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)

Modelling change…

It was interesting to be part of a gathering of 1800 IB educators at the recent IB Global Conference.  The program included entertaining and thought-provoking speakers and sessions, yet I found myself wondering…

Since the theme of the conference was ‘Shaping the Future of Education’, why did it feel so similar to previous conferences? Why did the conference itself not model a different approach to learning?

What if the conference structure broke some of the traditional moulds of schooling?

What if the conference organisers modelled the kind of risk-taking and innovation we aspire to foster in our schools?

What if authentic educational challenges were posed (or identified by participants) and groups collaborated on designing potential solutions?

What if there was more exposure to the ground breaking experimentation and reform in innovative school contexts around the world?

What if more sessions had participants constructing meaning collaboratively, rather than listening passively?

What if more sessions involved opportunities for cross program, cross-disciplinary interaction and collaboration?

What if there were more un-conference sessions where participants raised pertinent issues for discussion?

What if the collective wisdom and experience  were drawn upon in sessions, so that everyone could be both teacher and learner?

What if participants were invited to put forward their ideas, challenges, successes, passions and wonderings in advance, and the conference was built around the needs of the learners?

What if ‘IB update’ sessions were presented in a ‘flipped classroom’ model, where information was disseminated in advance and the session time was used for engagement with the content?

What if, instead of announcing the proposed enhancements to the PYP program, participants were invited to engage with the proposals, give feedback and suggest improvements?

What if there were opportunities to apply the learning creatively in some active hands-on sessions?

What if time was allotted for reflection and ‘feed-forward’ on both the content and process of learning?

And finally… why has so little changed since I wrote this post?

An opportunity for powerful learning…

‘J is beyond excited for the conference!’ according to a message from her mother. She’ll be sharing her passion for baking with some of her peers on Tuesday at our Year 6 #PassionsMatter conference.  An update says: ‘My kitchen is a hive of activity in preparation for Tuesday. The girls have been shopping independently this morning with their shopping list and budget (prepared by themselves). They are now preparing and packing all that they need for their workshop. Totally self directed! THIS is learning!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ 

L is excited too, as expressed in an email to her teacher, discussing the purchase of materials for her sewing workshop.  A has prepared an inspirational talk about how books capture her imagination and transport her to other worlds.  T is writing his own book and will tell his peers about that.  J’s talk uses take off and flight as a metaphor for achieving goals…

In the lead up to the conference, our learners have been involved in authentic opportunities to write, speak, research, think, calculate, make decisions, collaborate… and learn. Students have written inquiry emails, made phone calls, worked out costs for catering, placed orders, designed the logo and certificates, written speeches, given constructive feedback, planned and re-planned workshops.

The program includes some external presenters , who are all passionate, young role models some of whom have mentored the children in planning their sessions. Their workshops will provide opportunities for students to explore areas of passion such as song writing, story telling and sport coaching, as well as to engage with the big ideas of finding your passion, self belief, learning from failure and overcoming obstacles. 

On Tuesday at Passions Matter 2016, students will be speakers, workshop presenters, photographers, caterers, tweeters, bloggers and reflection group leaders. 

Emailing presenters

Meeting with mentor

Planning and re-planning workshop

Practising inspirational speech

This is powerful learning. 

Why only once a year? What if we had days like this once a month? Once a week?

How can we make this kind of meaningful, purposeful learning part of regular, daily school life?

 

The back story…

From doing school to Learning 2 day

Unleashing Learning

Learning Unleashed

The Story Within

And even further back…

Why isn’t school like a conference?

A conference for kids

#Passions Matter- a dynamic student conference!

Our Year 6 students are currently finding and exploring what they are passionate about as they head towards the culmination of their primary school learning in PYP exhibition.

The central idea for the exhibition is ‘Exploration of interests and passions inspires learning and action.’ Within this broad conceptual understanding, students are following their own areas of interest and deciding on their individual and collaborative inquiries.

On Tuesday 13 September, we will have a full day student conference with guest and student speakers as well as workshops led by guests and students. Our students will be involved in the planning, organisation and facilitation of this conference – a manifestation of this year’s focus on student ownership and our belief in our learners. 

We are looking for young people (up to 30 ish – not too far removed from our students!)  in Melbourne, Australia, who would be willing to participate in our Year 6 conference and inspire our learners by sharing their own passions.

Possible ways to be involved might include:

  • Giving a 5 minute inspirational talk.

  • Running an interactive workshop about exploration of passion

  • Running an interactive workshop in your area of passion

  • Partnering with students to lead a workshop

  • Facilitating a reflection session of some kind

  • One off or ongoing mentoring of/supporting students with their inquiries in Term 4.

Content might include such things as:

  • What sparked your interest or curiosity

  • How your passion developed

  • Your journey in exploring  your passion

  • How your journey has helped learn about who you are

  • Action or experiences related to your passion

  • Evolution of your passion

  • How your passion may have changed your life

If you are interested in being involved in a dynamic student led event and supporting our learners in developing their passions,  please fill in this form by 19 August.

The back story…

From doing school to Learning 2 day

Unleashing Learning

Learning Unleashed

The Story Within

And even further back…

Why isn’t school like a conference?

A conference for kids

The story within…

In an attempt to switch off the buzz of thinking emanating from the past week of learning, I walk in the drizzle, breathe in the smell of damp grass and enjoy a beautifully written and evocatively narrated audio book, set in another time and another place..

“Somewhere in there was a story, which she had yet to find,” I hear this sentence and lose the flow of the narrative as my mind shoots back into the reality of the past week. Being busy and distracted has made me a lazy writer! My previous post was a simple recount and a few bullet points and now I need to scratch the surface and find the layers of story beneath.

Unleashing Learning was a conference by teachers for teachers, and it was filled with powerful, interlinking stories…

The story of collective inspiration…

A hundred and fifty passionate educators grappled with similar issues, applied ideas to their contexts, exchanged experiences, challenged ideas and explored solutions together. The principal shared how his own learning was unleashed by a teacher who encouraged him to take ownership and pursue his interests. Sam Sherratt asked us to think about whether the same old pedagogy will suffice in a rapidly changing world. Rebekah Madrid urged us to start a revolution in our own practice, to ask forgiveness not permission. 12 year old Jazi confidently told an audience of teachers that despite her struggle with words, spelling and reading, she is capable, creative and interesting. Another student, Georgia, explained her perspective on unleashing learning through student empowerment.  Jake asked the audience not to blink while he gave them insight into Tourette’s, then explained that trying to control his tics was like us trying to control our blinking. And woven through the fibre of the all of this, was a powerful message of change and hope.

The story of community…

The conference brought people together in delightful and unexpected ways. Every member of our staff added value in some way, via organising, printing, greeting, presenting, planning, sharing, supporting, facilitating, participating, inspiring or cleaning up.  Relationships were built and strengthened through the interactions of a community working collaboratively towards the twin goals of Unleashing Learning and unleashing learning. Having people who used to work at the school participate in the conference, rekindled relationships from the past. Visitors from other schools and other countries enriched our community with their insights and instilled a sense of pride in our teachers at what we have achieved and what we have to share. As always, the sense of community was enhanced by shared passion and vision, common purpose, and active participation.

The story of belief…

When Jina set out for Learning2 in Manilla, she had never travelled on her own, nor been to an international conference.  She came back determined to provide the same sort of experience for other teachers, and would not allow limited time or money, or any other obstacle, to stand in the way of the momentum inspired by the experience.  Lauri is a natural comic who thrives on inquiry, but not on public speaking. Bolstered by our delight in her story of children’s inquiry (and why flies have bums) she overcame the jitters and stood on stage to share it with all. Desiree and Rubi (like others who had not presented before) kept telling themselves that agreeing to present a workshop was a mistake, but pushed on determinedly and were rewarded by the positive feedback from participants who loved their sessions. Nathan, Lesley and others volunteered to facilitate reflection groups, something out of the ordinary for them, requiring an extra degree of courage and confidence. All of these stories and more are manifestations of our belief in our people and their growing belief in themselves.

The story of empowerment…

This story includes themes of trust and autonomy. Its characters include a principal who encouraged us to bring our vision to life, leaders who allow their people the freedom and space to explore and to innovate, and teachers who take up the challenge to lead from wherever they are. It’s a story of choice, in who you want to learn with and what you want to learn. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure story, in which you decide the future direction and you have the power to make it happen. It’s a story of teachers who simply will not let frustrations with accountability and compliance deter them in their march towards learning, their own and that of their students. It’s a true story of students who have overcome obstacles like Jazi and Jake and students who have taken their learning into their own hands like Georgia. And an imaginary story of what is yet to come.

It’s a story of unleashing learning…

Workshop workshop…

The joys of preparing for our Unleashing Learning conference lie in the collaboration, opportunities for growth, teacher involvement, the sense of shared purpose, the risk taking, the willingness to help…

This morning’s ‘workshop workshop’ is a session for teachers who are not yet experienced presenters. For our check-in, we discuss how we like to feel when we participate in a workshop…

What makes a workshop successful?

  • Being challenged.
  • Learning something new.
  • Changing something about the way I think.
  • Constructing meaning actively.
  • An interesting, meaningful process.
  • Something practical or a take-away that stays with you.
  • An engaging presenter who make things personal.
  • It has to make me want to take action.
  • Clear expectations, purpose and flow.
  • Variety and active engagement.

How will we ensure participants leave our workshops feeling these things?

We start by sharing concerns:

  • What if nobody comes?
  • What if it’s not engaging for participants?
  • Does my workshop have enough depth and complexity?
  • How do I turn ideas into an interactive workshop?
  • What if the technology crashes?

We encourage our presenters to start by being clear on their objectives . What understandings do you want the participants to leave with? What do you want to achieve?

Next we unpack a structure for a successful workshop (although we agree that it need not be a linear approach) and we brainstorm ideas under the headings of:

  • Introduction – What will you do to warm the participants up and tune them in?
  • Provocation – How will you provoke their thinking from the start?
  • Constructing meaning – How will you get participants involved in engaging with each other and with the big ideas?
  • Connection – How will you/they pull it all together?
  • Reflection – What protocols will you use to encourage participants to reflect and plan ahead?

By the end of the session we are buzzing. People have offered their intentions, shared creative ideas and resources and are ready to “take the workshop from inside their heads to something concrete” (Hailey).

So much learning has already been unleashed and we haven’t even got to the conference yet!

Have you registered???

Do you doubt you have anything to offer?

I start today’s collaborative planning session asking each of the teachers to share what strengths they think they bring to the new team. (Two have worked together for years, one started this year and one will join the team in the new year.) People are reluctant to share what they see as their own strengths and, instead, they each take a turn to say what they think the others bring the team, which is delightfully affirming.

Do you doubt you have anything to offer?

We’re excited to be organising Unleashing Learning, a conference by educators for educators, the success of which (among other things!) will depend on our own and other teachers presenting workshops. What’s becoming apparent is that there are excellent educators who doubt they have anything to offer. They measure themselves against others and judge themselves as inadequate. Is this you?

Are you ready to share…?

Unleashing Learning…

Unleashing Learning… 

A conference by educators for educators -13/14 March 2016

Imagine and experience the powerful learning that happens when learners feel they are valued members of a learning community, empowered by ownership of their learning.

  • Be inspired by the personal messages of other educators in the field.
  • Participate in interactive, hands on workshops engaging with big ideas.
  • Choose your own learning from a broad range of options.
  • Connect with educators from other schools in Melbourne to exchange ideas.
  • Have an opportunity to reflect on your practice and share it with others.
  • Suggest ‘unconference’ topics for impromptu discussions with like-minded people.

Join our learning community in any of the following ways:

  • share ideas for and help organise the event in any way you can
  • attend our conference on 13 and/or 14 March 2016 as a participant
  • present an inspiring 5 minute talk, based on a personal learning experience or powerful message of your own.
  • present a 90 minute interactive workshop exploring an aspect of ‘unleashing learning’ – powerful learning that happens when learners feel they are valued members of a learning community, empowered by ownership of their learning.
  • facilitate a group reflection session.
  • if you’re coming from afar, spend a few more days at our school, observing, engaging and exchanging ideas.

Unleash the Learning here!  (expressions of interest)

What does ‘unleashing learning’ say to you?

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 4.14.07 pmScreen Shot 2015-11-12 at 4.14.42 pmScreen Shot 2015-11-12 at 4.15.10 pm

Thanks to #Learning2 for the inspiration.

From ‘doing school’ to learning 2day…

I’ve just had my first experience of a #Learning2 conference and loved the opportunities to…

  • engage with big ideas.
  • be challenged and have my thinking pushed.
  • be inspired by the messages of passionate, thoughtful educators.
  • present my ideas to others.
  • learn with and from educators of diverse ages, experiences, backgrounds and roles.
  • connect with people who share my interests and people willing to share theirs.
  • identify problems and develop ideas to overcome them.
  • listen, talk, share, think, question… and dream.
  • tailor the learning experience to to suit my needs!

The ‘Disrupt Strand’ was a different kind of experience, not least for the opportunity to work with facilitators Sam Sherratt and Rebekah Madrid and other educators who care deeply about learning and the state of education. Other people who, as the descriptor on the website states:

  • prefer learning in an inquiry-based, unstructured environment.
  • are comfortable with the unknown and enjoy working in teams.
  • are happiest when learning is messy.
  • are often the ‘early adopters’, the ‘lone nut’ or the innovators at their school.

It was a personalised learning experience, in which the participants had the opportunity to work in teams to develop something we would like to implement over the next school year.

My team (which had representation from Australia, Singapore and China… as well as South Africa, India and New Zealand, if you count where people are from, not just where they work!) grappled with ideas for shifting from ‘doing school’ to the way we think learning should look today. We refined our ideas after chatting with a couple of grade 5 students from ISM, who shared their perceptions of school, what’s important to them and how it could be better. 

The problem: How can we break the restrictive moulds which limit the learning in our schools? (Single subject silos, rigid timetables, confined classrooms, grouping by age) and work towards a more flexible model that allows for more personalisation, choice and ownership? 

Our pitch: What if school was like #Learning2?

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Pitching to the judges

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Pitching to the whole conference

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The team

Can we (that includes you) introduce one LEARNING2 day at a time, until eventually it becomes LEARNING TODAY? 

Watch this space if you want to join us!