Beyond ourselves…

For the past couple of years, our culminating PYP expedition (exhibition) has centred around passions. This year, with Studio Time or iTime already embedded, and learners exploring, not just their their passions and interests, but also how they might develop as learners and individuals through the process, it’s time to move beyond ourselves.

We start today’s team meeting with the first few minutes of the film 30,000 days and discuss what it makes us think and feel. Responses refer to the meaning of life, a sense of urgency, excitement and empowerment without guilt, a desire to take action and a feeling of hope.

Next, we consider what each of us does to contribute beyond ourselves. We break this down into contributions within the school community, the broader community and then globally, and the answers are both diverse and thoughtful.

  • A sense of fun and silliness.
  • Care for the wellbeing of others.
  • Being a team player.
  • Supporting students and teachers.
  • Greeting people, not just walking by.
  • Showing appreciation to service workers.
  • Being kind to others.
  • Writing to challenge and entertain.
  • Volunteering with Pyjama Angels.
  • Advocating for mental health.
  • Reusing and recycling.
  • Connecting with children in less advantaged settings in India.
  • Educating future leaders.
  • Organising cultural events and fund raisers.
  • Donating to causes that matter.
  • Supporting a school in Africa.

We think this could be a powerful reflective question with which the children might engage, in relation to themselves, their families and other people they know.

With the trans-disciplinary theme of Sharing the Planet as a prompt, we brainstorm issues beyond ourselves and organise them, using the concentric circles of school, local and global communities.

It’s quickly apparent that the issues we raise connect to the Sustainable Development Goals, which will be one of the springboards for students to dive into their explorations and possibilities for action.

The children’s version of this brainstorm might look different, but the concentric circles always provide a valuable lens for seeing how ideas can transfer both inward and outward. What if we asked kids to come up with their own broad categories of goals, relevant both at school and beyond? What if we asked them to anticipate which might be achievable by 2020 or 2030? What if they began to imagine their own solutions?

Prior concerns about how to make this inquiry relevant, and ensure it is neither shallow nor too removed from the children’s reality, are laid to rest. The ‘split screen’ potential is evident! It’s an opportunity for our students to develop, not just as learners and inquirers, but as thoughtful, caring human beings, ready to take the first steps towards making their world a better place.

As educators, we are well placed to approach this as an inquiry for ourselves, as well as for our learners. (The provocation has been a success.)

It’s an opportunity for students and teachers alike to move beyond ourselves

Building a culture of agency…

It’s exciting to see so many teachers relinquishing control and empowering their students. Stephanie in Singapore had kids do their own set up on the first day of school and the inspirational folk of Studio 5 at ISHCMC have broken yet more moulds.  Right here in Aus, at my own school, some students are planning their own inquiries in the same way that teachers plan, and teachers are releasing control and reflecting candidly about the process in the pursuit of learner agency.

What if you’re not ready to release control to this extent? How might you start small? What might some first steps be towards an increase in agency for your learners?

Ron Ritchhart’s 8 cultural forces provide a platform from which to embark on your journey. Just apply them to agency, instead of thinking! How might you build a culture of learner agency in your classroom?

What sort of language will you use?

Do you talk about learning, rather than tasks and work?

Is your learning framed as a question that invites learners into the process?

Do you ask the learners’ opinions and really listen to what they say?

Do you notice and name learning assets?

Do you refer to your students as authors, mathematicians and scientists?

How is the environment organised to foster agency?

Who designs the learning space? Whose thinking is on the walls?

Are there options for where and with whom to sit and learn?

Are materials and resources well organised and easily accessible?

What sorts of opportunities are offered?

Are there opportunities for learners to pursue their own inquiries?

Are there opportunities to write for an authentic audience and to extend learning beyond the classroom?

Are there opportunities for learners to wrestle with challenging problems and design solutions?

How is time managed? 

Is there time for thinking, reflecting and inquiring?

Who manages the time? Is self management encouraged?

Is time used constructively for meaningful learning, rather than just completion of set tasks?

Do students waste time waiting for the teacher, when they could be doing something more worthwhile?

What dispositions do you model?

Do you model vulnerability, apologise when you’re wrong and talk about your mistakes?

Do you openly change your mind and your plan?

Do you model decision making and talk through the process aloud?

What routines are in place to encourage agency?

Are there routines for accessing equipment, sharing learning, asking for help…without waiting for the teacher?

Do they start when they’re ready, rather than waiting till you have finished giving the same instructions to all?

Are there routines for giving and receiving peer to peer feedback, without being told?

What kind of expectations are clearly set?

Are learners expected to and trusted to take ownership of learning?

Do they have (at least some) choice and voice in what they learn and how they learn?

Is initiative valued over compliance?

Is intrinsic motivation expected and encouraged through powerful, engaging learning experiences? (no Class Dojo)

How do interactions foster agency?

Are interactions between you and your learners mutually respectful?

How well do you know every child’s story, her interests, her passions and her insecurities? Can she tell that you care?

Do your interactions demonstrate belief in the learners’ capacity to own their learning?

Can they tell that you trust them to learn?

What small action will you take to shift the culture in your class?

Image from Presenter Media

No secret teacher business…

Our new approach to planning units has opened up teachers’ thinking. They talk about feeling liberated (from box filling or linear approaches), the organic way the elements are revealed and the easy visualisation of how we might develop the whole child.

Why would we keep such a successful approach as ‘secret teacher business’? First one then another intrepid teacher has shared our style of ‘table planning’ with the learners, so that they can thoughtfully plan their own inquiries, through the lens of various concepts, simultaneously considering what skills will be required, the dispositions they will develop and how they might grow through the process.

A Year 6 student considers the skills required for his exploration of psychology
‘This unit is really about being responsible, independent and creative…’ Year 3
This student started from a consideration of how he’d like to grow as a learner and individual. Now he’s thinking about how he’s going to help others…
Contemplating the descriptors in MTPYPH (student booklet) just like teachers do! (Photo Dean Kuran)
Collaborative planning – Year 3 version 🙂 (Photo Mel Sokol)

For more details, read Dean’s post here and Mel’s post here.

Agency begins with the belief that children are capable of planning and driving their own learning. What else do we as teachers do that the learners could be doing themselves?

Why do we STILL have reports?

Why is it that, in this day and age of instant communication, most schools and parents still expect the kind of report card suited to another era?

Why do reports traditionally go out twice a year, when there are endless ways teachers and learners can, and do, communicate their learning throughout the year?

Why do teachers spend great chunks of time reporting in a summative way on a final report, when formative assessment, goals and ‘feed forward’ during the year are so much more valuable?

Why don’t teachers, parents and learners share the learning via online portfolios, easily accessible throughout the year, demonstrating process, progress and final product, with facility for reflection by students, feedback by parents and ‘feedforward’ by teachers?

Why don’t learners communicate their learning more with parents and the wider world through the many possible channels available online?

Why do governments and administrators continue to dictate not just the existence of report cards, but often the format and parameters they should fit?

What if the hours teachers spend writing and proofreading reports were instead allocated to professional learning and collaborative planning that enhanced future learning?

and…

WHY has so little changed in the four years since I last wrote those questions?

What do you notice about yourself as a teacher?

It’s exciting to see teachers adopting the idea of thoughtfully considered reflective questions for themselves, as well as for the learners, in continued pursuit of the goal of developing the whole child – and the whole teacher! – rather than simply focusing on curriculum content.

If I want the children in my class to be creative, how might I encourage creative experimentation? How will I foster creative thinking and problem solving?

If I want to develop writers who consider audience and purpose in their writing, how will I help them find opportunities to write for an authentic audience?

If I think feedback is an important part of learning, how will I promote the giving and receiving of effective peer feedback?

If I want learners to be empathetic and understand different perspectives, how will I ensure that all points of view are considered to help them develop empathy?

If I want the next generation to make sustainable choices, how will I help them to understand the impact of their choices and to become thoughtful, principled global citizens?

If I want them to care about their environment, how will I foster a genuine sense of shared responsibility?

If I don’t want them to see mistakes as failure, how might I help learners use their struggles to develop resilience?

If I want my students to be positive, active digital citizens, how can I provide authentic contexts to practise digital citizenship? And how will I help them understand that positive active citizenship applies online or off?

In a recent collaborative planning session, while developing the notion of iTime (or Genius Hour) into an opportunity for self reflection and personal growth, the Year 6 team took this type of reflective questioning to another level!

What do I notice about myself as a teacher?

What skills and dispositions do I need to develop as a teacher…?

 

Documenting the planning process…

In the enhanced PYP, schools will have agency to decide on their own format for documenting planning, as long as collaborative planning follows the PYP guidelines. We’ll no longer be obliged to fill in the traditional boxes or follow the linear design of Managebac.

It was an honour to be invited by the IBO to submit an example of a school designed planner. It seemed like an exciting opportunity to collaborate with teams of teachers on developing something fresh, new and, above all, user friendly. So I was disappointed to read the terms and conditions that accompanied the invitation. Due to copyright restrictions, the IBO would own the planner design and we would not be allowed to share or change it without their permission.

Although I appreciated the invitation and understood their need for copyright restrictions (sort of), I declined.

In the spirit of collaboration, how much more valuable would it be to share drafts and designs both within the school and with the wider, global PYP community? How much more interesting could it be to seek and apply constructive feedback from educators all over the world? How much more exciting might it be if we took an inquiry stance, explored possibilities, had a go, reflected and made adjustments along the way?

Still. The process of considering and documenting new ways of planning is alive and well!

Every team in our school is enjoying experimenting with new planning formats and adapting them to their needs. Members of our online global PYP community have shared their own initial models, suggested ideas and given feedback on our drafts.

We always start with the child at the centre.

We have moved from the table

to the beginnings of a draft planner…

to a visual summary…

Now we’ve shifted into Google Slides and added everything to the same deck. Teams have been experimenting with what to include and how to record it. Some have started adding documentation and reflections along the way, which is allowing it to be  a living document that encourages emergent curriculum.

Some questions that have been considered along the way:

  • How best might we record the thinking that takes place during collaborative planning sessions?
  • What needs to be recorded and how? (And why?)
  • What is the purpose of documenting planning?
  • Who is the documentation of planning for? (The IB? The teachers?)
  • How do we visualise all the elements simultaneously?
  • To what extent do learning experiences need to be planned and recorded in advance?
  • How might we record the data that’s revealed by the provocation, so that we can decide where to go next?
  • How do we integrate literacy planning into the same document?
  • How might teams make this their own?
  • How best will reflections be recorded?
  • How might our learners participate in the planning process?

You’re welcome to join us on our journey!

Reciprocal connections…

Which image represents who you are an educator?

It’s a check-in I often use in workshops as an ice breaker and a window into the beliefs of the people with whom I’m working.

I always choose the image of paper clips. There are multiple possible explanations but, most often, I talk about the value of being a connected educator, about how much I have learned through connecting globally with others to exchange ideas, collaborate, support and be supported.

No matter what workshop I lead, there will almost always be a time included for some or all of the participants to connect virtually with educators in the world beyond. Sometimes it’s because participants have questions about areas in which I don’t have expertise. Sometimes it’s to meet the needs of specific participants and give them opportunities to pursue their own inquiries. And, sometimes it’s to demonstrate the power of global connections.

I’m always extremely grateful to the educators who give of their time, often on weekends, to join in virtually and share so freely with others. Usually they are ‘my people’, the incredible leaders and teachers with whom I work at my own school. Often they are ‘my other people’ – the generous educators who are part of my online professional learning network, many of whom I have never met face to face, with whom I have a reciprocal relationship. But sometimes, they are people I don’t know at all, recommended by others or identified through my online networks. To those contributors, I am especially grateful.

And here’s the surprise… While I’ve always seen it as others doing me a favour, in particular the people whom I don’t even know, it turns out that they see it as an opportunity! They appreciate being asked. They are delighted to have the chance to talk about what they do. They like making new connections and extending their own learning. The fact that they need to share pushes them to clarify their own thinking and identify what matters. I hadn’t really thought about it in this way till I received messages like these:

“That would be a treat. Thank you so much for thinking of me. I love sharing what we do here in this corner of the world… For me, this is a wonderful opportunity.”

” I really enjoy those discussions and am happy to help again… The practice I get in situations like this could only possibly help me to come out of my shell more and share more about what I do.”

And now, the drama teacher whom I met at my previous workshop in India, who so enjoyed his virtual conversations with teachers in Brazil, Korea and China (the first time he’d had such experiences) has jumped at the opportunity to pay it forward by connecting with a drama teacher in a coming Australian workshop…

The power of being connected…

I was convinced the school had chosen the wrong workshop.

The pre-workshop survey indicated that teachers’ needs included things as disparate as drama teaching, physical education and inquiry in the early years. Their requests appeared to have little connection to the objectives of the PYP workshop I would be leading for them – ‘Get Connected: Engaging in authentic global learning practices.’

I confess to a degree of panic and several exchanges with the school’s coordinator in Mumbai to check if she was sure they had chosen the appropriate workshop. How would I possibly be able to cater for the diverse needs of drama and PE teachers, a counsellor, a French teacher, primary and pre-school teachers?

In the end, it was simple. Instead of trying to address all of those requests and instead of learning about getting connected, I made the decision to immerse them in global connections. All I needed to do, was to draw on my own network to demonstrate the power of global connections and networked learning. The Mumbai teachers would have access to a range of educators from different countries and fields… and agency to design their own learning experience.

Considering dispositions required both for the workshop and as global citizens
Reading blogs from educators around the world
Exploring early years inquiry with Mandy in Australia. (And Shana. And later Jennifer in China)
Discussing maths with Lana in Australia
Chatting about agency with Sonya in China
Connecting with Jina in Australia regarding differentiation and inclusion
Generating questions to ask the world…

We posted the teachers’ questions on a Padlet called ‘Ask the World’. By morning we had a broad range of responses from generous PYP educators around the globe! (Check it out.)

PE teachers – so excited to connect with Joel in Laos and Sandijs in China.
Deepak Sir exchanges ideas about Drama teaching with Vanessa in Brazil, Jolene in Korea and Freda in China.
Hearing about ‘Making writing’ and other literacy ideas from Jocelyn in Australia.
Finding out about the impact of global collaborations from Tali and Grade 2 children
Discussing how technology can enrich learning in younger years, with Pana in Taiwan
A Granny Cloud experience with Monika and Grade 8 at Diksha near Delhi
Mystery Skype with Grade 3s in Australia was a highlight!
Thoughtful educators considering what action they will take.

With tremendous appreciation for my local and global network (mostly PYP educators, in this case), many of whom I have never met in person, for generously sharing their time, ideas, experience, vulnerabilities and expertise so that others may learn and grow.

10 ways to consider your learning space…

It began during a PYP workshop in Melbourne last week, where we used Ron Ritchhart’s 8 cultural forces as a lens to explore how we might create a culture of creativity.

As participants considered various images of learning spaces, their own and others’, including some beautiful, inviting Reggio environments we generated a list of questions, such as these:

  1. Does the learning space reflect what you say you value about learning?
  2. Is the space visually appealing? Does it invite learning?
  3. What kind of culture does the learning space suggest?
  4. What is the role of colour? Is there too much ‘visual noise’?
  5. What role do the learners play in deciding how the space is organised?
  6. Has the purpose of everything you post on the walls been carefully considered?
  7. How is students’ thinking made visible?
  8. How is natural light maximised? (I really did hear a story of a teacher who put up curtains so that children would not look outside and be distracted!)
  9. What clutter can you get rid of? (Now.)
  10. MOST importantly: How is the space organised to foster things like: independence, collaboration, agency, creativity, movement and thinking?
The original version!