An open letter to parents…

Dear Parents

We know how much you love your children. Many of us are parents too and if we aren’t, you can rest assured that we wouldn’t be educators unless we cared deeply about children, so we know that many of the following things are important to you. Take a moment to consider which of these you most wish for…

  • My child succeeds without struggle
  • My child is above average at school
  • My child is admired by others
  • My child is well behaved and works hard to get good grades
  • My child excels in sporting competitions
  • My child produces impressive work at school
  • My child is extended by her teachers
  • My child’s class gets homework to help them do better at school
  • My child is popular with his peers
  • My child is always happy at school

Our teachers have been reading Contextual Wellbeing, by Helen Street, which is based on extensive research, and it turns out that the pressure induced by the items on this list, despite being instinctive desires of many parents, can actually undermine children’s wellbeing.

Now consider the list below…

  • My child is valued as an individual
  • My child  feels a sense of belonging
  • My child’s strengths matter more than his weaknesses
  • My child is intrinsically motivated
  • My child forms meaningful relationships
  • My child experiences personal growth
  • My child contributes to the community
  • My child loves learning
  • My child has ownership of her decisions and accepts the consequences
  • My child is allowed to fail and learn from his mistakes

We asked parents who attended our informal session last week to sort all these aspirations into two groups. Once they got going, it quickly became clear which would put pressure on their children and which would support them in becoming well adjusted, valued and valuable members of society, content within themselves. We ask you to think about it too…

‘Wellbeing is a state of health, happiness and positive engagement that arises from membership of an equitable, inclusive and cohesive environment’ (Helen Street 2016 )

Self study as an appreciative inquiry…

Over coffee with @shazbailey1, we chat about strategies for making the self study process worthwhile. She shares an approach she took with her teachers and, when I ask if I can steal it, she tells me to adapt and improve on it and then blog about it so that she can steal it back. The biography of an idea 🙂

The enhanced version of the IB Primary Years Program has detailed, well researched articles on all areas of the program, divided into sections: The Learner, Learning and Teaching and The Learning Community. I like the title ‘Principles into Practice’ which fits with our approach to the self study we are currently (perpetually, actually) undertaking. ‘How will we bring the beliefs of the PYP to life?’ rather than ‘How will we ensure we comply with the standards and practices?’

In last night’s session, teachers considered the headings of the sections and talked about which topics they are most familiar with and which they know least about…

Next, they each chose a section to inquire into and spent some time reading the articles and reflecting, individually, in pairs or groups, using a thinking routine adapted from Project Zero.

Connect: What connections can you make to current practice in our school?

Extend: How was your thinking extended? What’s new for you here?

Explore: What might we explore further? (individually and as a school)

The outcome:

  • Productive discussion in mixed groups, across grade levels and specialist areas.
  • Collaborative reflection around big ideas.
  • Collegial sharing and support.
  • A deeper understanding of the principles of the program
  • Documentation of current practice in how we live the PYP.
  • An opportunity to question the way things are.
  • Further ideas for exploration as a school community.
  • Individual goals that teachers will work on.
  • An organic approach to appreciative inquiry.

So simple. So much data for moving forward…

Liberating the arts from the prison of the timetable…

The arts are not mere diversions from the important business of education; they are essential resources.

Elliot W Eisner, “The Role of the Arts in Cognition and Curriculum” (2001)

If this is what we believe, why do we allow the tyranny of timetable to dictate the constraints of our arts programs?

Why are Art and Music often viewed as ‘lessons’ rather than effective modes of communication, ‘through which students explore and construct a sense of self and develop an understanding of the world around them’? (IB Primary Years Program, 2018).

Why are the arts not always valued as ‘fundamental to the development of the whole child, promoting creativity, critical thinking, problem-solving skills and social interactions.'(IB Primary Years Program, 2018).

With these beliefs and wonderings in mind, we are wondering…

What if our Art and, perhaps, our Music teachers worked on a more flexible timetable, allowing them to step in and out of the learning when the time was right and the learning could be enriched through the experience?

What if, instead of always planning whole class lessons, our specialist teachers worked with individuals, small groups or larger groups, depending on the needs, interests and opportunities that grew organically within the learning?

What if some or all grade levels had ongoing, interwoven inquiries that allowed children to deepen their learning through a hundred languages, and explore questions such as ‘how might I communicate my ideas?’ ‘and ‘how is my thinking changing through engagement with a different material, experience or ‘language’?

What if the arts shifted from being a lesson on the timetable to being viewed as integral to learning and as a powerful means for inquiry?

If it already looks like this in your school, we’d love to hear from you!

Responsive planning… and the biography of an idea

Our early years teachers call it ‘ping pong’.

What invitation or provocation do we throw to the children?  How do they respond?  How do we decide where to go next, based on what’s been revealed?

Whilst early years teachers are skilled at documenting learning, and at making decisions about what to catch and what to throw back to the children, teachers of older learners traditionally plan further in advance, paying more attention to addressing curriculum outcomes than to where children might lead the learning.

Drawing on our work with Sam Sherratt a few years ago, we have been working on a more responsive approach to planning, even in the upper grades.

In our Learning Team Leaders meeting, teachers reflected on the ways that ongoing collaborative planning meetings in their teams have changed over time…

  • We are more flexible in when we meet, so that we can plan responsively.
  • Google slides are live documents that allow ongoing collaboration.
  • We create guiding questions that might unfold in different ways in each class.
  • We agree on conceptual understandings and plan less of how are we going to get there.
  • Our focus is less on what we will be doing and more on the why.
  • We are planning less. We’ve slowed down a lot.
  • We have refined the planner so that it is a live document, ever changing as we see where the learners take us.
  • The ‘what’s been revealed’ slide has helped make decisions about how to move the learning forward.

When I posted the ‘what’s been revealed‘ slide on Twitter recently, it was viewed with appreciation by educators around the world and I enjoyed seeing the idea loop back to @sherrattsam. In another loop, I found our Early Years Leader, @shanupiter’s ‘ping pong’ referred to in an old post by Sam and I was reminded of a clip I made some years ago illustrating where my ideas come from.

I’m intrigued by the notion of the biography of an idea, recently brought back from a Cultures of Thinking conference by our Year 6 teachers, as we explore possibilities for further opening up our PYP expedition. Over the years we have simplified PYPX, shifting the focus from product to process, from a fact finding mission to the development of self as a learner...

  • What if the the biography of an idea was a through-line for the expedition and the exhibition?
  • What if instead of ‘coming up with a topic,’ learners were encouraged to generate and play with ideas, within the broad context of ‘thinking beyond ourselves’?
  • What if learners were encouraged to document what and who inspired them during their journey?
  • What if learners visually represented their understanding of the back and forth involved in the process of developing ideas?
  • What if they used their failures productively and could explain how these helped them move ideas forward?
  • What if they mapped the ways that various inquiries over the year (and previous years) influenced their current ideas?

What else?

It’s a ‘ping pong’ provocation.

By Monday, the team will have picked up the ball and be ready to throw something back! Within a few days, the idea will either have rolled into the gutter, or my entire network will help develop it further by responding with elaborations and further ‘what if’s.

I know that much about the biography of an idea!

Learners on learning…

Teaching can be tough. There are days when dealing with difficult situations, students or parents can feel unrewarding and you might feel unappreciated, disappointed or overwhelmed.

Listening in on Year 6 students reflecting on their learning with an outsider (a researcher exploring the PYP enhancements for the IB), I was impressed by the extent to which they understand the learning process and can articulate their understanding. Teachers, they are a credit to you.

When asked if they have agency, they said they didn’t know what that meant. But here are some of their thoughts about their learning…

  • Our learning is like a ‘choose your own adventure’. We have control over how we learn and that makes us more invested.
  • The attitudes we demonstrate show who we are and what we care about. We talk a lot about what dispositions we need and which ones we need to work on.
  • There is leashed and unleashed learning, like Studio Time, where we choose what we want to inquire into and how. There is no point everyone just learning the same thing. The way we learn encourages individuality and authenticity.
  • Inclusion is a big focus this year. It’s about not leaving people out and we have tried to make friends outside our usual friendship groups.
  • Assessment is how the teachers know what we need and how they can help us. Everything is assessment, we don’t always notice when they are assessing us. Teachers are with us all the time, they don’t need tests to know where we are at.

I know there are times when you wonder if it’s all worth it. Based on the thoughtful comments of these 12 year olds, I can assure you that it is.

How do we live the PYP?

With the following objectives in mind, we set out to plan a day of thinking, learning and reflecting to launch our PYP self study:

  • Understand the purpose and requirements of the self study – an appreciative inquiry.
  • Ensure clarity of vision for the PYP evaluation – Rather than an exercise in compliance, we will see it as an opportunity to explore how best to bring the standards and practices to life.
  • Connect across teams, grades and campuses to share learning.
  • Ensure familiarity with the standards and practices (the old ones for now – we will map them against the new in a later step).
  • Highlight the major areas of focus in the Enhanced PYP.
  • Begin to reflect on how we bring the standards and practices to life.

A quick Kahoot! quiz in teams provided an opportunity to revisit some of the big ideas in the PYP, introduce some facts and figures about the program globally, mention some of the changes with the enhancements… and add an element of fun.

A provocation: How do we live the PYP?

Teachers considered how we LIVE the PYP at our school. Apart from the obvious, responses included factors such as…

  • Fluid and flexible units
  • Teachers as learners and inquirers
  • Reflection is integral to everything
  • Agency, choice and voice – for students and teachers
  • Curiosity is at the core
  • Time is invested in planning and reflecting
  • We consider the whole child
  • Being open to emergent inquiries
  • A natural language that permeates everything
  • Inquiry as a stance
  • Constant change and growth
  • We inquire into our own practice
  • Individuality is encouraged- in students and teachers
  • We put the learner fist
  • Learning is not prescriptive, innovation is encouraged
  • We walk the talk
  • Open to change and to different perspectives
  • Planning is in response to learning
  • We value process and document our journey.

An inquiry: How might we continue to bring the beliefs of the PYP to life?

In mixed groups we examined standards C1, 2 and 4, using the traffic light protocol (on first instinct, how would we self assess? – Green= going well, orange = on the way, red= not moving yet) and generated questions for both clarification and innovation.

Reflect: How are we currently doing?

Clarify: What do we need to know?

Innovate: What if…? How might we…?

Next we reflected in more depth on Standard C3, the practices that relate to teaching and learning.

Consider: What might this look like in practice?

Share: How are we doing this?

Document: How will we record our evidence?

Taking this practice as an example, ‘Teaching and learning develops student attitudes and skills that allow for meaningful student action in response to students’ own needs and the needs of others,’ we considered the learner action we have witnessed so far this year:

It was then inspiring to witness teachers of 3 year olds sharing learning with teachers of children up to 12, across campuses, languages and specialist areas. The examples were efficiently recorded and photos and videos uploaded to our dedicated Google site. It felt less like gathering evidence of compliance and more like a celebration of the wonderful learning that takes places in our school.

An analysis of the group and individual reflections from the day reveals common threads and patterns that will guide our inquiries moving forward. The next step might be to align the themes that were revealed with the new standards and practices and explore the notion of ‘motifs’ within them…

#PYPEvaluation 2

PYP Evaluation – an appreciative inquiry…

As we begin the self study for our IB PYP evaluation, it’s worth considering how to make it feel less like an inspection (compliance, judgement) and more like an invitation to reflect and an opportunity for growth.

What if we view the process as an appreciative inquiry? 

Define: How best might we LIVE the PYP? 

Rather than proving how we comply with the standards, let’s continue to explore how best to bring them to life.

Discover: What is…?

Reflect on our practice, identify our strengths and celebrate our successes.

Dream: What if..?

Fearlessly and creatively ask ‘what if?‘ and imagine new possibilities.

Design: How might we…?

Identify the best possibilities for innovation, encourage our people to take ownership and bring their ideas to life.

Deliver: How will we…?

Take action. Make things happen 🙂

 

(Thanks @fionannbir and @megangraff)

What if we never cease to ask ‘what if’?

What happens when we begin with a belief that children are competent and curious and creative? What if we believe they have the capacity to drive her own learning?

I’m a granny. Observing my grandchildren wonder, play and experiment with theories validates and reinforces my beliefs about children and about learning. For almost 10 years, I have also been another kind of granny, engaging virtually with children in disadvantaged settings in India, witnessing the capability of children in another context.

What might be learnt from the experience of being a granny… both kinds? I’ve learnt that if you believe they are capable, children will surprise you with what they can do and and how they can learn. Overcoming our inclination to jump in and take control often leads to extraordinary learning.

Teaching does not mean opening heads and pouring stuff in. It’s important to know when to step away and allow the learning to happen. Real, deep learning usually has little to do with covering curriculum or competitive grading. Indeed, ‘doing school’ can sometimes get in the way of learning.

That’s why, in 2015, when attending Learning 2, a conference by educators for educators, we chose the ‘Disrupt strand’.  We were invited to ask the question ‘what if?’ in the pursuit of ideas that might disrupt traditional models of school.

‘What if school were more like the conference?’ we asked ourselves… and the entire audience educators to whom we had to pitch our idea.

What if our learners had more voice and choice in their learning? What if they could opt to participate in workshops that piqued their curiosity or responded to their needs? What if they could present their own workshops? What if there were more opportunities for learners to collaborate, to create and to drive their own learning? Just like the conference.

Our pitch didn’t win, but we came back inspired and determined to set our action plan in motion…

What if we offered all our teachers the sort of conference we had just experienced? This was the seed which grew into the first Unleashing Learning, a conference by teachers for teachers. What if we created a conference (mostly) by students for students, with talks and workshops presented both by outsiders and by our Year 6 students?

What if we set ourselves a whole primary school goal of increasing ownership of learning? That year, we made this our focus. As a school, individually, in teams and groups, we have since continued to explore, research, adapt and tweak our practice to shift further from old models of ‘doing school’, towards more authentic, student driven learning.

This does not mean that we abdicate our responsibility as teachers, simply step back and let go, hoping that students will find will their own way! Although we might do that sometimes…

Everything we do is intentional. We start with the child, we try to listen to the learning and respond accordingly, rather than simply delivering pre-planned content. We experiment with ways of planning, documenting and responding to learning. We revisit and reassess what we mean and what we might mean by inquiry learning. We constantly re-examine our curriculum and reconsider how to align our beliefs with our practice. We agonise over the tension between what we believe and the demands of the system.

Our second Unleashing Learning conference was a celebration of all the ways in which learning has already been unleashed in our school, for both teachers and students. It was also a call to action. If we truly believe our learners have the capacity to drive their own learning, what are the possibilities?

What if we persistently question the status quo? What if we perpetually seek further ways to unleash learning? What if we never cease to ask ‘What if?’…

(From my talk at Unleashing Learning #2)

An ongoing, interwoven, emerging inquiry for teachers and students…

What?

What if, during every unit of inquiry, learners had opportunities to develop their thinking and understanding by expressing themselves in ‘100 languages’?

What if we made that into an explicit ongoing unit of inquiry, for teachers as much as learners, interwoven through all the other units?

What if every unit had these two additional lines of inquiry?

  • How we might express our learning through ‘100 languages’.
  • How expressing ourselves in different ways deepens our understanding.

What if learners asked themselves…

What theories and ideas do I have?

What might I make to show my understanding?

How might I communicate my ideas?

How is my thinking changing?

Which questions and ideas would I like to explore further?

How might I learn from my failures?

What if teacher research questions included…

How might the ‘100 languages’ inspire curiosity and inquiry?

How might we select intelligent materials that help develop ideas?

How will we observe and listen to what is revealed by the children?

How might we make the ideas and wonderings visible?

How might we decide which student examples will drive the inquiry?

How will we encourage and honour children’s theories?

How will we  ensure there is time for conversation that helps move the inquiry along?

so what?

Might this support us in slowing down to make time and space for deeper learning?

Might this encourage planning and teaching that responds to emerging inquiries?

Might this foster learner agency and enhance opportunities for learners to drive the learning?

Might this create opportunities for every learner to shine?

Might this support our current focus on cultivating action, both in students and teachers?

Might this be an expression of every single one of our 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 can be enhanced by 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 metacognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

Now what?

Let’s see how it goes!