Sunday, 18 February 2018

The LTO Experience Part One

  • Overview

   This is my first blog post of 2018! I haven't had much time to write blogs since the Summertime because I have been in a Grade 6 Teaching position since September 2017 and I am also in the process of Wedding Planning (Such an exciting time!). I am learning to find that "work/life balance". This blog will outline some of my key learning experiences and links to professional resources that I have acquired within my role as a Grade 6 Teacher from September until now. There will be plenty of new learning experiences to come and plenty more professional development opportunities to be had so stay tuned for a Part Deux.

This is a long post so I have provided an overview of topics I discuss. You may scroll down to whatever you wish to read about:

  • Supply to LTO
  • Creating Your Learning Environment
  • Getting Organized
  • Building Connections
  • Getting to Know Your Students
  • Planning for Illness Days
  • Writing Report Cards
  • Extracurricular Involvement & Professional Development
  • Field Trip Ideas
  • Reflection

  • Supply to LTO --> Luck or Competency 

   There are two different avenues to advance from a Supply Teaching position to a Long Term Occasional(LTO) Teaching position. Avenue 1: You supply for 1 year (10 months September-June) and have at least 20 days of teaching and then apply to the LTO list when interviews open up (typically in the Spring). If you are successful in this interview they will place you on the LTO list. Avenue 2: You get a supply job that keeps extending (rolling LTO) into a 4 month or longer period. At that point you may ask your Admin for a Teacher Performance Appraisal (TPA). If you are successful in this evaluation they will place you on the LTO list. I was part of Avenue 2. I have been at my current school for over 3 years now within different capacities including: Teacher Candidate, Designated Early Childhood Educator, Occasional Teacher on the Preferred List, and now LTO Teacher. I have had multiple opportunities to demonstrate my Teaching and Learning at Moraine Hills PS. Some people over time have attributed my success and professional growth to luck. I attribute my success to hard work, determination, willingness to improve/learn, and consistent demonstration of professional competence. Administrators do not randomly select their staff like a luck of the draw, rather they select based on education, skills and best fit.

  • Creating Your Learning Environment
   The classroom learning environment is an important aspect to consider as the environment acts as the "Third Teacher" for any grade you teach. I always strive to create a warm, welcoming, and inclusive environment where all students feel welcome and safe in their learning. Traditionally rows were the way to organize desks in the past with the Teacher standing in the front, but we know that this arrangement is not conducive to student learning. As part of my TRIBES Training, I learned that small groups are most effective as they allow for collaboration and rich discussions which promote active participation amongst your learners. The Teacher is a co-creator in the learning process. Your desk should be placed in a way that you are able to view the whole classroom. I placed the U-Shaped table beside my desk for this same purpose. The students and I co-created the organization and categories for our classroom library which made it neater and more accessible for students to find a book that interested them.

In our class, we have a comfy chair where students can visit the reading area and "chill" when they need a quiet moment. Chair provided by our VP Mr. Weisinger, thanks so much! We also co-create anchor charts and place them in the room to refer back to throughout our learning.


Many of our classroom materials are easily accessible for the students to select what they need independently.

I created designated subject bins so that students can clearly identify where their work needs to be submitted. I feel that a visual schedule should always be present on the board at the front of the class or which ever main board you use. Visual schedules are great to stay organized and manage your time wisely. They also benefit students with ASD or Anxiety because it provides predictability within their daily routines. There really are many ways that Teachers set up a learning environment for their students and you would have to see the classroom because the photos do not do it justice. For more ways to promote collaboration and learning in your classroom click here.

  • Getting Organized

   There are many things you need to think of when getting organized for the new school year, such as:
-Class Lists: the office provides you with one in your mailbox.
-Who are the students who have allergies? (office provides you with a copy of all the known allergies in the school)
-Are there any students who have IEP's, IAP's or Safety Plans?
-Are there any ELL students?
-How are my students getting home? walk, bus, pick-up? (Have this displayed in your room or in your supply handbook)
-What are the school rules, policies, and procedures?
-Where are the emergency exits?
-Weekly Plan- What is my plan for the first week of school? Do I have all my materials ready to go?
-Who are my grade partners?
-Who is the SERT? the EA?
-Where is the staff room? washrooms? library? learning commons? gym?
-Need to create unit plans, lesson plans, day plans...
...Just to name a few!
The first week of school is a BUSY time. Thankfully I already knew where everything is located at the school, I could just focus on my students. I was in a unique situation in that I was not aware that I would be in this position long-term so I focused on lesson planning on a weekly basis for the first couple of weeks. During the first month of school the Admin recommend that all same grade Teachers be on the same teaching schedule incase there is a re-organization.

After discussing different organizational strategies with some of my peer Teachers, I learned that using this shelving to separate materials needed. Some Teachers do this by day in the cycle (i.e. Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, etc.). I chose to label mine by subject because it works best for me. I prepare all materials I need for each subject either on a Friday/Monday and then I have easy and organized access to it throughout the week. Such a great investment! I purchased mine from Amazon.

  • Building Connections

   It is very important to build a network of professional connections within any school environment you are part of. Teamwork, Collaboration, and Respect are important traits to have and emulate for our students. At one point or another you will be working with different staff at your school so it is important to be kind and respectful towards everyone. Kindness is key! Before the start of the school year I was put in touch with my grade partners and I collaborated with them on what the first week of school would look like. One of my fabulous grade partners is now my NTIP Mentor, Vicky Angastiniotis. I am very thankful for her because even though I have a Primary, Junior and Intermediate background, much of my experience was based in Primary prior to this. My mentor has been very supportive and encouraging which allowed me to build confidence and competence within the Junior Divisions as well. Your partner makes a difference so be sure to pick a good one! I also collaborate with my SERT and we work together to support the students who are on IEP's. She has also been a great help through this process! My other grade partner often shares unit ideas, plans field trips, and supports with Math and Tech-so grateful! It is important to also be aware of who your Math Representatives are in the school. Our Math reps have been so great in that they share resources and come in to support learning.

  • Getting To Know Your Students

   At the beginning of the year you may hear from other Teachers who have had your students in the past. Try to take what they say with a grain of salt. Your student(s) may have been challenging or exceptional one year and it could change the next (or not), so it is important to be cognizant about forming biases about your students before they arrive. Get to know them! I am so happy that I got to know my students for who they really are. Everyone has strengths and everyone has things to work on but thats the beauty of life. The first week or so of school is all about getting to know each other. TRIBES games and strategies were really helpful when facilitating this. If you are not sure what TRIBES means, then visit one of my previous blog posts titled "Fostering an Inclusive and Respectful Learning Community". One activity that Vicky (my mentor) gave me was called "Stick-it" where the students and I co-created our Classroom Agreements using the TRIBES 4 Pillars. 
We played team building games, co-operative games, and games that allowed the students to learn more about each other. One activity we did involved the students discussing their interests and then creating a name for their "TRIBE" (table group). It was much more interesting calling them up to present using their TRIBE names instead of saying Group 1 or Group 2. Instant Noodle Fan Club or Golden Canadians had more of a ring to it. These "get to know you" activities benefitted me as well because I got to learn about my students, they got to learn about me, and I also got to see how everyone works together. 

Some links to getting to know you/icebreaker games below to get you started (plenty more when you Google it):
  • Planning for Illness Days 

   Getting sick is inevitable, no matter what you have in place to avoid it! I did not take my first illness day until February because I was adamant about not taking any sick days. Eventually I caught a cold and had to take a day off. I was recently an Occasional Teacher and one of the things that I really appreciated was having detailed lesson plans and readily prepared materials. Whenever I am sick or will be attending a workshop I make sure that I do just that. I leave the lesson plans on my desk with the Occasional Staff Handbook, and I leave all the required materials neat and organized on the U-Shaped table. Each pile is labelled with a sticky note indicating which period the materials are for. This leaves you prepared and the supply teacher stress free so they can focus on the classroom management and the learning at hand. If there is a time where you are at home and you become sick and your plans are not ready on the table-don't panic! You can e-mail them to a grade partner, another teacher, or to the office and they can print it for you. You can then ask your grade partner if they can help collect the needed supplies.
  • Writing Report Cards

   This year was my first time writing Progress Reports and Term 1 Reports. I have prior experience with writing the Communication of Learning (Reports) for Kindergarten but this format is different from the Gr.1-8 Reports. This was a new learning experience for me. Thankfully, my grade partners  are SUPER amazing and they shared their banks with me which helped me to create one that fit with my students. Even though banks are used, I still tried to personalize them as much as possible wherever I could. It is very important that the comment reflects the strengths and needs of the student. If you are the only teacher teaching a specific grade or subject in your school, YRDSB has created a comment library that is accessible to us on the MXWEB (reporting website). "These comments have been constructed to align with 'Growing Success' and teachers may utilize these comments, as appropriate, as they build comments for their students" (YRDSB Reporting Memo). If you do not work for our board, I would look into what your school board's reporting memo is. 

Some TIPS that I have been given:

-Do not use contractions as it is a formal document
-If you are a prep coverage/rotary teacher you must put your name at the end of each comment i.e. (R. Marcelli)
-Personalize as much as possible, if there is something that you noticed the student does which goes above and beyond and is worth a mention, do it
-End each comment with a positive
-Ask grade partners if they can share their comment banks
-Start with the Learning skills, Math, and Literacy as they take the longest to write

I Suggest...

-When marking assessments I highly recommend you make note of what the students next steps are because often times students will not bring their signed tests or assignments back and then you won't always remember what feedback they were given as it was written directly on the assessment. You have their grades from your gradebook, but you do not have specific examples from each student.

This presents you with 2 options: 1. You can photocopy the assessment if you know the students is not likely to return it or 2. Create a template where you can keep track of feedback so when it comes time to reporting you have everything you need for the "next steps" and it will be personalized to each students needs. For term 2, I have implemented option 2 because the feedback will be directly in my assessment binder so everything is in one place. I feel that it will make for a seamless reporting period next term.

Visit the links below for some RESOURCES to help support your Report Card writing:

1. 2017-2018 Elementary Reporting: 1-8 Provincial Report Card -Requirements and Supports (YRDSB staff only- contact your board for their document)
This document outlines: Growing Success Requirements, YRDSB Guidelines, Special Considerations, Resources, and Contact Information.

2. Growing Success Document
(Available to everyone). "This document outlines a comprehensive policy for the assessment, evaluation, and reporting of student achievement in Ontario schools from Kindergarten to Grade 12" (Growing Success).

3. Placemat- Writing Effective Report Card Comments
This is a YRDSB created resource. It provides some specific examples of the breakdown of  writing effective report card comments and answers some frequently asked questions.

4. Writing Elementary Report Cards Module
This is a YRDSB created resource. It provides some specific examples of writing effective student report card comments and the evidence used to inform those comments.

5. Clarifying Language in Report Card Comments
Provides examples of how clear, everyday language can be substituted for, or used to explain, curriculum wordings and educational terminology" (YRDSB & Ministry Resource).

6. How to Access and use the Comment Library in MXWEB
(YRDSB resource)

7. MXWEB Comment Library How-to on Youtube
This YRDSB created video shows you how to use the comment library on the web reporting site.

Try to attend a workshop on Connect to Learn so that you can learn more about writing reports. I just found out that this was available so I plan on attending the next one!

  • Extracurricular Involvement & Professional Development

   In your first LTO position it is challenging to balance everything plus join in on extracurriculars but if you can even do one thing, I highly recommend it. I am all for joining extracurricular activities and professional development opportunities. These are just some of the many ways to expand your professional growth and capacity as an Educator and to give back to your school community.


Previously, I co-facilitated Welcome to Kindergarten, the Kindergarten Spring Concert, and the "Art of Nature" session during YRDSB's Outdoor Learning Collaborative with my Wonderful former Teaching Partner and Mentor Trista Dutt (See blog post titled "Outdoor Education"). I also facilitated an "ASL in your Classroom" PD session which was open to YRDSB staff and staff from other boards (See blog post titled "We Can Sign Our ABC's). I was also Chairperson for our 2nd Annual Family Math Night (See blog post titled "MHPS's 2nd Annual Math Night).

This year, I presented about how to create Electronic Student Portfolios using Google Sites and how I use it in my classroom at a staff meeting carousel. My class also led out a Gourd Hunt on Halloween to provide an alternative activity to Halloween related activities so that we could ensure that everyone was included.

I am currently on our "Be Kind to Others" Team, formerly known as the Equity Team (2nd Year).  There are many more presentations from last year and I intend on presenting much more this year too, but those were just to name a few.

As for professional development sessions. I attend as many of those as I can, and I also present at as many of those as I can! You will find a plethora of professional learning (PL) opportunities, either through your administration or if you visit the YRDSB website on "Connect to Learn" (Must be a board employee to access). If you are not a YRDSB employee, you can contact your school board and ask what PL opportunities they offer. As many of you are also aware, there is an abundance of resources and supports online. For instance, on Instagram there are many wonderful teachers who facilitate professional learning opportunities or share valuable resources/lesson ideas such as: Trista DuttJoanne Babalis, Christina Hanson, Fairydustteaching, Yukari Naka, and many many more!
I also share a variety of resources through my other Educational Social Media Platforms such as: Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest.

  • Field Trip Ideas

This year we took our Grade 6's to the Toronto Zoo to supplement our Biodiversity Unit. Our students participated in a full-day workshop called "Biodiversity and Climate Change". They had the opportunity to learn the characteristics of living things, human impacts on biodiversity, ways of preserving biodiversity, and much more! To learn more about this program click here.

We also had a Scientist in the School presentation called "Classy Critters" where our students worked as "taxonomists in investigating preserved specimens to identify connections between species". To view their workshop catalogue click here. 

To supplement our Space Systems Unit, our class participated in the "Space Mission: Voyage to Mars (5-8) Challenger Learning Centre Program" at the Science Centre. "In this NASA-inspired Mission Control and Spacecraft full scale model, your students will role-play as Astronauts and Mission Controllers to solve problems as they come face-to-face with the challenges and excitement of landing on mars. This interactive and immersive science experience promotes STEM learning and highlights the value of teamwork, problem-solving, critical thinking and effective communication." To find out more about this program click here.

My Teaching Mentor Vicky, also arranged for a Guest Speaker Presentation about Child Rights and Sustainable Development Goals to supplement our Social Studies Unit about Canada and the Global Community. Our Guest Speaker Mr. Hessan from the United Nations gave such a motivating and influential presentation that left our students with many questions as to how they could be agents of change in our society. He is a parent of one of her students, he does not usually do presentations for school's. I encourage all Teachers to collaborate with families because they all have something to share!

Our next visitor will be another Scientist in the School presentation called, "Electricity: Get Charged" were our students will explore the nature of electricity, its generation, and use. The will also see "how static electricity makes objects move, design and build circuits, test conductors, and explore electromagnets" and much more!. To learn more about this program click here.

If for some reason you are unable to physically take your students on a field trip, why not take a virtual trip! All you would need is a SMART Board or access to your School's Learning Commons and the Google Expeditions APP. Read more about it through this link here. You can also use Goolge Earth.

  • Reflection

   By now it's no secret that I LOVE Teaching and I am passionate about providing the best educational experiences as I possibly can. The image above was featured in a previous blog post about "The Occasional Teacher Experience" where I explain how I always knew I wanted to become a Teacher. I knew before this, but in Grade 3 our Teacher asked us to draw a picture of what we wanted to be when we grew up for the yearbook. No surprise, I wanted to be a Teacher! This LTO Experience has has been such a great learning experience for me. As an LTO you really gain a deep understanding of the whole teaching experience. Your responsibilities in the classroom become greater in that you are responsible for the planning, teaching, assessing, and reporting. There are deadlines to meet and duties to uphold. You really get to know your students as a whole; their strengths, needs, and interests. There are good days where you feel like you are the best Teacher in the world and you got everything accomplished and there are also challenging days where you feel the total opposite. Nothing is perfect. Being responsive and adaptable is key! Everyone says that you need to find the work/life balance and that is easier said than done. I like to get to work early when I can so that I can prepare and gain focus for the day. I also like to stay after school to do marking and re-organize from the day. I find that it is much easier to stay after school and finish marking than to have to take it home because at home you have additional responsibilities to uphold. Each situation brings a new learning experience and I am forever grateful to have gotten this experience! As always, I look forward to what new opportunities come next! If you haven't already, you may follow my Teaching and Learning journey through my educational social media accounts that I have linked in the "Extracurricular Involvement and Professional Development Section". It is now rooted in Grade 6 (Junior) lesson examples and resources but if you scroll back in the feed you will find posts from all grade levels (K-8) and many from when I was in Kindergarten.

Thank you for reading,

Ms. Rose Anna Marcelli, OCT, RECE