A way of being…

In my coaching with Z, it’s interesting for me to notice the interplay between the three layers; our coaching conversations, the meetings she leads for teams of teachers in her school, and the teaching and learning in their classrooms. The eight cultural forces are at play in all three layers and these reflective questions might influence both culture and way of being, as a coach, a leader or a teacher…

Language

What sorts of questions will encourage and invite thinking? How will our choice of language clarify, provoke and lead to action?

Interactions

How might the tone of our interactions influence the outcomes? How will we build relationships on the basis of trust, empathy and non judgment?

Routines

How might we build in routines that encourage creative and critical thinking and support different perspectives? How might tools and protocols be used to scaffold thinking?

Time

How might we ensure time for thinking? How might we use time productively based on what we notice?

Expectations

How might we create clarity around future outcomes and goals? How might we establish clear beliefs that influence our efforts towards desired goals?

Modelling

What kinds of values might we model, consciously and unconsciously, through our actions and words? How might we model techniques, processes and strategies that might be transferred to other contexts?

Opportunities

How might we create the conditions for thinking, learning and change? How might we notice opportunities for growth?

Environment

How might we create an emotionally safe space where authenticity, honesty, vulnerability and courage can live? 

Contemplations on coaching #3

Back to school…

Prior to returning to school after the longest lockdown, we came together as a staff for dialogue and decision making about what matters to us in the transition back to face-to-face learning.

We explored the following questions:

  • What might children have gained from the remote learning experience? 
  • How might we ensure we continue or amplify those things?
  • What do we see as the most important things children have missed out on? 
  • How might we work towards maximising opportunities for those things?

Our vision is based on that shared discussion. Keeping in mind our belief in contextual wellbeing and our focus on aligning our practice with our values and beliefs, the ideas have been synthesised in the context of our learning principles.

Vision for returning to school

We value cohesion, relationships, community, social interaction, play, joy in learning, optimism, growth, kindness, autonomy.

We believe:

Learners need to feel secure, valued and able to take risks, so we will

  • Build cohesion and a sense of belonging.
  • Support learners, academically, socially and emotionally.
  • Create space for expression of  feelings, thoughts, and ideas.
  • Establish routines to provide certainty and safety.

Learning takes place in different ways, depending on abilities, preferences and interests, so we will

  • Understand that the transition will be different for each person.
  • Acknowledge that needs will vary for different people at different times.
  • Respond with empathy to social and emotional needs.

Learning is active and social and is enhanced by collaboration, interaction, so we will

  • Encourage social interaction and collaboration.
  • Model and practise kindness, communication and mutual respect.

Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem-solving, so we will

  • Plan responsively, depending on what the students reveal.
  • Continue to focus on the process of learning, rather than the product.

Learning includes acquisition of skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to different contexts, so we will

  • Ensure  opportunities for learning and practising the ATL skills, in particular social skills, communication skills and self management.
  • Encourage learners to construct meaning by engaging actively with others.

Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging, so we will

  • Meet learners where they are at and focus on growth.
  • Ensure all learners are actively engaged in the process of learning that’s meaningful for them.

Learning includes metacognition and reflection, which support learners taking ownership of their learning, so we will

  • Provide opportunities for reflecting on strengths, challenges and goals while celebrating successes.
  • Encourage learners to reflect on  their learning and on themselves as learners, and to make decisions about how to move forward.

Encouraging reflective practice…

What’s your current reality? Where would you place yourself on a scale of 1-10? What’s already going well? What might take you up a notch or two? So what?

This is a coaching tool that works from the perspective of appreciative inquiry and encourages a strength based focus. The emphasis is on recognising positives and then deciding on the next step, rather than seeking perfection and feeling inadequate because it’s not achievable. The ‘so that…’ means that the purpose and outcome of the goal have been considered and identified.

How might you utilise this approach as a teacher to encourage self assessment and goal setting in students, perhaps alongside success criteria in the form of ‘I can’ statements?

How might you utilise the approach as a leader, to encourage reflective practice in teachers, perhaps supported by your articulated beliefs about learning?

How might you use the approach as a workshop leader or presenter to encourage participants to reflect and consider action they will take as a result of their learning from your session?

Below are some goals shared during my workshop at the Toddle planning meetup yesterday:

  • ‘I will start with the child before considering last year’s planner, so that we can create more responsive and authentically differentiated units’
  • ‘I will change my plans as students respond so that they can see more of their curiosity represented in learning engagements.’
  • ‘I will use the two questions- What has been revealed? How might we respond? to support greater responsiveness to our students as we plan for our teaching and learning’
  • I will find times in our PLCs for revisiting the unit planner so that reflection is more organic.

It’s an effective model to use with others, but also for personal reflection. What are my strengths? What am I proud of? What is one thing that I might do next? So what?

CONTEMPLATIONS ON COACHING #2

Contemplations on coaching #1

Coaching provides a quiet space to think aloud, without the peripheral noise usually going on in one’s head.

In my up-skilling session with Di, I notice the familiar elements of coaching practice as well as the style and skills of the coach, intertwined with my own reflections about who I am as a person, an educator and a coach. What are my strengths? What am I comfortable with? Where do I want to go? How might I move forward? What might my next steps be?

The parallels in good teaching practice are apparent! A responsive, ‘assessment capable,‘ teacher is essentially a growth coach. They notice, without judgement, what’s been revealed and consider how best to respond in order to support the learner to progress.

A self-determined, ‘assessment capable‘ learner is both a coachee, guided by the thoughtful, intentional questions of the coach/teacher and a self-coach, making agentic decisions that drive their learning forward. What are their strengths? What are they comfortable with? Where do they want to go? How might they move forward? What might their next steps be?

A reflective teacher, ever seeking to develop their practice, might well ask themselves the same questions.

Evidencing learning…

Here are some thoughts from a recent PYP Evidencing Learning workshop, supporting teachers to shift from a traditional model of  ‘Pre test – Teach stuff – Post test’  to a model where assessment is integrated and iterative. 

  • Learning is not linear.
  • Planning and teaching are in response to what learners reveal.
  • Learners can be reflective self adjusters, able to drive their own learning.

(Note: Start anywhere, move back and forth as required, always pass through the centre.)

Aligning actions with values and beliefs…

“School culture is a manifestation of the relationships, beliefs and values of a learning community. It shapes the ways members act and interact, and expresses the principles and values that underpin thinking and communicating.” (IB PYP Principles into Practice 2020)

We know what we value in the members of our learning community (the attributes of the IB learner profile) and we know what we believe about learning (our learning principles). This year we have chosen to revisit those and focus on alignment of actions with values and beliefs.

‘Live it, don’t laminate it’, has long been our mantra, but it’s time for a deeper exploration of what it means to walk the talk, using the eight cultural forces as a lens for exploring, and a means for enculturating, the attributes of the Learner Profile and our Learning Principles. We launched the focus in our first day workshop for K-6 educators.

LEARNER PROFILE
Keeping in mind the cultural forces of time, language, modelling, interactions, expectations, routines, opportunities and environment, the following questions were explored.(Try it!)

Inquirer
How might we (continue to) build a culture of curiosity?
Knowledgeable
How might we build a culture that encourages engagement with local and global issues?
Open minded
How might we build a culture where exploration of different perspectives is valued?
Caring
How might we build a culture based on empathy and compassion?
Thinkers
How might we build a culture of critical, creative and ethical thinking?
Communicators 
How might we build a culture of respectful communication and collaboration?
Principled
How might we build a culture that encourages honesty, integrity and sense of justice?
Risk takers
How might we build a culture that encourages experimentation, innovation and resilience?
Balanced
How might we build a culture that strives for intellectual, physical and emotional balance?
Reflective
How might we build a culture in which we thoughtfully consider our strengths, ideas and experiences?

LEARNING PRINCIPLES
In order to revisit our learning principles in context, teachers shared examples of meaningful learning through powerful inquiries they have led or experienced, while others identified the learning principles that were evident. The power of teachers sharing learning, their own and that of their students, is energising and inspiring; noticing and naming beliefs in action adds another dimension!

Then, keeping in mind the cultural forces, we revisited and unpacked each of the learning principles.

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning occurs by acquiring skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to other contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and best takes place through collaboration and interaction.
  • Learning takes place when we feel secure, valued and are able to take risks.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

The plan is for teams to engage in collaborative action research underpinned by these beliefs, as the year unfolds.

LEARNER FOCUS
While the theme of ‘walking the talk’ will be integrated into student learning in the younger years too, the central idea for a year-long unit for our upper primary students is ‘Our actions reveal who we are as individuals and as a community‘. The conceptual understandings below could well invite lifelong reflection!

We can reveal our values through our actions
  • I can make connections between my values and actions.
  • I can make decisions about actions based on my values.
Our actions affect the way people perceive us
  • I can think critically about my assumptions and perceptions of others.
  • I can engage in reflective conversations about my own actions.
Through action and reflection, we can grow and change
  • I can describe changes and growth in my actions and values over time.
  • I can decide who I want to be every day.

Apparently we’re not the only ones thinking about this currently… (Sign spotted locally by one of our leaders)

What does it mean to be ‘assessment capable’?

I used to think being ‘assessment capable’  just implied things like setting tests, planning summative tasks, grading and giving feedback.

A thought provoking conversation the other day with @YuniSantosa and @MKPolly, in relation to various workshops we will lead in the new year, highlighted the following questions assessment capable teachers and learners might ask ourselves:

How might I observe and notice my students’ learning?

What is revealed through what students say and do?
What skills and dispositions are they demonstrating?
What skills and dispositions might they need to work on?
What have they understood? What misconceptions do they have?
How have they moved forward? What’s holding them back?
What is their behaviour communicating?
What questions might I ask to reveal what students are thinking?
How has their thinking changed? What prompted the shift?
What patterns do I observe in individuals, groups or the whole class?
How might reflecting on evidence of learning guide my teaching?

How might I support students to move forward in their learning?

How might I provoke their curiosity?
How might I respond to what they reveal?
What might I offer that could take them to the next level?
How might I push their thinking further?
How might I further challenge them?
How might my questions clarify their understanding and help them notice misconceptions?
How might I help them notice and identify skills and dispositions?
How might I encourage them to build on their strengths?
What feedback and feedforward will be valuable?
How can I target my teaching to meet specific needs?
How might modelling my own thinking and reflection encourage theirs?
How might I ensure learners feel empowered to drive their own learning?

How might students be empowered to drive their own learning?

How might the teacher’s language influence the way students see themselves as learners?
Is how we learn as much a part of the conversation as what we learn?
How is ownership of learning encouraged and fostered?
Are students invited to co-construct success criteria?
What experiences, mentor texts and examples will help build their schema?
What opportunities are there for students to demonstrate their thinking and learning?
Are students encouraged to take risks and make mistakes?
What opportunities do they have to grapple with productive tension?
Is failure viewed as an opportunity to learn and grow?
What opportunities are there for students to make their own decisions?
How is the environment organised to maximise independence and agency?
How might students use their own and others’ strengths to move their learning forward?

What reflective questions might support assessment capable learners?

What new understandings do I have?
What connections have I made?
What am I still wondering?
What new skills have I mastered? What skills might I need to work on?
What strategies have I used? What strategies have I learned that I can use in future?
What patterns have I noticed? How might I apply what I learn from them?
What might my next steps be?
How might I approach things differently next time?
What strengths have I noticed in myself and others?
What challenges might I need to overcome?
Who might be able to support me? How might I support others?
What have I noticed about myself as a learner?

What else would you add?

When planning is an inquiry…

We used to plan all the learning experiences in advance. If the entire unit is planned out in detail, where are the opportunities for learners to drive the inquiry? How do they take ownership of their learning and lead it in new directions?

We do, at my school, plan the big picture, of course. We build on where the learners have come from and ensure clarity on the conceptual direction. We know what we hope the learners will come to understand and the skills and dispositions required to support the learning. But plans are flexible and responsive to what the learners reveal. The individuality of the journey, the specific teachable moments, and the ways the learning might impact or transform each learner, depend on how the inquiry unfolds.

As we shift to an increasingly emergent model, the learning is becoming more meaningful. The more we take an inquiry stance, seeking to notice what our learners are curious about and how best they learn, the more competently we can support them in moving forward. The more thoughtfully we reflect on what is revealed, the more effectively we can respond.

When questioned recently about our strategic plan, I realised that this is also how we, as leaders at my school, plan. We know where we have come from and we can identify goals for moving ahead. And then what? We value the power of ‘what if’ and ‘how might we’ questions to provoke thinking, encourage dreaming and support our inquiry stance.

Here too, it seems our model is more emergent. The more attentively we observe and notice ourselves and others, the more we are able to explore possibilities. The more thoughtfully we reflect on the nuances of complex issues, openly examine tensions and actively disrupt the status quo, the more ready we are to experiment with innovative solutions. 

Creating a carefully laid out action plan in advance, with specific strategies and tasks, is not, it seems, our optimum style.

If you are teaching remotely…

To the teacher who is struggling with personal, health or family issues, while showing a brave face on Zoom for remote teaching, you are seen.

To the teacher valiantly dividing attention between the needs of your students and your own children at home, you are seen.

To the teacher who is feeling isolated and disconnected  in these difficult times, you are seen.

To the teacher who worries about what everyone else is doing but has the courage to try something different, you are seen.

To the teacher who agonises over how to respond to the diverse needs of your learners, despite the challenges, you are seen.

To the teacher who agonises over how to respond to the diverse needs of your team, without jeopardising the learning,  you are seen.

To the teacher who agonises over how to respond to the diverse needs of parents, without compromising your beliefs about learning, you are seen.

To the teacher who finds the strength to change yet another thing in your approach to remote teaching, thereby making a difference to the learning, you are seen.

To the teacher juggling to balance the needs of students at home with those attending school, you are seen.

To the unassuming teacher who quietly gets on with things without complaining, you are seen.

To the teacher for whom technology is challenging, who persists to overcome this hurdle in remote teaching, you are seen.

To the new teacher who barely had time to learn the processes of our school and build relationships, before being thrown into remote learning, you are seen.

To the teacher who is filled with self doubt, always thinking you could have done better, not realising that’s how all good teachers feel, you are seen.

To all of you doing your best, despite the challenging circumstances, thank you.

(Written for teachers at my school, but applies beyond.)