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:

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-6-43-31-pm

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.

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-8-01-53-pm

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.

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-6-51-56-pm

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-8-32-47-pm

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.

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-7-09-10-pm

Dream: What are the possibilities for taking it further? 

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

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-7-17-11-pm

screen-shot-2017-01-28-at-7-16-42-pm

  • 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…
img_0351

img_0348

fullsizerender-34

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…

fullsizerender-24

img_0034

2673d21b-57b0-4d50-b571-d11d05e93788

fullsizerender-29
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…

screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-7-25-58-pm

screen-shot-2016-12-10-at-7-49-18-pm

They chose how they might make a difference, what impact they want to make and what kind of action to take…
fullsizerender-33
fullsizerender-32

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.

gc

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…

Beautiful questions… and a whole school unit of inquiry

 ‘A beautiful question is an ambitious yet actionable question that can begin to shift the way we perceive or think about something—and that might serve as a catalyst to bring about change.’ Warren Berger ~ A More Beautiful Question.

This generally starts with a ‘why?‘ question which identifies the need for change, followed by ‘what if?‘ which imagines new possibilities, and moving onto the ‘how?‘ which leads to action.

A couple of years ago we asked ourselves: Why do we spend the first few weeks ‘setting the tone’ in the classroom and then start the first unit of inquiry? What if the first unit of inquiry at every year level helped create classroom culture and set the tone for the learning to take place? How might we go about that?

A recent visit to ISHCMC provoked us to ask: Why do we need a separate central idea for each grade level? What if we tried one overarching central idea for the whole school? How might a whole school approach influence school culture?

And then: Why reinvent the wheel? What if we adapted the central idea we saw at ISHCMC and tweaked the lines of inquiry from our previous units? How might feedback from other educators support the development of this idea?

And now…

PYP Trans-disciplinary Theme: WHO WE ARE

An inquiry into the nature of the self; beliefs and values; personal, physical, mental, social and spiritual health; human relationships including families, friends, communities, and cultures; rights and responsibilities; what it means to be human. (IB Primary Years Program)

Central Idea: Our choices define who we are as individuals and as a community.

Possible lines of Inquiry:

These are still to be refined with input from teachers, students and the world. (As our junior school learning spaces will be redesigned over the summer, all grades have a line of inquiry about how the new spaces will be used.)

Prep

  • How our choices help us build a learning community (responsibility)
  • Choices in how we express our learning (reflection)
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning  (function)

Year 1

  • Choices that help us learn (reflection)
  • Choices in how we we interact with others (reflection)
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning (function)

Year 2

  • How humans learn (function)
  • Choices we make as learners, individually and collaboratively (reflection)
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning  (change)

Year 3

  • Choices that affect our learning community (causation)
  • How diversity enriches a community (change)
  • How we use our learning environment to support our learning community  (connection)

Year 4

  • How communication affects relationships (connection)
  • Choices in how we communicate – audience, purpose, context (causation)
  • How effective groups function (reflection)

Year 5

  • Personal values (perspective)
  • How our values influence the choices we make (connection)
  • The choices we make as learners (reflection)

Year 6

  • Active citizenship
  • Decision making strategies (reflection)
  • Our choices as individuals – personal interests and passions (perspective)
  • The impact of choices/decisions on other people, our community, the world (responsibility)

The central idea provides possibilities for authentic trans-disciplinary inquiry too. They might inquire into how our health and exercise choices affect us, how our choices affect others in games and sports, artistic and musical choices…

Teachers might inquire into how our choices define us human beings and as educators; the impact of our  choices as educators on the social, emotional and academic learning of our students; ways to increase opportunities for student ownership and agency…

And a few more beautiful questions of my own:

What if this was a year-long unit of inquiry?

What if, instead of a central idea, we had an overarching big question?

What if, instead of lines of inquiry, the learners came up with their own why, what if and how questions?

What if everything we did was about real learning instead of ‘doing school’?

10 ways to make learning meaningful…

Whether your students are completing assignments, inquiring into areas of their interest, covering curriculum or exploring their passions, to what extent does it feel (to you, as much as to them) as if they are simply complying and ‘doing school’?

How can we extend learning ‘beyond the project’ and ensure it’s a powerful learning experience, rather than a task for school? (Hint: the answer does not lie in assessment criteria, rubrics or grades.)

1. Do you LISTEN more than you talk?

2. Are the learners really inquiring, in the broadest sense of the word?

Look at the description of inquiry from Making the PYP Happen. Are they doing most of these things? Or just researching?

  • exploring, wondering and questioning
  • experimenting and playing with possibilities
  • making connections between previous learning and current learning
  • making predictions and acting purposefully to see what happens
  • collecting data and reporting findings
  • clarifying existing ideas and reappraising perceptions of events
  • deepening understanding through the application of a concept
  • making and testing theories
  • researching and seeking information
  • taking and defending a position
  • solving problems in a variety of ways.

3. Will this inquiry be worthwhile? Will the learners experience challenges and figure out how to overcome them?

Support them in feeling comfortable in the ‘learning pit’?

4. Is the inquiry concept driven? Are the learners doing more than just finding facts and information?

  • Are they exploring and developing an understanding of big conceptual ideas.  
  • Are they looking through the lens of one or more key concepts?
  • Can they identify big ideas and apply them in other contexts?
  • Can they articulate conceptual understandings developed along the way?

5.  Do the learners have ownership? Will this inquiry help them grow, not just in knowledge of content, but as learners?

Some questions to support their ongoing reflection:

img_0825

6. Are the learners thinking critically and creatively about the content they explore?

A variety of less common thinking routines that can extend their thinking:

Think Puzzle Explore
Circle of viewpoints
Generate Sort Connect Elaborate
Tug for Truth
Parts Purposes and Complexities
People Parts Interactions
Think Feel Care
Imagine if…

7. Are the learners able to think about how their inquiries impact on other people? Will they be motivated to take action?

8. Will they explore ways of extending the learning beyond the classroom?

  • Look for opportunities for collaboration across the year level.
  • Extend it to other year levels. (Can older learners create for an audience in lower grades? Can learners seek feedback or support from another class or year level?)
  • Encourage interactions with primary sources within and outside outside of school.
  • Use your network and theirs to help extend the learning to the broader community and the world.
  • Use Google docs, Twitter and blog posts to reach out globally. (click links for examples)
  • Connect with experts face to face or via Skype. (eg Skype in the Classroom)

9. Will there be opportunities to identify problems and issues and develop solutions?

For some learners, the design thinking process might be useful:

10. Will learners have opportunities to express their  learning meaningfully and creatively?

How will learners present, represent and/or share their learning? Will they choose to express their learning through a creative medium such as art or film? Will they paint or sculpt? Will they write poetry? Set it to music? Do an expressive dance? Create a stop motion animation? Build a model? Develop an app? Design a website? Write a book? Organise a debate? Start a blog? Make a speech? Create a campaign? Lead a workshop? 

Will they do, say, think, feel, want… or be something different as a result of this learning?