, I get there several times a week. It's also a nice way to tick off some of those requirements in a relaxed atmosphere without them feeling like they are being watched like a hawk.

It's also good for you to get out and see other teachers and let them know that yes, you still work here!

5. Positive Community Relationships
Thinking back to my own practical experiences, I can clearly remember several of them. I remember one that was absolutely awful. I described my mentor as 'energetically organised.' It was not a nice time. I also remember some amazing ones where I felt supported and encouraged. I learnt much from both types, but the positive ones were the ones I enjoy talking about. I remember recommending other students try to get pracs with those mentor teachers. I actively recommended avoiding the awful ones!

Providing a positive learning environment for these student teachers will give them the opportunity to brag on you and your school with the people they are studying with. It gives them the opportunity to recommend YOU as a fantastic mentor to other students. I am sent several opportunities a year from a university that isn't even based in my state, with students who are requesting pracs in my classroom. It is beyond flattering, and super cool. It makes my day so much brighter to see those emails!

You can bet that these guys are also out there recommending your school to their friends with kids. Those extra enrollments keep coming year after year... and keeps you in a job!

6. Perspective
Some of the discussions I have had with pre-service students after they have observed my own teaching practices have been incredible. It's amazing to see how other people can perceive things you do. A fresh perspective on how amazing your teaching actually is, can be the best encouragement you can receive!

Often times, questions are asked about things I just 'did' without thinking, and as I actually thought about the why, or the how, of these things, my own eyes were opened up to the fact that some things I do without thinking are fantastic. Some of those things... I'd like to reduce. I am apparently really great at pulling strange faces while I'm teaching. Regardless, it's always nice to have someone remind you that you are good at what you do! Especially in a career that endlessly tells us about every single time we mess up, are misunderstood or forgot to include little Sally's spelling list in her homework book. Let someone remind you!

7. Passion
One of the things that undoubtedly comes up in discussions is how or why you started teaching in the first place. Your story can inspire your prac student, but let it also re-ignite that passion you have for your all-important calling.

I'll bet you got into teaching for the salary and short days, right? No, you really didn't! Believe me, i know. Me neither.
Remembering why you first started can go a long way to re-invigorating your practice!
It's also biblical for those that way inclined, but I wont preach about that here.

8. Inspiration
Inspiration comes in many forms. It can come from seeing curriculum taught it ways you hadn't seen before. It can come from having someone believe in you when you aren't sure that you believe in yourself. 

Taking that leap of faith and allowing a stranger into your classroom is huge. We are so protective of our kids, and what we do. We pour our lives into teaching, which makes its very, VERY personal. Try and remember that these students aren't coming to invade your classroom and judge you, they are coming to be inspired for their future careers and will likely copy things they see from your class. They are coming to learn amazing things... from you! Just letting them in the front door can be enough to provide inspiration!

9. Fly on the Wall
How often do you get to watch other teacher's teach? Probably not as often as you would like, if at all. But it is ALWAYS rewarding to do! This opportunity is a bit unique in that you get to be a fly on the wall in your OWN classroom. Ever wondered what your class is like when you have a sub? Here's a great chance. I

One of the things I like to do is train my class in procedures so that if I am ever away, they can carry on without me, regardless of who is teaching. They just gotta bring the content, the kids will do the rest. I got to see this in action a little while ago. I had a prac student who had some personal turmoil occur, and she was not ready for a lesson. What I witnessed, was my class more or less WALK OVER her lesson to take control of their own learning. I couldn't figure out if I was more proud or mortified.

It also gave me an opportunity to talk with the prac student about what had just happened. The kids took over because they perceived she didn't show a path for them to follow. It was a great learning moment for her and her behaviour management. From that point on, she was OVER prepared for every lesson, and a lot more assertive when the class tried to boss her around if she did something not in the usual procedures. Of course, I had to give a bit of a grumble to the class later, because the way they went about wrestling control off that teacher wasn't respectful.

Because I had the opportunity to see how they operate in action, I am now a lot more mindful when teaching them the routines they need to operate without me, and I am explicit about following instructions from other teachers, even if it is different to how I do things, and being respectful about being in control of their learning.

10. Professional Learning Networks
We all know our networks are important to us. Mine keep expanding with every new practical experience I have in my classroom, because I keep in touch with these pre-service teachers long after the prac has ended. It has meant that I am now connected with several university lecturers and Deans  through the relationships that have been fostered with some of the universities that send their students to us.

It's also inspired me to create an online community to expand my networks! You can click here to join Priceless In Prep's Early Years Learning Network! Connect with other teacher's around the world, and pre-service teachers. Link your blogs, promote your products. Support each other.

Because in the crazy world of education, we gotta lift each other up.

I hope this inspires you to help teachers beginning on their journey by opening up your classroom to them.

Let me know in the comments below what you love about having  pre-service students complete pracs in your class, and what might have stopped you! I want to hear your thoughts!

And if you're a pre-service teacher, I want to hear from you too!

Thursday, 15 March 2018

45 Picture Books To Teach Growth Mindset

It's been a big week. I've been struggling with my own growth mindset in regards to teaching kids to have a growth mindset. We talk about it every day, we watch the videos, sing the songs, dissect characters, and model the self talk. We made model brains, we re-enact neurons connecting and forming stronger and stronger pathways. 

And every day I see kids give up, hesitate to try and shut themselves down. But FINALLY, a miracle has happened. I've started hearing them correct each other, and themselves. I'm starting to see that glint of determination in their eye. I'm seeing them start looking to others for reassurance and ask for insights from their friends.

It's slowly but surely starting to happen. It only took 8 weeks of pure determination and sheer stubborness, but it's finally happening. This class has resisted the growth mindset more than any other group I've worked with. But they are starting to notice the difference it makes! They are starting to celebrate each other's successes, and start working towards their own accomplishments!

So to celebrate, I've rounded up 45 of my absolute favourite picture books to teach growth mindset in the early years. You'll see many of the regulars, and hopefully, some new ones. These are listed in no particular order. Because I really couldn't rank them. I love them all. 

1. Actually I Can

This one is super sweet! Nicky Johnston has several fantastic books worth checking out... (I couldn't very well do a book round up with EVERY book to teach growth mindset, now could I? I'd never get it finished!)

Also, she's an aussie!

2. Almost

A cute story about a little boy who just wants to grow up so fast!

3. I Can Be Anything!

A sweet rhyming story about the possibilities life has to offer.

4. A is for Awesome

A rhyming alphabet story that inspires you to live life, dream big and stay awesome!

5. Everyone Can Learn To Ride a Bicycle 

This story is a bit of a rollercoaster of emotions. I love using it with my class because all of us can relate to this story! Some are experts, some are a bit wobbly, some are still using training wheels... and I still can't ride my bike.... yet! It's always powerful to talk about things I can't do yet with my class.

I'm human too, afterall.

6. Bubble Gum Brain

This one is a new favourite. I love how the use of (and lack of) colour matches up with the student book from the emotional resilience program my school uses. Talk about reinforcement!

7. I Can't Do This...

This is a simple story about not giving up. I think it's probably aimed at kids 7+, but I use it with my 5 year olds without a problem. The bonus is that they enrich their vocab because they have NO IDEA what fortitude means :)

8.  What Do You Do With A Chance?

If you loved Kobi Yamada's other two books as much as I did, you will love this story about opportunities, taking chances, falling down and getting back up again.

9. It Could Have Been Worse

This has been a long time favourite of mine. I originally bought it for my son, who was going through a bit of a negative nelly phase. I loved it so much I had to go and buy a copy for my classroom. My son still has his copy and pulls it out from time to time. A gentle reminder that one bad thing doesn't have to ruin our day, and it may not actually be as bad as it seems!

10. The Cow Tripped Over The Moon

Another one for bonus vocab- perseverance.
A fun rhyming story that helps us to remember that when we look at another person's success, we usually don't see the whole story.
Also, it has a dog puking. Gotta love that!

11. The Dot

If you don't have this one yet, just get it. You can thank me later!
It targets every frustrated perfectionist at the heart of their unhelpful thinking and flips it upside down and inside out.

12. Your Fantastic Elastic Brain

I think this one is the go-to for every growth mindset book roundup. There is a reason for it! A fun and engaging story to start education children on neuroplasticity... this story is where the growth mindset learning adventure can begin!

13. The Little Engine That Could

You just can't beat a classic.
If your kids aren't chanting "I think I can, I think I can" by the time you finish, you need to read it again!
Talk about positive self talk... and they don't even know they are doing it!

14. Thanks for the Feedback... I Think

Another gem from Julia Cook. Great for learning how to handle compliments gracefully, and to take constructive criticism like a champion (because I'm too tired to find something that further alliterates with constructive criticism...except carnivore. I'm not sure that's the message we want to send though!)

15. Gifted For Greatness

If you have ever heard Glen Gerreyn speak, you'll know that this book is going to be inspirational just because he wrote it!
Gorgeous illustrations and very simple text conveys a powerful message of determination and an amazing future.

This book, and his other new children's book (can't vouch for it- only just ordered it!) are currently ON SALE!

His books for adults are worth a good read for yourself too!

16. Giraffes Can't Dance

Gerald, you're so weird! We love Gerald and love talking about all the things that make us a little bit 'weird' or different. Afterall, it's those differences that make us unique. Without our weird bits, we wouldn't have the things that make us interesting!  Embrace and celebrate them!

There's a whole bunch of different art/craft ideas if you google, and the song on youtube is one of the QR codes from my freebie!

17. Going Places

If you like Peter Reynolds other books, you'll love this one!
Some of us like to walk on the edge. Some think outside of the box. And then some of us can't even locate the box, because we don't see it as one. Celebrate creativity!

18. I Can Handle It!

Ever met one of those kids who just can't seem to help themself?
I'm not talking lack of self control, I'm talking about actually being unable to see that they can take small actions to solve their own problems (e.g. my pencil is missing... I could look on the floor to see if I dropped it...)

This story will have them telling themselves they can handle it in much the same way as The Little Engine That Could has them telling themselves that they can do it!

19. What Do You Do With An Idea?

Well, What DO you do with it!? You let it grow and change the world, of course!

20. Incredible You

Short, sweet and on point.

Plus it rhymes. I love rhyming stories!

21. Ish

I might just be the queen of being okay-ish.
A lovely story demonstrating that where you are on your journey is wonderful.  Perfection is overrated.

22. The Most Magnificent Thing

The power of perseverance, apparent failure and mistakes wrapped up in some awesome STEAM vocab.

23. A Perfectly Messed Up Story

This story may have been written about me. Just sayin..

Mistakes, a thwarted story and spills and messes everywhere!

24. The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes

In stark contrast, this story was definitely not written about me! This fun story helps children to see that it's okay to make a mistake... even when other people are watching!

25. Mistakes That Worked

Nothing more inspiring that a whole bunch of mistakes that made the world a better place!

26. A Muddle of Mistakes

Because mistakes are where the learning happens! Again, this one seems like it's aimed at a slightly older audience, but my class had no trouble unpacking it whatsoever.

27. Nobody's Perfect

A good reminder for us all, with super cute illustrations too!

28. No Excuses!

In life, there are people who want to help you to succeed, and people who will tell you all the reasons why you can't. You get to choose who you listen to.

29. The OK Book

There  is nothing 'ok' about this book. It's just awesome!
Gotta love a book that turns itself upside down and inside out just for the fun of it!

30. A Little Bit of Oomph!

A bit of grit goes a long way...
I love Barney Saltzbeg's style! This is another favourite, along with ...



31. Beautiful Oops!

A great message, but I have had to use a lot of sticky tape repairing some of the moving parts in this one. It is definitely a kid-favourite!

Again, the song in my QR code freebie is awesome!

32. The Paper Bag Princess

Can't beat girl power in this version of a fairytale gone wrong.
One of my all time favourites by Robert Munsch.

33. Nobody's Perfect

Aimed at slightly older readers, this chapter book follows Sally through her journey  of perfectionism.

34. Oh, The Places You'll Go!

A fun (if not a little long) story highlighting the ups and downs that we'll go through in life. Such a good message. John Lithgow has done a brilliant read aloud on youtube.

35. What Do You Do With A Problem?

A brilliant take on avoiding problems and also discovering possibilities.

36. Rosie Revere, Engineer

This whole series is great. Set goals, dream big, girl power.

37. Perfect Square

Once the square experienced creativity, it found the confines of being in it's normal shape uncomfortable.

38. How to Catch A Star

The power of persistence!

39. Old Tracks, New Tricks

Another new favourite! It may be worth popping in to Kmart to grab a cheap train set, because you're going to want to allow kids (or yourself.. *ahem*) to draw, paint and otherwise decorate your tracks!

40. Unstoppable Me!

Take risks, enjoy the moment and live life to the fullest!
Pretty much everything Wayne Dyer has written for children has been epic!

41. A Walk In the Rain With a Brain

Learning more about how our brains work in a fun story is one of my favourite things!

42. Wilma Jean the Worry Machine

Yet another brilliant story focussing on overcoming negative human emotions from Julia Cook!

43. The Wonderful Things You Will Be

A beautiful story with lovely illustrations focussing on the potential of our lives.

44. The Worst Day of My Life

Another Julie Cook masterpiece showcasing the power of our thinking!

45. I Can't Do That, YET

This story models the power of YET and realising potential.

BONUS 46. After the Fall

Because your new favourite growth mindset book arrives the day after your post is published! I'll never think of this rhyme the same way ever again! I have big STEAM plans for this story...

So there they are! Are there any I have missed that you would include in the list? I'd love to hear in the comments below!

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Growth Mindset in the Early Years Part 2!


This took me longer than anticipated to get up... mostly because I tried to be clever and schedule the post to go up on a day when I had a meeting... and I scheduled it for the wrong month. 

Oops. Good thing I have a growth mindset!

So my oopsie has inspired me to make my new QR Code freebie that was supposed to debut in this post a free giveaway for everyone who signs up to my blog.... forever! There should be a pop up box appearing on your screen right!

I'm not putting this one on TPT, it's staying exclusive.  Consider it a permanent reward to celebrate a mistake, and your own patience in waiting for it!  

In all seriousness, this is an area that I am very passionate about, and I am continually seeing the need for explicit teaching of how your attitude impacts on your success, that mistakes are critical to learning, and that YET is powerful!  Increasingly, I am hearing from other teachers that it seems to be a bigger issue each year. Indeed, I am experiencing it too. Children with little to no resilience, lacking independence, extreme perfectionism, highly anxious (sometimes even medicated!) and very little skill to deal with a challenge, low persistence, no grit, or problem solving ability. These kids look to be rescued as soon as any roadblock appears in their way. 

I keep remembering this video, and I can't help but wonder if there will soon be a generation of adults that are legitimately stuck on the escalator! It's hilarious to watch... but if you think about it enough it is actually a bit scary! 

Increasingly each year, I am seeing fixed mindset behaviours and self talk in my little kiddos. They will walk across the room to tell me they haven't got a pencil, or a rubber, when there is a container full of them on the middle of their table. No one handed it to them, so therefore it is a problem requiring an adult to solve! Next time, it's because they don't have a chair... I have more chairs than students, so this should never be a problem!  Some children take a whole term to remember what group they are in. I can send all my groups to their activities, one at a time, and surely there will be a few children on the mat when I'm done. Because I didn't give them a personal request. Some children will try and hand me things or show me things and wont even speak. They are used to grown ups speaking for them. 

No wonder they appeal to be rescued. They need rescuing. So they don't end up stuck on the escalator. Talking about this with other educators, it can seem like an overwhelming mountain of insurmountable problems. My friend, let me tell you there is definately some purposeful, dedicated hard work in our future... but it's achievable. It is a challenge... and we ENJOY a challenge, right!?

By engaging in these challenges, we can rescue these kids. By teaching them to problem solve. To change their thinking. To become a victor, not a victim. To show *gasp* initiative! It's not easy, but it sure beats doing talking, thinking and living for them! 

One of the keys to this is working in partnership with parents. I have a great video I love to share with our parents on the brain... it is inspirational every time I watch it. Our brains are AMAZING. Have a look for yourself! 

This video is from here and does not belong to me. 

Another critical step is full, complete, immersion. Constant thinking out loud to model problem solving strategies, engaging other children to help each other solve problems together. I ask a bazillion questions instead of feeding them suggestions. Almost EVERY picture book I use for most of the year for ANY subject is analysed through the lens of growth vs. fixed mindset. This week we even used Fox in Socks!  I plan for it. 

We learn about how our brain makes strong connections, and we learn about making mistakes to learn. Persevering through a challenge. Practicing the hard things. Not giving up.  The impact of our self talk on our neural pathways (this was an eye opener for me too!). Two of my favourite activities we did this month was to make model brains showing our connections and our glitter bottles. I've heard them called many different things (settle your glitter bottles, calm bottles, sensory bottles.... we used to use them for time out timers with my youngest son many years ago and just called them 'shoosh bottles') but the teaching that goes with it is powerful regardless of what you call it! 

I love hoe everyone of them is unique. Some are wild with neurons sticking out every which way, and then the one in the top right is soooo perfectly neat and tidy haha.  But these lovely brains, and the glittery bottles, are both learning experiences that help cement (okay, I know clay isn't exactly cement... but it works!) the learning behind the activity, and also becomes an engagement point with parents when the kids take them home! 

I make mistakes. On purpose. Sometimes they're legit. Like two weeks ago when I thought we had to spend the morning engaging in outdoor learning due to some construction occuring in the classroom. Wrong date. Oh well.  When I mess up (on purpose or otherwise) I do one of two things. 
a) I ask the question. What now? Time to give up? Decide I'm useless and sulk? What should I do about this?

b) Overreact. Completely and utterly over the top. Sometimes I'll stomp my feet. Sometimes I'll throw my head back and wail like someone just ran over my dog. (I don't actually have a dog- so all you dog loving teacher's out there don't need to worry!) I'll have a full blown tantrum. 

Whenever I go for b) the kids look at me like I just suggest we might harvest alien toes. "What ARE you doing? " they will ask. So I tell them. I messed up. The world is ending. I'm no good at anything, I have no friends and nothing will ever get better. I'm a horrible teacher and should just go home.

Then they laugh. Because my behaviour seems as preposterous to them as the escalator video does to us. Except they both have the sting of truth hidden underneath. It doesn't take long for them to start telling me all the answers to a) when I start b), before I even ask the questions. You can't have great big tanties every day though! After they start getting the hang of it, I stop doing it and only pull it out when we need the reminder (normally later in the year when tensions start running high).

It can be exhausting. But in a few months, the difference in the kids lives is so huge. It is more than worth the effort. If enough of us work on this together, these kids will be able to achieve anything they set their minds to. They just need to be shown the way to learn and grow. Isn't that what we're here for? We can overcome this societal challenge if we apply a little growth mindset to our own worlds!

Stay tuned for my next post- a roundup of my favourite picture books to use to teach growth mindset with the young ones! 

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