The power of a provocation…

Whether it ignites an inquiry or shifts the gears of learning, if it’s fuelled by careful consideration and clear intentions, a ‘provocation‘ can drive powerful learning.

Considering the ‘power of provocations’ with our Lana Fleiszig recently, teachers explored the purpose of provocations, what could be used as provocation and the teacher’s role in the provocation process. The most important question, though, is what might the provocation reveal about our learners, their thinking and learning and where to next?

Our teachers collaboratively developed a list of questions to consider when designing provocations:

  • Might the provocation excite/engage the learners and ‘hook’ them into learning?
  • Might the provocation ignite curiosity and wonderings?
  • Is the provocation likely to generate questions?
  • Is the provocation likely to leave a lasting impression?
  • Is there a degree of complexity?
  • Might the provocation invite debate?
  • Might the provocation begin a conversation?
  • Might the provocation extend thinking?
  • Might the provocation reveal prior knowledge?
  • Is the provocation likely to uncover misconceptions?
  • Does the provocation transfer the ‘energy’ in the room from the teacher to the students?
  • Does the provocation have multiple entry points?
  • Can the provocation be revisited throughout the unit?
  • Might the provocation lead learners into a zone of confusion and discomfort?
  • Does the provocation relate to real life/their world?
  • Is the provocation inconspicuous and a little mysterious?
  • Might the provocation lead learners to broader concepts that tend to carry more relevance and universality?
  • Will the provocation make the best use of learning time and teacher preparation time?
  • Might the provocation be student initiated or documentation of their learning as a springboard?
  • Is the provocation likely to clarify the essence of what is being inquired into?
  • Is the provocation the right provocation for the time planned?
  • Might the provocation be best during the inquiry, rather than at the beginning?
  • Does this provocation elicit feelings?

We’re looking forward to taking it further in the coming ‘ Reveal’ workshop with Sam Sherratt exploring ‘what it means to be aware of, receptive to and curious about what our students are revealing to us so that we can be constantly inquiring into our students and adjusting our planning accordingly.’

Do you begin with a purposeful provocation and then plan in response to learning?

Opportunity for learning…

The children at Matt Glover‘s feet are unsurprisingly engrossed in the conversation. Matt is interesting and funny and he talks to them in an engaging and respectful way.  This is the introduction to a lesson in which he models his approach, observed by teachers inquiring into how to improve the teaching of writing.

What strikes me is that it’s not just about writing workshop. Good practice can be applied across all learning areas….

What if teachers kept all ‘lessons’ to 5 minutes?

What if the learners were quickly released to get on with it?

What if the majority of learning time involved learners engaged in doing?

What if the teacher conferenced with individuals, not to correct, remind or tell, but to teach at point of need?

What if strengths were noticed, named, shared and built upon?

What if children were encouraged to see themselves as ‘insiders’ in the learning process?

What if learners modelled their own creations on authentic examples from the real world?

What if learners were encouraged to imagine and to innovate?

What if learners were encouraged to be the teachers in the room?

What if teachers trusted the learners and the process?

What if learners had agency over their learning?

What if successes were shared and celebrated?

What if classrooms were always filled with ‘real’ learning rather than ‘doing school’?

Applying solution focus coaching tools to a shared problem…

When I was 12, there was a gang leader in my class. She was clever, pretty and powerful and if you weren’t in her group, you were no-one. Her followers were highly trained in the art of excluding others and making them feel worthless.

Not much has changed in the world of school, but bullying has been amplified by social media. I can only imagine what life for us nobodies would have been like, if  the powerful leader and her gang had been able to post photos of us on Snapchat and multiply the nastiness via a Whatsapp group from which we were excluded. 

It’s only too easy to lament the tragedy of it all, blame the children, their parents, ourselves and especially technology. Instead we need to:

Commit to the change we want to see.

Are we prepared to take action? What’s a good name for the project? – Platform

Articulate the desired outcome in detail.

Imagine the culture we’d like to cultivate. What will it look like? What will be noticeable?  What will others see? – Future Perfect

Reflect on where we are now.

What would take us up a notch or two? What would the first tiny signs of progress be?  – Scale

Notice what is already happening.

Gather data from kids, teachers and parents. What’s going well? What successes have there been? How were they achieved? – Counters

Decide what action to take.

What small steps will we take? What specific and concrete steps will propel us forward? – Small Actions

We might name our project ‘ Increasing a culture of kindness’. Do you have ideas to share? What’s working at your school?

Thanks @annettegci. You can see the immediate impact of your Solution Focus Master Class extending beyond coaching…

Solution focus tools – Mark McKergrow

Write or wrong…

Are you on the platform? What are you waiting for? Are you ready and willing to buy a ticket to the destination of your choice? How serious are you about getting there?

I really like the ‘platform’ analogy we talked about in today’s Solution Focus coaching master class and it makes me realise that I’ll never get back on the blogging train, unless I buy a ticket and get off the platform!

In the past, writing was a vehicle for reflection. Blogging was an avenue for distilling the essence of  learning experiences, documenting the process of learning, testing ideas and theories, questioning, probing, provoking , identifying issues, exploring possibilities and sometimes getting on people’s nerves.

I often encourage others to blog, highlighting the value of sharing your practice and amplifying your learning. I stress that perfectionism holds you back. ‘Just write what you want to say in your own voice, without over-thinking and click ‘publish’, I tell them. ‘Write for yourself, not for an audience.’

Yet here I am, pacing the platform, mulling over the reasons for not buying a ticket and getting back on the blogging train.

Is it because writing is a habit and I’ve lost the flow? Is awareness of my increased audience inhibiting me, because I can no longer simply write for myself, in my own voice and click ‘publish’, without caring what anyone thinks? Have I been muzzled by the knowledge that saying what I think sometimes gets me into trouble, because people identify themselves in the issues raised?  Or is it simply that I’ve said what I need to say and it’s time to put down my ‘pen’ ?

In the spirit of today’s master class, I’ll let go of the reasons for the problem and focus on positive change instead. One of the coaching strategies we practised was identifying the issue of concern and giving it a name. I’m calling mine ‘Write or wrong’… I’m buying a ticket and moving off the platform back onto the blogging train to see what happens.

It will either be wrong for me… or write.

Cultural forces that define leadership…

What if Ron Ritchhart’s  cultural forces were applied  to the concept of leadership?

How might a leader, in any context, ensure that he or she provides time, sets expectations, engages in interactions, uses language, models actions, creates an environment and ensures opportunities that empower the community to flourish?

As a leader, irrespective of your context, what kind of culture do you create?

1. Expectations

Do you convey clear expectations and ensure shared understanding?

2. Modeling

Do you model the attitudes and dispositions you hope to see in others?

3. Time

Is there adequate time for in-depth exploration, planning, collaboration and reflection?

4. Interactions

Do you build positive relationships, respect the contributions of others and value diverse perspectives?

5. Routines

Are processes in place for  identifying problems, exploring solutions, reflecting and giving feedback?

6. Language

Does your language reflect shared beliefs, demonstrate support, reveal vulnerability and invite constructive questioning?

7. Opportunities

Do you encourage learning and growth, experimentation and innovation? Are there opportunities for new leaders to develop?

8. Environment

Does the physical, emotional and cultural environment facilitate autonomy, mastery and purpose. (Dan Pink)

Learning is not about covering the curriculum…

Are you a good teacher? Do you know your subject well, prepare lessons thoroughly and cover the curriculum efficiently? Do your students respect you? Is your classroom management effective? Are you organised and reflective?

Here’s the thing… It’s not about YOU.

Everything changes when you start with the child.

Starting with the child means building relationships and connecting personally with every learner. It means hearing his voice, knowing his story, caring about what matters to him and understanding how best he might learn.

Starting with the child means having a strong image of the child as creative, competent and capable of controlling her own learning. It means letting go, trusting the process and having faith in her capacity to lead her learning.

Starting with the child means understanding that the language you use has the power to affect his self image. It means using words purposefully to build self esteem, confidence and ownership, to support him in seeing himself as an empowered writer or mathematician, learner and human being.

Starting with the child means creating a sense of calm, a mindful context within which she can flourish and her learning can thrive. It means promoting positive emotions, providing opportunities for engagement in purposeful learning and helping her to achieve her dreams.

All of this and more was explored in our teacher led workshops at our ‘Start with the Child’ professional learning day last week…

Start with the child…

Start with the child, not the curriculum. Schooling is currently organised the wrong way around. The curriculum becomes the structure for the learning and is delivered via a timetable. Yet we know that every child is different so there cannot be a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to schooling. Learning and teaching should be designed around each child’s learning strengths and needs. In this way, the curriculum is the reference point, not the blueprint. 

~Greg Whitby

On the first day back after the summer break, we introduce our 2017 focus to our team of educators:

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Check in: Choose a word that describes one of your strengths and then one you would like to work towards.

Sharing the justification for our choices serves both as an ice breaker in the cross campus, multi-year level groups, and as a provocation to think about and value the diversity amongst us.

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A provocation: Watch till 2:38 and create a title that sums up the essence.

The video provokes a range of responses and lively conversation ensues. To what extent are we guilty?

Pre-thinking: Create an image that represents your first thoughts about the notion of starting with the child.

There are rich conversations about the possible connotations of the phrase and an exchange of ideas about what it might mean to us.

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An appreciative inquiry…

Discover: What are we already doing?

It’s important to acknowledge the many ways in which we already start with the child.  This activity creates a space for cross pollinating ideas and sharing practice.

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Dream: What are the possibilities for taking it further? 

Teachers are encouraged to imagine. What if…? How might we..? Could we…? How would we…?

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  • How do we ensure we cater for diverse needs and interests?
  • How might we rid ourself of the idea of a controlled classroom?
  • Imagine if we didn’t have grades and reports.
  • What if we could get rid of Naplan?
  • What if we had one free choice unit of inquiry every year?
  • What if the children wrote the curriculum?
  • What if we didn’t have timetables?
  • How might we increase opportunities for cross age learning?
  • How might we build a culture where all children value each other?
  • How can we ensure social and emotional wellbeing of every child?
  • What if there were no bells interfering with learning?
  • How might we help every child to believe in himself?

Design: What will you do?

We ask teachers to record something they will start working on right away.

What will you do? Try out? Think about? Explore? Change? How will you ensure that you start with the child?

Learning stories…

Me: What did you learn about yourself as a learner?

Student: I learn much more when I’m inquiring into something I choose for myself and am really interested in.

Me: What message do you have for teachers?

Student: We need more opportunities to explore things we care about. Having a choice and working independently makes us learn more.

Me: So it’s better than ‘school subjects’?

Student: My inquiry had lots of school subjects! Maths, Science, English, Art.

I had many such reflective conversations about learning with Year 6 students at the end of their PYP exhibition (expedition) process.  Each inquiry was unique, every journey different and their passion shone through in the ways they chose to tell their learning stories…
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Some focused more on what they had learned, others on how they had learned. They spoke of skills acquired and knowledge gained, about what had benefited their learning, who had influenced them, how they overcame challenges and action they had taken. In many cases, they referred to sketch notes of their journeys, as they talked…

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It was fitting to end the school year with such a powerful example of student ownership.
Our Year 6 learners had agency in what they chose to explore and how they chose to explore it. They chose with whom to collaborate and how to support each other. They chose how to express their learning creatively through art, film, dance, model-making…

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They chose how they might make a difference, what impact they want to make and what kind of action to take…
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Learning in the cloud…

‘Where do our families live?’ ‘Where do we go after school?’ ‘Where do we play and do homework?’

Aditya, Diya, Jayesh, Vishaka, Sairaj and the other children with whom I connect weekly via Skype in Granny Cloud sessions, are generating questions, the answer to which is ‘home’. I’ve written before about this Grade 6 class and their school and about the special opportunity I had to meet them in person. This session is a follow-up from last week’s introduction to children’s rights, for which I have googled a Marathi translation, before checking the accuracy with them – मुलांचे हक्क.

Are homes the same everywhere in the world? We look at images of homes, an igloo, a mud hut, a house on the water, a tree house and an underground house (Coober Pedy, Australia) and the children wonder who built these houses, where they are, who lives in them, what materials were used, how they are accessed. Aditya wonders if there is oxygen in the underground house. Atharva asks what would happen if the tree (in which the house is bulit) fell down. Gaurauv asks if I live in an underground house (it’s in Australia, after all) and I take my laptop to the window to show them the garden.

As always, I delight in the fact that the children who once stared blankly back at me from the screen, a strange looking woman talking a foreign language they did not understand, now chat confidently, ask questions, make jokes, think and laugh with me.

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The other group with whom I currently engage is at a government girls high school in urban Delhi, relatively close to the original office from which Sugata Mitra began his Hole in the Wall experiments, a school that has been involved in his experiments ever since.

Anshika, Priya, Shivani and the others choose the song ‘I have a Dream’ to sing for me and I ask what dreams they have. ‘I want to be a politician so that I can reduce poverty’, one girl says confidently.  One girl dreams of being a doctor, another wants to be a soldier to protect her people and a third hopes to teach the poor who don’t have access to education. Nazreen dreams of being a singer but her parents have forbidden it for religious reasons. Nikita dreams of being a famous singer too… so that she can make money and buy her parents a house and help other less fortunate people.

In the middle of one such session recently, I receive an unexpected call from a Skype number that’s been in my contacts for years. I’m incredulous to see Gouri, whom I have not seen for six years, since she engaged in Granny Cloud sessions as a lively teenager, in the rural village of Shirgaon, in Maharashtra.

Gouri has been selected by the BBC as one of 2016’s 100 inspiring women and camera men lurk discreetly in the background for a news piece as she and I re-engage after all this time. We talk about what we’re doing now and what we remember from the old days, in particular a series of interactions in which she and her classmates talked and sang with a group of Grade 6 students at my school in Australia. (I still recall their wonderful reflections from 2010!) This lovely, poised young woman is an impressive ambassador for the Granny Cloud project.

I marvel at the simplicity of an idea that is so powerful in its implementation. I wonder what Jayesh and Digvijay, Anshika and Farheen will be doing six years from now. And I imagine who they might become in the future…