The IB Learner Profile calls for all learners to be thinkers and inquirers, who ‘communicate confidently and creatively, collaborate effectively and listen carefully to the perspectives of other individuals. We thoughtfully consider our own ideas and experience, working to understand our strengths and weaknesses in order to support our learning and personal development.’
These attributes are the essence of effective professional learning communities.
Writing my chapter for the IB book ‘Journeys in Communities of Practice‘ was a highly rewarding experience. It provided an opportunity to reflect on the development of a learning culture in my school and the community of practice we had built over time. In addition I enjoyed working with and learning from editor Dale Worsley, as well as meeting him in person and participating in one of his inquiry circles, while visiting New York earlier this year.
By the time the book came out, a year after writing the chapter, it was interesting to reflect on our further growth too! As our school years draws to an end, I’m excited by the achievements and reflections of teachers who, through being part of this thriving learning community, have
- made strong connections between theory and best practice.
- opened classroom doors for collaboration and team teaching.
- stepped aside to let students take ownership of their learning.
- overcame anxieties about technology.
- deepened their understanding of inquiry and concept driven learning.
- created learning spaces that reflect their beliefs about learning.
We often take our own situations for granted and, to be honest, I was happily involved in the ongoing learning at my school and hadn’t thought very much about how challenging the process of building such a learning community can be. I hope educators around the world benefit from reading my own and others’ stories in the ‘Journeys’ book.
I can’t help but wonder though…
What percentage of schools and educators can afford to pay $60 for a slim paperback book? (That’s the cost including shipping)
How many could pay $50 to participate in a webinar based on the book? (There are – as there should be – a growing number of free-access opportunities for educators to learn online.)
The IB Learner Profile, mentioned at the start, also calls for us to be principled.
‘Principled - We act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness and justice, and with respect for the dignity and rights of people everywhere… ‘
Does the IB as an organisation model its own principles?
This makes me smile
And it makes me wonder…
- What do we miss because we don’t pause to look properly?
- Do our assumptions limit what we notice?
- How often do we respond carelessly, without stopping to investigate?
- Are our observations restricted by our expectations?
And, as always…
What’s the message for school?
I wonder how many other educators are forgetting to examine what is important to THEM. Rarely, if ever, have I seen or read educators flat out adding – stating for fact – their own ideals from their own school culture that they have weaved seamlessly into their mission. I feel like we – including me – are so dazzled by the inspiration of REA that we don’t even consider incorporating our own beliefs or values. THAT is why I am breaking up with REA. I cannot teach in the beautiful school that I teach and keep seeing what is missing from the RE value set.
I think it’s relevant for educators everywhere who adopt a program or an approach, without critical reflection and extensive consideration of the program’s relationship with one’s own beliefs about learning.
And it’s food for thought for you…
Leaders who expect their teachers to implement programs selected and enforced from above, without choice or ownership.
Teachers who accept and implement entire programs uncritically, without adapting them to their own beliefs.
Purists who worry more about the words than the philosophy behind them.
Educators who think curricula need to be covered, and programs need to be taught.
Whether it’s your national curriculum, an inspiring approach or a subject specific program… it needs to be understood, analysed and adapted to your beliefs about learning, so that you own it rather than it owning you.
An interesting encounter with the limiting nature of graded assessment…
Students (and teachers and parents) frequently focus on grades, rather than the evidence of learning, the reflection and feedback which will lead to progress and growth.
As a PYP school, we are currently engaged in a self-study, prior to an evaluation by the IB Organisation next year. It’s a great opportunity to reflect as a community, to celebrate what we’re doing well and to consider how we can improve our practice.
The self-study involves assessing our performance in relation to the PYP standards and practices. In our first round of staff meetings, teachers focused more on the ‘low to high’ scale to assess our achievements, than on the learning process.
It was only when we let go of the evaluation aspect and focused on unpacking the standards and practices, understanding, sharing, making connections, having conversations… that we began to a) enjoy ourselves and b) learn.
I wish we could start the process over again, now that we have a better understanding! In the first phases of the self-study, the focus of our learning community has shifted from assessment OF to assessment FOR and, best of all, assessment AS learning.
What’s the message for school?
- I learn more about each student as a person.
- I learn more about each student as a learner.
- I correct important misconceptions.
- I give valuable feedback to students about their learning.
- I receive valuable feedback from students about my teaching.
- I improve my relationships with the people whom I am privileged to teach.
- My reasons for loving teaching are reaffirmed.
Like Tyler, I’m involved in one-on-one conversations at the moment too…
I’m currently supporting our Year 6 students in the process of the PYP exhibition unit. They are exploring ways to take action to right inequity. The central idea is ‘Developing an awareness and understanding of inequity empowers us to act’. Within this broad conceptual understanding, students follow their areas of interest and decide on their own individual and small group inquiries.
In the early stages, the teachers engage in many one-on-one conversations with students to ensure they have found something to explore that really matters to them, to get them to articulate their personal connections with their inquiries and to hear them explain why they care.
This round of conversations is the beginning of many that will take place throughout the inquiry. The more they practise, the better students become at articulating their learning, till the final exhibition where they will share their learning with their parents and the public.
Teachers and learners find these conversations both challenging and rewarding.
Some students can readily identify what bothers them, what they care about and, with minimal probing, dig deeper and express their personal connections. Others take longer. Some students spend time exploring one issue, only to decide they are not sufficiently engaged and would like to change direction. Some think they have a particular interest but are unable to find a meaningful way into it. Some are interested in so many things, they find it hard to choose a focus. And in one particularly challenging conversation last week, I talked with a (bright) student who hasn’t (yet) engaged with anything at all. Our job is to help him find something he cares about to inquire into, no matter how long it takes.
I agree with Tyler’s thoughts on the value of individual conversations for the teacher.
Here’s what I see as the value for the learner…
- She has an opportunity to express her thinking aloud in a non threatening context.
- She processes her thinking through having to find the words to articulate it to someone else.
- She can ask questions, seek clarification and feel supported while making her thinking visible.
- She goes beyond the content and gains awareness of herself as a learner.
- She has her thinking challenged, in a positive way, through gentle questioning and probing.
But that’s my perspective. I’ll ask some of the students this week and find out how they see it!
Do you have a well stocked library filled with resources to which your students have ready access?
Does your school have wireless internet connection and computers, laptops or iPads?
There’s a group of kids in South Africa, without access to resources, who’d like access to Wikipedia on their phones…
Imagine if mobile providers were willing to provide such a simple gift…
Will you sign their petition at change.org?
Here’s their letter:
Open letter to Cell C, MTN, Vodacom and 8ta
We are learners in a Grade 11 class at Sinenjongo High School, Joe Slovo Park, Milnerton, Cape Town. We recently heard that in some other African countries like Kenya and Uganda certain cell phone providers are offering their customers free access to Wikipedia.
We think this is a wonderful idea and would really like to encourage you also to make the same offer here in South Africa. It would be totally amazing to be able to access information on our cell phones which would be affordable to us.
Our school does not have a library at all so when we need to do research we have to walk a long way to the local library. When we get there we have to wait in a queue to use the one or two computers which have the internet. At school we do have 25 computers but we struggle to get to use them because they are mainly for the learners who do CAT (Computer Application Technology) as a subject. Going to an internet cafe is also not an easy option because you have to pay per half hour.
90% of us have cell phones but it is expensive for us to buy airtime so if we could get free access to Wikipedia it would make a huge difference to us.
Normally when we do research Wikipedia is one of the best sites for us to use and so we go straight to it. The information there is clear, updated and there is information on just about every topic.
Our education system needs help and having access to Wikipedia would make a very positive difference. Just think of the boost that it will give us as students and to the whole education system of South Africa.
Sinombongo, Sinako, Busisiwe, Ntswaki, Bomkazi, Lindokuhle, Ntsika, Patrick, Ndumiso, Sinazo, Bathandwa, Nokuthembela, Lutho, Mandlilakhe, Zingisile, Aviwe, Nezisa, Ncumisa, Nokubonga, Pheliwe, Zama, Unathi, Malixole and Ntombozuko.
There’s a buzz in the room as 11 year olds sit in groups around large sheets of butcher paper, talking animatedly. I like visiting this classroom, seeing how the two teachers collaborate and the children engage in their learning.
Today they are brainstorming the ‘big ideas’ in ‘Sharing the Planet’, one of the trans disciplinary themes in the PYP curriculum framework.
In the build-up to this, students have watched David Attenborough’s Wonderful World and made connections with the trans disciplinary theme -
‘Inquiry into rights and responsibilities in the struggle to share finite resources with other people and other living things; communities and the relationship within and between them; access to equal opportunities; peace and conflict resolution.’ (IB Primary Years Program)
Their ideas include concepts such as environment, sustainability, pollution, responsibility, nature, society, economics, lifestyle, consequences… I’m impressed by the depth of their thinking, their ability to extract the conceptual ideas and the way they make connections with prior learning.
The teachers introduce the idea of biodiversity, a concept to which they haven’t been exposed before, without explaining it or doing any ‘teaching’. The students get the iPads and do their own exploration, in any way they like. They are encouraged to read, look at images, watch videos – the choice is theirs.
Later in the day I go back to ask how the learning unfolded…
At the moment people are only thinking about what they should do, but not doing it. As this generation, it is our responsibility to take care of the planet for further generations. (Michelle)
I would like to inquire into all living beings’ rights.I want to know why different people/animals are treated differently and what the consequences are. (Zara)
I want to know how the loss of animals and plants affects the world and our life because if I don’t know what difference it makes, I won’t know how to change my habits. (Noa)
I should be aware that a little mistake can make a big difference. I would like to inquire into how we can make the world equal and fair so everyone has a home/habitat. (Zoe)
I want to know what will happen to the animals if we keep polluting the earth and taking the land because if there are no animals it will affect human life. (Stella)
And this one…
If we don’t share the planet and make a difference, there won’t be a future for us to live in… (Josh)