GSS cIRcle Open Scholar Award (UBCV Non-Thesis Graduate Work)

The Teaching Coats Project : exploring the threads of our teacher identities through arts-based research Poirier, Tiffany 2012-04-30

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 ii   iii   iv   v   vi    vii   viii    ix   x   xi   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8    9  Figure 1.1: Transforming a lab coat into a Teaching Coat 10   11  Figure 1.2: An example I created of how student's Learning Coat might look.  12   13   14   15   16   17    18   19   20   21   22   23   24   25   26   27   28   29    30   31   32   33   34   35    36   37   38   39   40   41   42   43   44   45                      I am a high school math, science, and special education teacher.  I’ve been teaching about eight years now.  It’s my second career: I used to be a customer service engineer for major corporations and I felt I wasn’t contributing to the betterment of the world.  I wanted to make a difference in the world so I decided to become a teacher.  As soon as I heard about The Teaching Coats Project I got so excited.  I think this is a very creative project and I liked how it gave me the opportunity to reflect on where I Figure 4.1: Phoebe's Teaching Coat (front view)  46  started as a teacher, how far I’ve come as a teacher, and how far I need to go as a teacher. I knew I wanted to do a tie-dye coat because I think my personality is all about neon colours.  I looked online and researched companies selling lab coats and I ordered a style I liked.  While I was waiting for it to be delivered I went over to Michael’s Art Store and went crazy buying fabric dye, fabric, special buttons, ribbons and it was so exciting.  Then I was in the university bookstore and saw they had lab coats there for cheaper and since I was tired of waiting for my lab coat online, it was immediate and I picked up my lab coat right there and started working on it.                         Figure 4.2: Phoebe's Teaching Coat (back view)  47  I enjoyed putting my whole teaching career into perspective. It made me realize that everything I’ve done in the past is a part of what kind of teacher I am today. It also made me think about where I want to go as a teacher and what I want to accomplish in the future.  It was a wonderful treat to just be able to think about what I am doing instead of mechanically going through the motions of teaching.   I will be wearing it to school after spring break.  I will wear it with pride…My kids know me, I plan on having them add to the Teaching Coat things they see about me that I haven’t even considered and I am looking forward to this…I love feedback from students and I’m really excited about having them participate in creating my coat because my identity is about how they see me.  Figure 4.3: Phoebe's Teaching Coat (detail) 48                              Figure 4.4: Denyse's Teaching Coat (front view)  49   50                Figure 4.5: Denyse's Teaching Coat (detail)  51  Figure 4.6: Denyse's Teaching Coat (side view)  52      53    1981   B.Sc. Microbiology, UBC  1982   Teaching Category 5: PDP UBC  1982-2001  Taught Science 8, 9, and 10; Math 8  1998   Masters of Education, University of Portland. 2002-present  Teaching Science 9 and 10, Earth Science 11.   Sitting at the dining room table, Fred’s eyes and hands are occupied with marking Science 9 Ecology exams, although his posture is angled towards the conversation happening between his wife and me on the couch a few feet away. His hand moves in rapid-fire motion across the papers.   Figure 4.7: Fred's Teaching Coat (front view) 54  He interjects comments into our conversation about teaching while working on his marking in a seamless way.  He reminds me of a pilot in the cockpit, driving a jumbo jet while chatting with the flight attendant—skillfully navigating both worlds.  Fred’s octopus-like multitasking talent is both natural and developed after years of wrangling energetic young science students around caustic chemicals experiments.   “You’ve got to be flexible, you’ve got to find time whenever it’s there…” he says of his teaching practice, adding with a smile, “hey, it’s fun!” It’s immediately apparent why Fred is beloved by his students.   Students come back year after year, and rave about his classroom experiments, of which there are dozens of videos on YouTube, recorded and posted by his students.   “Mr. Fred is awesome!” are the kind of comments reported online at a website called When the matter of making a Teaching Coat comes up, Fred explains, “I’ve already got a teaching coat—had it for years. A colleague made it for me, it’s got all these flames on the pocket and big clown buttons.”  Fred and his wife take turns explaining how the decorated lab coat became a staple item in his chemistry classroom, a kind of mascot that had been ever- present to the point of being just regular furniture of the classroom.  He would wear it occasionally and lend it to colleagues as well.  One time the coat was on loan to a colleague’s teenage daughter who wanted to wear it to a Halloween party.  “It’s pretty dirty—been hanging around the class for years, got lots of wear.”  He and his wife laugh, immediately realizing how this description of the coat also speaks to Fred’s many years in the teaching profession.  He is a seasoned teaching veteran known for his mad-scientist style experiments involving blowing up teddy bears with chemicals in an effort to teach and capture the attention of too-cool-for- school ninth graders.  Without explosions, and without Mr. Fred, many of these students would disengage from school.   The conversation has ramped up now as Fred and his wife speak excitedly about parallels between the coat and Fred as a teacher. The coat, they decide, IS Fred. The coat, which has been passed around to colleagues and shared with students, mirrors Fred’s generosity also apparent in the way he shares his expertly designed lessons with colleagues, the way he has mentored over seven student teachers, and in his caring and trust with his students.    “I officially started working on my Teaching Coat in February of 2012.  My starting point was a lab coat decorated for me by a colleague in the mid-1990’s—it has a flame coming out of the pocket.  After discussion with my wife, I decided that the coat would represent my educational journey, including activities and events that occurred throughout my career.  Ideas flowed quickly: my personal education,  55  teaching areas, union life, pro-d and mission statement. I finished the coat in the first week of March 2012.”    Figure 4.8: Fred's Teaching Coat (front view) 56  1. A list of my schools and universities, showing my educational journey. 2. The Periodic Table: the most interesting topic in Science 9 and 10. Chemistry is the teaching area of my greatest enjoyment. 3. The Element: The name of my fictitious element I came up with derived from my last name.  4. Picture of my wife in an apple frame because she is the “apple of my eye”. Being married to a teacher is “Pro-D/24-7.”  It facilitates constant discussion around educational ideas and strategies. 5. Example Flowing Wells: teacher mentorship also seen in the FW pin 6. My Teaching Mission Statement outlines my thoughts about my job as a teacher with respect to my students. (Refer to the mission statement.) This guides what I “do”. 7. BCTF and ADTA union pins; “Proud to be teacher and member of the union.” I have had many roles: vice – president, staff rep, member at large.  I also met my wife at a union meeting. 8. OBE (on the sleeve) means Outcomes Based Education. This was my Master’s of Education presentation. Teach and Test the outcomes. Students may redo activities and exams in order to show understanding; however they must perform correctives. The philosophy is based on: It’s not when you learn, it is whether you learn. 9. School logo: My entire career will involve the schools in which I work.   1982 to retirement.   At one, the mascot was the Husky, and at the other, a Panther. 10. The Flame out of the pocket, represents the idea that I am lighting a fire, sparking students’ ideas and thinking.  Quote: Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire. As well, as a chemistry teacher, I have been known to ”blow things up.” 11. The Earth (on my sleeve). This represents my newest teaching assignment: Earth Science 11—a whole new world of learning for a chemist. 12. Salmon Enhancement pin. I spent the 80’s and 90’s working on the Salmon Enhancement Community Program. It is a cause that I felt and still feel very strongly about. 13. Canadian Pin:  Proud to be a Canadian. 14. A Variety of Colorful Big Buttons.  A teacher is part entertainer. It keeps the students’ attention. 15. Having a variety of “things” and “text” on the coat, emphasize that education is diverse. 16. “MY MISSION IS TO EMPOWER MY STUDENTS TO REACH THEIR FULL POTENTIAL AND HELP THEM BELIEVE THEY HAVE THE ABILITY TO BE SUCCESSFUL, INDEPENDENT AND RESPONSIBLE LEARNERS.   I WANT MY STUDENTS TO FEEL GOOD ABOUT THEMSELVES.   I WILL PROVIDE MY STUDENTS WITH A SAFE, FUN AND POSITIVE LEARNING ENVIRONMENT WHILE EMPLOYING  A VARIETY OF TEACHING STRATEGIES THAT ATTEMPT TO  57  MEET THE VARIOUS  NEEDS OF MY STUDENTS.  I WILL TREAT STUDENTS WITH RESPECT, EMPATHY, AND UNDERSTANDING.   I WILL ESTABLISH HIGH EXPECTATIONS IN ACADEMICS AND BEHAVIOR.  I WILL FOCUS ON THE POSITIVE ASPECTS OF MY WORK, NOT THE NEGATIVES, THUS REDUCING MY STRESS LEVEL AND ENHANCING MY EFFECTIVENESS.”  “This project was more fun and easier than I thought it would be. I learned I am proud to be a teacher. I am also proud to have taught at [my school]. I enjoy teaching kids, and I like the material that I teach. It is paramount that a teacher enjoys the material and curriculum they teach. The process reminded me of all the educational things I have done as a teacher, in and out of the classroom. Being a teacher is more than the classroom—it is union involvement, Pro-D, community involvement. The coat reinforced the idea that I do not like change.  30 years in 2 schools, teaching mostly the same topics. ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’  I would definitely wear my coat at work because I am happy with its end outcome. As a teacher it outlines who I am, what I believe, what I did, and what I am currently doing.”  Figure 4.9: Fred's Teaching Coat (back view)  58   After teaching for six years in public elementary schools, I was on maternity leave and getting ready to return to work and I needed inspiration.  I needed to reconnect with my “inner teacher” and have something that would get me excited to return to the classroom.  Creating my Teaching Coat began a transformative journey in which I continue to encounter the teacher I am—in every thread.  At the start of this project, I went to a medical supplies store and purchased two blank white labs coats. The more expensive, fancy coat would be my “good copy”, while a second much cheaper coat would be my “draft Figure 4.10: My Teaching Coat (back view) 59  copy” (I pulled this one from the discount bin, finding it had a black mark on the sleeve).  The “expensive coat” still hangs in my closet untouched.  I guess it just intimidated me.  I never felt ready to approach it because I was too afraid I would “mess it up”. The discount coat, however, felt welcoming.   It said, “Try me on!  Play! Take a chance!” and so I did. My first step was to boil a big pot of my favourite chai tea, which I often like to drink before the school day starts.  After enjoying some tea, I plunged my coat into the pot and marveled as the fabric took on a rich, fragrant tan–a great way to help that first cup of tea last! When I finally realized that this “draft copy” was becoming my “good copy”, I saw a parallel with how I create my Teaching Coat and how I create myself as a teacher in many ways.  This coat has grown from something I felt was simple, marked and discounted into something complex, beautiful and meaningful, like the teacher I want to be. (On the other hand, that fancy, expensive coat remains perfectly white, but unchanged and un-evolved, like the teacher I never want to be.) As well, when I first started teaching, I worked hard to make my lessons “perfect” (like a pristine white coat).  But over time I discovered that the real fun and meaningful learning would happen when I was able to go with the flow, feel free to experiment, capture the teachable moments, and be alert to new possibilities. And I am happy to report that the little dark spot on the arm of this discounted, “draft copy” coat has finally found it’s place as a punctuation mark!  It is finally at home now surrounded by the inspirational quotations I wrote around it–I got the idea to write these quotations here because of that little dark spot.  Isn’t it amazing how everything has its purpose?  Another powerful reminder I got from this experience is that we are more likely to create and take chances when we feel we have the permission.  Stark white coats, expensive blank canvases, quiet-as-a-pin classrooms…all of these pristine things can feel intimidating for some people sometimes.  My Teaching Coat inspires me to think about how I can make learning opportunities for my students that are more inviting and where students feel safe to take creative risks.  Figure 4.11: Dying my Teaching Coat with chai tea  60                     Figure 4.12: My Teaching Coat (various views)  61    On the right arm… On the right arm, to guide my “right” actions, are a careful selection of insightful quotations about teaching and leading.   These include the following:  “Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.”    -Benjamin Franklin  “The greatest sign of success for a teacher…is to be able to say, ‘The children are now working as if I did not exist.’”       -Maria Montessori  On the left pocket… I wrote the quote that inspired the Teaching Coats Project, and at the base of the pocket, I placed silk sunflowers.  These flowers are symbolic of the sun, warmth, happiness, adoration and longevity–all things I hope to be part of my teaching career.   As well, the sunflowers are a nod to the paintings of Vincent van Gogh, which I love and which have also been a source of creative inspiration. On several of the petals I wrote words of virtue such as honesty and wisdom.     On the right pocket… Attached is a mirror to remind me about the role of reflection in both teaching and learning.  As well, when gazed upon by students, the mirror reflects back to them an image of who they are; this is a process I believe I facilitate as a teacher.   Figure 4.13: My Teaching Coat (right arm) Figure 4.14: My Teaching Coat (left pocket)  62  As a teacher, I am a mirror for my students, and I must be mindful of what and how I reflect for them.   As a teacher, I am also a mirror of my students, and I must be mindful of what I take on from others as a part of myself.  On the collar… I wrote the word “authenticity” around the collar.  The collar wraps around my neck and below my voice box, which is a place where my intentions join with sound to become words; I want to remind this place to act from a place of authenticity.  What does it mean to be authentic with my students and colleagues?  What has this meant for me in the past? What does this mean for me today?  What will this mean for me in the future? My Teaching Coat is a meditation on these questions.  Lining the inside… An elaborate piece of crochet lace, handmade by my grandmother forms the part of my “Teaching Coat” that is closest to my skin.  Attached to it inside is a selection of personal photos of myself and family to remind me of where I come from. Photos of myself as a young child remind me of how it feels to be a student. Photos of my parents and grandparents remind me of my first teachers.  A photo of my son reminds me of the sacredness of each child and that each of us is somebody’s child. Intending this weaving for use as a tablecloth, my grandmother bestowed it upon me along with its story.  The story was of how she worked for hours weaving, stretching, and turning yards of web-like thread until it was complete and doing so with the help of my grandfather. To me, the lace and its story always seemed too sacred to bring out; therefore, like so many other sacred things, this beautiful artwork has spent its recent life locked away unused, unseen, and ”safe” on a shelf.  But I must be brave.  I must dare to let peek out into the light a glimpse of what I hold sacred. Figure 4.15: My Teaching Coat (collar) Figure 4.16: My Teaching Coat (lining)  63  And I must reflect on those web-like threads, which connect and embed me in something larger, more beautiful and durable than I imagine.  I did not come from nothing…I am wrapped in history.  These are lessons I want to share with my students.  On the front, right side… Autumn leaves symbolize a time for “back to school” and harvesting learning, and this collage on the right hand side of my “Teaching Coat” creates a special, nature space around me from which my “teacher within” can emerge naturally.  These leaves represent my love for nature, reminding me of my favourite network of trails through the densely wooded “Watershed Park” near my home.  This is a place where I often walk with my dog for relaxation and reflection.  I go to nature to feel recharged and hatch new teaching ideas.  The spaciousness and connectedness I feel in nature is something I want to carry with me throughout my day in the classroom.  On the front, left side… I sewed a patch with “The Starfish Story” by Loren Eisley in the location that is over my heart.  The story reads as follows… One day a man was walking along a beach when he notices a boy picking something up and gently throwing it into the ocean.  Approaching the boy, he asked, “What are you doing?”   The youth replied, “Throwing starfish back into the ocean.  The surf is up and the tide is going out.  If I don’t throw them back, they’ll die.”  “Son,” the man said, “don’t you realize there are miles and miles of beach and hundreds of starfish?  You can’t make a difference!” After listening politely, the boy bent down, picked up another starfish, and threw it back into the surf.  Then, smiling at the man, he said… “I made a difference for that one.” This story is dear to me for some many reasons.  For one, as educators we sometimes feel overwhelmed by the immensity of the task ahead of us: there are so many lessons, so many students, and so little time.  This story reminds us to stay focused on what we can accomplish and to know that it does matter. Figure 4.17: My Teaching Coat (front, right side)  64  Secondly, the story reminds me of how at times I am like the man in the story and my students are like the young boy with so much wisdom.  As a teacher, I learn so much from the young people in my practice—I want to be alert and sensitive to what my students have to share. Thirdly, this story is a powerful counterpoint to the “drop in the bucket” fallacy that we can’t make a difference for others or for this planet as one single person.  We can.  And we do.  This story reminds me of that.  On the left arm… At the top is a star, which illustrates the “Starfish Story” on the front left side, but it is also accentuates the pinnacle of “Bloom’s Taxonomy” of learning objectives.  Put forward by Benjamin Bloom, this hierarchy encourages teachers to understand the task of teaching as more than just delivering facts.  Teachers must assist students in moving up through all of these stages, which include REMEMBERING, UNDERSTANDING, APPLYING, ANALYZING, EVALUATING, and CREATING.  The last three, analyzing, evaluating and creating are “higher order thinking” tasks.  These are the most demanding–and often the most rewarding ways of learning.  As well, to give options for the “CREATING” level, I have written in shadow tones in this area dozens of creative “products of learning” including the following: essay, collage, script, project cube, board game, mosaic, puzzle, crossword, drawing, interpretive dance, and many more.   On the back, left side… I list the steps I came up with for my students to help them more easily envision and create their own “Personal Interest Projects”.  Very often we have big ideas and goals, but they can seem overwhelming.  So it helps to remember the Chinese proverb that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and that we can break big projects into smaller steps.  The following steps may occur in a linear fashion, these steps may happen concurrently or they may be revisited during a project.  At the start of this research process and throughout, it helped me to refer to this framework.     Figure 4.18: My Teaching Coat (left arm)  65  On the back, right side… I like to share with others the notion of “Multiple Intelligences”: Existential, Naturalist, Interpersonal, Intrapersonal, Musical/Rhythmic, Visual/Spatial, Logical/Mathematical, Bodily/Kinesthetic, Verbal/Linguistic.  This multi- modal theory of intelligence put forward by Howard Gardener has impacted the way I understand learning and how I design learning in my classroom.  I believe it is important for students to explore their own styles of learning and then for me as a teacher to provide learning experiences and assignments that will challenge these areas.  I want this list of intelligences close to me as a reminder, as an instructional point, as a symbol for what I believe.  I also believe there is more development to be done on this theory.  Just as Naturalist and Existential intelligences were added after Gardner’s initial presentation of this theory, I believe there should be a tenth intelligence based on what I have experienced with my students: Humouristic Intelligence!    In the left pocket… Here I keep a pair of eyeglasses coloured with a red marker to reflect my optimism.  On the lenses of these “rose-coloured glasses” is written: How to See the World.  As well in the pockets I keep a magnifying glass scored with a bold reminder to “EXAMINE”.  As a teacher and a learner myself, I don’t want to become complacent in my knowledge.  I don’t want to simply receive truths, I want to examine things for myself.  I hope I can model this analytical way of being for my students.   Socrates, one of my favourite philosophers, is credited with saying that the unexamined life is not worth living.  I envision using this special magnifying glass as a prop to accentuate that point in a fun, dramatic way.  Figure 4.19: My Teaching Coat (back, right side) Figure 4.20: My Teaching Coat (inside the left pocket)  66  Inside the pockets… At last, the idea that inspired this whole project: I placed a small glass bottle of dust in one pocket and “gold” (sparkles) in the other.  Sometimes when people are nervous, or self-conscious when speaking in public, they don’t seem to know what to do with their hands. They may fidget, wave them wildly, let them hang like logs on the sides of their bodies, or tap their fingers.   Now, I will have a great place to rest my hands if I should ever need one.  The first time I wrapped my fingers around the bottles of gold and dust in my pockets, I was amazed at how well my talismans worked to help me feel connected and grounded.  And so much more… And there are some special details that are just for me, that cannot and should not be explained…details that are all just a part of the magic of my own special Teaching Coat.    In this process of making, reflecting on and discussing my Teaching Coat, I believe I came to see my teaching identity. In this process of thinking about myself as a teacher, I also thought about myself as a young student. Back then, school could be a place of both great comfort or great pain.  School was a place of powerful inspiration when I felt connected and demoralizing isolation when I felt my identity—my past, my background, my learning style, my ways of giving and expressing—were not understood, valid, respected, or equal.   Who I am as a teacher now is partly inspired by thinking about the girl I used to be, and I am driven me to create the kind of classroom atmosphere where she and any child would feel accepted and nurtured.  I teach to right the wrongs of my past.  I teach to carry forward to others the gifts I have been given and cannot imagine living without. When I take stock of my life’s work, I ask, how would I feel as a child in my own class?  What would I want to see in a teacher?  What do I want to know of that teacher?  Figure 4.21: My Teaching Coat (gold and dust)  67  As teachers, our focus is mostly outward on the students. So pausing to think about oneself can feel embarrassingly indulgent, yet I believe we must.  The Teaching Coats Project grew out of a longing for clarity and integration in my identity.  On the path of this creative quest to create a wearable representation of who I am, what I need and believe as a professional, I stumbled upon answers to questions I had not ever even considered asking myself.                         The Teaching Coats Project was a project rich and open-ended enough that I felt I could live inside for a while.  I plan to continue building on it and sharing it for the rest of my life, for myself, and for others.  Just as I felt when I first entered the teaching profession, I felt with working with others in support of creating their own Teaching Coats is what I was meant to do. In a way, my Teaching Coat has taken on a life of its own.  I realized this after a funny story my husband confessed to me one morning.  I kept my Teaching Coat hanging on a mannequin bust in our house as way to work on it while seeing it “embodied” to an extent.  One night, my husband awoke and was so startled by the Teaching Coat’s eerily lifelike presence when he encountered it in the hallway, he confessed he nearly punched it out, thinking it was burglar!   Figure 4.22: My Teaching Coat (back shoulders)  68  This story makes me laugh thinking of my husband wrestling a coat, but it also strikes a chord with me.  I feel it speaks to something I began to suspect towards the end of creating my Teaching Coat:  through this process I have breathed my life into my Teaching Coat to the point that I believe it has taken on a kind of ontological status of its own. Yet I don’t mean that in a sci-fi, artificial intelligence way.  Rather, I have imagined my Teaching Coat standing in for me in my absence—perhaps on display with my photograph like at a celebration of my life when I pass on.  When people look at my Teaching Coat, I want it to remind them of a teacher of integrity, who deeply cared for, believed in, and had fun learning with her students, who was creative and never stopped looking for answers.   It has been powerful for me to look forward and then plan backwards the legacy I want to leave.  My Teaching Coat is a symbol of the person I am, but also the person I hope to become, and for whom I hope to be remembered.  It gives me comfort knowing that even when I am no longer around, perhaps my Teaching Coat will be—passed down to grandchildren who will make sense of its mysterious features in their own ways.  But even once my Teaching Coat has frayed its last thread, I take comfort knowing that the meanings, the lessons and the memories it held and clarified for me, made me a better teacher in my time and the impact of this may live on forever in the minds and hearts of my students. Figure 4.23: My Teaching Coat (front view)  69   70  Teachers construct their teacher identities within context, in an ongoing creative process.  71   72   73   74   75   76   77   78   79   80   81    82   83    84   85   86   87   88   89   90   91   92   93   94   95   96   97   98   99   100    101   102   103   104   105   106   107      The University of British Columbia Office of Research Services Behavioural Research Ethics Board Suite 102, 6190 Agronomy Road, Vancouver, B.C. V6T 1Z3 CERTIFICATE OF APPROVAL - MINIMAL RISK  PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATOR: INSTITUTION / DEPARTMENT: UBC BREB NUMBER: Michelle Stack UBC/Education/Educational Studies H11-02805 INSTITUTION(S) WHERE RESEARCH WILL BE CARRIED OUT:  Institution Site N/A N/A  CO-INVESTIGATOR(S): Tiffany Alexandria Poirier  SPONSORING AGENCIES: N/A PROJECT TITLE: The Teaching Coats Project CERTIFICATE EXPIRY DATE:  January 31, 2013 DOCUMENTS INCLUDED IN THIS APPROVAL: DATE APPROVED:  January 31, 2012 Document Name Version Date Protocol: Interview Session 1 Procedures 1 November 9, 2011 Interview Session 2 Procedures 1 November 9, 2011 Consent Forms: Consent Form 2 January 12, 2012 Advertisements: Email Notification of Selection 1 January 12, 2012 Email Notification of Non-Selection 1 January 12, 2012 Introductory Email to Listserve 1 January 12, 2012 Email Response to Request for Information 1 January 12, 2012 Letter of Initial Contact: Initial Contact Letter 2 January 12, 2012   The application for ethical review and the document(s) listed above have been reviewed and the procedures were found to be acceptable on ethical grounds for research involving human subjects.   This study has been approved either by the full Behavioural REB or by an authorized delegated reviewer   


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