10 questions for teacher reflection…

We’re not even half way through the school year here, but a request from someone important to me on the other side of the world provokes my thinking…

‘ Have you ever written a blog post on strategies, tools or frameworks that a teacher can use to reflect on their past year of teaching?’

My immediate response: ‘ Reflection has to happen all the way along. It’s too late at the end of the year.’

But here are some questions to ask yourself, as you look back, look within and look forward…

1. What were the most powerful learning experiences in your class this year? Can you describe what made them successful?

2. How do you learn best? What hinders your learning? How can this knowledge help you with future teaching and learning?

3. What do you believe about how learning occurs? What are the conditions for powerful learning? Does your practice align with your beliefs?

4. Who controls the learning in your classes? Do you seek compliance or do you foster student ownership? How will you encourage learner agency?

5. What are you proud of in your teaching or learning and what do you wish you could do better? How might you go about it? Who might support you?

6. What do you wish you could change in your teaching, your learning, your classroom, your school? What small steps could you take towards making it happen?

7. What are your strengths? How might you develop them further? How might you use them to support others in their teaching and learning?

8. What can you learn from your students? What works for them? Have you asked them? What might you change as a result?

9. What excites you? What excites your students? How might you make that part of your teaching and learning?

10. What do you dream of doing? How might you work towards that dream? Who might you share it with? What kind of support do you need?

School has changed, have expectations?

At an information session for parents, we highlight the ways that school has changed and share a range of examples of learning that is real, relevant, engaging and trans-disciplinary. Learning that matters in the world these children live in, not constrained by subjects, walls or limited imagination.

We explain how the PYP develops our students’ academically, socially and emotionally, focusing on personal values, learner agency and global awareness. The passion and knowledge of the teachers in the room is impressive and the picture that’s painted for the parents is one we imagined would excite and delight them.  But these are still some of the things we hear…

I just want my child to learn the basic skills.

What about rote learning? Knowing the periodic table was valuable for me.

At the end of the day, they need to be able to remember stuff for assessments.

With all this broad emphasis, will they learn about specifics?

What about VCE? Will their grades be good enough?

At the end of the evening, a number of parents do come up to say thank you. We have clearly provoked their thinking, even those who are having trouble reimagining school. One mother, whom I happen to have taught about twenty years ago, says quietly  ‘I know I need to shift my old-fashioned views of school’. Indeed. School looks nothing like it did when I taught her!

What’s behind the story?

The planning session, as usual with the Year 2 team, is passionate and thought-provoking.  Everyone has opinions, there is questioning and probing and tension as we figure out what we want the learners to get out of the unit of inquiry. It’s based on one we have done before, so starting from what we do NOT want the unit to be about proves really helpful.

It’s an inquiry into the concept of story. Through exposure to and exploration of many and varied stories, we want the children to understand that stories can be told in different ways, that story is a powerful tool for conveying ideas, experiences and values. We want them to to reach a point where they are able to describe and explain their own connection to stories. We want to them to build the understandings and language to engage in conversation about their responses to stories. And we want them to be able to share their own experiences and ideas through different forms of story.

We discuss the possibility (yet again) of connecting with children in other places to share and discuss stories, via Twitter, blogs or Skype and I’m told that it’s difficult to do these things because there isn’t time. It’s a familiar story and my instinct tells me it’s an excuse. How hard can it be to find five minutes a day to check Twitter? What’s so difficult about signing into Skype to have a conversation?

Then I remember that my role is to interpret the story, to find the underlying message and respond to that…

That’s a different story!

10 ways for leaders to encourage agency…

My school’s focus this year, more than ever, is on student ownership and many teachers have set themselves the goal of increasingly letting go.  It’s been six years since I wrote 10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning and it’s still the post with the most hits on this blog, on a daily basis.  

Looking back at this surprisingly popular post about student ownership, I realise that most of the tips identified are the behaviours that effective modern leaders exhibit, leaders who wish to encourage autonomy and to shift from a hierarchical model of leadership to a distributed one.

And once again I note that what works with kids, works as much with adults!

What kind of leader are you? Ask yourself these questions… (not just if you’re a manager.)

1. Who makes the decisions?

How often do you ask your teachers, parents and students what they think? How do you ensure shared ownership of decision making? Do you work collaboratively to define problems and develop solutions?

2. Are you open to other perspectives?

Do you come with preconceived ideas, ask others’ opinions, then do what you wanted to do anyway? Or are you open to the ideas and perspectives of others, especially if supported by knowledge, experience and evidence?

3. Do you listen more than you talk?

Do you really listen to the people above, below and beside you? Do you listen to the changing world around you…? 

4. Do you model behaviors and attitudes that promote learning?

Do you talk about your own learning? Are you an inquirer? Are you an active participant in the learning community? Do you model and encourage enthusiasm, open-mindedness, curiosity and reflection?

5. Do you take an inquiry stance?

You don’t need to be the expert. Do you explore, experiment, reflect, learn from failures, try again… collaboratively? 

6.  How do you get your people involved?

How do you ‘invite participants in’ and get them excited to explore an issue further? Do you plan every detail or do you leave space for your people to make their mark?

7.  Do you value initiative above compliance?

Do your teachers know the reason for everything you ask them do? Do you implement one-size-fits-all rules that ensure compliance? Or do you encourage your people to use common sense and rely on professional judgment? Do you celebrate initiative?

8.  Do you focus on growth rather than accountability?

What kind of performance reviews do your teachers have? Are they evaluated against a list of preset criteria? Or do they have opportunities to set their own goals and have support and encouragement to grow?

9. Do you encourage reflection and seek feedback?

Do you get your teachers and leaders to reflect on experiences and initiatives and think about how they might be improved? Can you take notice of what they say and plan ahead based on their feedback?

10.  Do you display an innovator’s mindset?

Do you constantly look at things through fresh lenses? Do you ask yourself, and those around you, what you could change and how you could improve things? Are you willing to seek solutions that lie beyond the known, in the realm of emergent practice?

And remember… You can lead from anywhere.

Change…

We started the new school year after the summer break, with a focus on ownership of learning for teachers and students alike.  A couple of months later, our exciting Unleashing Learning conference provoked further thinking and action, followed by a week of learning and sharing with Sam Sherratt. And now, as the seasons change and we settle into the year, it’s exciting to observe bright spots of colour and evidence of new growth…

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One team is exploring a new project based approach to maths. Another is experimenting with unleashing writing through play. Year 6 is investigating a year-long approach to the PYP exhibition, allowing students time to discover what they really care about, with a greater focus on sharing the learning journey. Two different groups are reading and discussing The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros.

Teacher A has let go of control and seen what happens when students have agency. Teacher B is well on the way and feeling the exhilaration of learning unleashed. C wants to rethink the school musical and find a way to give students more ownership. D has realised that authentic, meaningful learning experiences trump delivering curriculum… and noticed that much more of the curriculum is addressed incidentally via this approach! E is rethinking the way she used to do things and collaborating with others to reimagine her role. F and G are changing the way they reflect with their teams and refining the process as they go. H is breathing imagination and creativity into everything she touches… And I? 

I hear the steady drumbeat of hope for real and meaningful change.

Once unleashed, there’s no stopping the learning… 

The provoker…

Everyone needs a provoker. Someone who questions everything, is never content with the status quo, is impatient to see action…

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‘Have you seen the article about…?’

‘What do you think about this idea?’

‘I think there is a better way to…’

‘Are you free to talk about something?’

‘Could we change the way we do this?’

‘How do we make this happen?’

I receive these sorts of messages from my provoker at all hours of the day, sometimes when she’s in meetings with other people, sometimes while she’s out for a walk. She has what George Couros calls an innovator’s mindset

‘Innovation is a way of thinking . It is a way of considering concepts, processes, and potential outcomes.’ That’s how my provoker functions. She looks at everything through a fresh lens and asks ‘Is there a better way?’ (She sometimes upsets those less eager to question and be questioned).

She never lets me rest. And I love that.

Who’s your provoker?

Playing the game of school…

Grab a dice and play the game of school…

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This was the provocation for my Unleashing Learning workshop, entitled ‘From Doing School to Real Learning‘.

How did playing the game make people feel? It seemed pointless. You could win without doing anything meaningful.

What was missing?  Purpose, fun, discovery, feeling, thinking and, indeed… learning!

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This was not a workshop about answers, its intention was to provoke thinking, to unsettle and to push. Hopefully, it left participants wondering about these questions and more…

  • What are the conditions for powerful learning?
  • How much time do we spend on things that do not lead to powerful learning?
  • What do you believe about learning?
  • Does your practice align with your beliefs?
  • To what extent do children create their own learning opportunities way beyond what school can offer? 
  • Does school slow down learning?
  • Is it easier to do something the same way than to rethink learning from scratch?
  • What’s one change I can make, starting tomorrow?
  • Is your planning time spent thinking about what and how you will teach?
  • Do you think about how best each student will learn?
  • Are old pedagogies suited to a rapidly changing world? 
  • How might we unleash learning rather than doing school?

The story within…

In an attempt to switch off the buzz of thinking emanating from the past week of learning, I walk in the drizzle, breathe in the smell of damp grass and enjoy a beautifully written and evocatively narrated audio book, set in another time and another place..

“Somewhere in there was a story, which she had yet to find,” I hear this sentence and lose the flow of the narrative as my mind shoots back into the reality of the past week. Being busy and distracted has made me a lazy writer! My previous post was a simple recount and a few bullet points and now I need to scratch the surface and find the layers of story beneath.

Unleashing Learning was a conference by teachers for teachers, and it was filled with powerful, interlinking stories…

The story of collective inspiration…

A hundred and fifty passionate educators grappled with similar issues, applied ideas to their contexts, exchanged experiences, challenged ideas and explored solutions together. The principal shared how his own learning was unleashed by a teacher who encouraged him to take ownership and pursue his interests. Sam Sherratt asked us to think about whether the same old pedagogy will suffice in a rapidly changing world. Rebekah Madrid urged us to start a revolution in our own practice, to ask forgiveness not permission. 12 year old Jazi confidently told an audience of teachers that despite her struggle with words, spelling and reading, she is capable, creative and interesting. Another student, Georgia, explained her perspective on unleashing learning through student empowerment.  Jake asked the audience not to blink while he gave them insight into Tourette’s, then explained that trying to control his tics was like us trying to control our blinking. And woven through the fibre of the all of this, was a powerful message of change and hope.

The story of community…

The conference brought people together in delightful and unexpected ways. Every member of our staff added value in some way, via organising, printing, greeting, presenting, planning, sharing, supporting, facilitating, participating, inspiring or cleaning up.  Relationships were built and strengthened through the interactions of a community working collaboratively towards the twin goals of Unleashing Learning and unleashing learning. Having people who used to work at the school participate in the conference, rekindled relationships from the past. Visitors from other schools and other countries enriched our community with their insights and instilled a sense of pride in our teachers at what we have achieved and what we have to share. As always, the sense of community was enhanced by shared passion and vision, common purpose, and active participation.

The story of belief…

When Jina set out for Learning2 in Manilla, she had never travelled on her own, nor been to an international conference.  She came back determined to provide the same sort of experience for other teachers, and would not allow limited time or money, or any other obstacle, to stand in the way of the momentum inspired by the experience.  Lauri is a natural comic who thrives on inquiry, but not on public speaking. Bolstered by our delight in her story of children’s inquiry (and why flies have bums) she overcame the jitters and stood on stage to share it with all. Desiree and Rubi (like others who had not presented before) kept telling themselves that agreeing to present a workshop was a mistake, but pushed on determinedly and were rewarded by the positive feedback from participants who loved their sessions. Nathan, Lesley and others volunteered to facilitate reflection groups, something out of the ordinary for them, requiring an extra degree of courage and confidence. All of these stories and more are manifestations of our belief in our people and their growing belief in themselves.

The story of empowerment…

This story includes themes of trust and autonomy. Its characters include a principal who encouraged us to bring our vision to life, leaders who allow their people the freedom and space to explore and to innovate, and teachers who take up the challenge to lead from wherever they are. It’s a story of choice, in who you want to learn with and what you want to learn. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure story, in which you decide the future direction and you have the power to make it happen. It’s a story of teachers who simply will not let frustrations with accountability and compliance deter them in their march towards learning, their own and that of their students. It’s a true story of students who have overcome obstacles like Jazi and Jake and students who have taken their learning into their own hands like Georgia. And an imaginary story of what is yet to come.

It’s a story of unleashing learning…

Learning unleashed…

I’ve been in education longer than many of you have been alive. School has changed in so many ways… and stayed the same.

At Learning2 in Manila last year, I chose the Disrupt Strand, working with a team of educators to pitch an idea that could disrupt the traditional model of school.  If you count where we were born and where we work now, we are from 5 continents and ten countries. Yet we share frustrations about the limitations of school… and dreams about how learning could be.

We looked at each other and wondered…  Why shouldn’t students have opportunities like this conference? Opportunities to experience learning that is not confined to your usual space, not imposed on you from above, not defined by age group or limited by subject area? Our pitch: Why can’t school be Learning 2?

Our first step was to create a similar kind of experience for our own teachers. We called it Unleashing Learning... and it did!

These were some of the big ideas participants took away:

  • How to make sure that my learning as well as the children’s learning is constantly challenged and unleashed.
  • Provoking children’s thinking (and my own).
  • The value of international connections to unleash learning.
  • Creating the conditions for student-created learning to thrive.
  • The importance of student agency.
  • The power of simplicity.
  • Finding the balance between teaching and learning.
  • Students at the centre of their own learning.
  • Leaving better kids for our planet, rather than a better planet for our kids.
  • Emotional wellbeing of teachers and students.
  • Kids doing interesting things that tick the boxes of the curriculum.
  • Fostering a sense of responsibility for learning through meaningful engagement.

The conference provided time to relate, to debate and to create. Opportunities for reflection and for introspection. We inquired and we were inspired…

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Moved to tears by a students’ speech

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Teachers’ highlights included:

  • The 5 minute unleashing learning talks, in which teachers and students shared their learning stories and inspirational messages.
  • The opportunity to choose something that interested them from a wide range of workshops.
  • Having thinking extended in so many ways.
  • Time and opportunities to discuss new ideas with different people.
  • Learning with people from outside our school, especially those previously known from Twitter.

Something to think about…

  • How do we unleash learning in our schools?
  • What’s one change you’re going to make?
  • If WE don’t change schools, who will?