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?

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…?

 

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!

 

10 questions in pursuit of learner agency…

1. What is your ‘image of the child’?
How do you view the learners in your class? Do you believe children are inherently intelligent, curious and creative? Do you recognise their rights and their capabilities? Do you trust them to learn?

2. What do you believe about learning?
Knowing what and how to teach is not enough. Have you, individually and as a school, thought deeply about how you believe learning takes place? Have you carefully examined the extent to which your practice aligns with your beliefs?

3. Who do you believe should hold the power?
Is your token nod to agency allowing the learners a choice when you decide it’s the time? How much of what your students say and do has to be channeled through the teacher? Do you make most of the decisions? Or do you believe the learners can really lead the learning? Is initiative valued over compliance?

4. Do you see every learner as an individual?
Are you tempted to refer to the class as ‘they‘ or do you always consider each individual’s personal story? Are you aware of what influences each student’s  learning? Are your beliefs evident in your language, your expectations, the routines in your room and in the relationships you build?

5. Do your learners believe in themselves?
Do you group your learners on perceived ability or do they have opportunities to learn with and from others with varying strengths, challenges and interests? Is a growth mindset fostered? Are learners motivated by learning itself, rather than extrinsic rewards that encourage winners and losers in the game of school?

6. Who do you believe should do the heavy lifting?
Do you explain everything in detail, sometimes several times in different ways? Or do the learners have a go at experimenting and tackling problems first and you step in at point of need? Are you able to release control so that the heavy lifting is done by the learners?

7. Who owns the curriculum?
Do you have secret teacher business? Do you always decide what to cover and how to teach it? Or do you believe that students can be empowered to explore curriculum requirements via their own inquiries, in their own ways?

8. How important is measurement of achievement?
Do you teach to the test? Do you believe everything has to be formally assessed and what can’t be measured is less valuable? Or is the process of learning perceived as more significant than the outcome? Is process valued over product?

9. What is the language of your classroom?
Do you talk about work and tasks or does everyone speak the language of learning? Is how we learn as much a part of the conversation as what we learn? Are students aware of who they are as learners? Are learning dispositions noticed and named? Do you and your students believe that reflection and metacognition are integral parts of learning?

10. Is there a safe space for risk-taking and failure?
Does the learning culture encourage students to take risks and make mistakes? Do learners seek and grapple with challenging problems and unanswerable questions? Do you (and they) believe that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow?

If you’ve thought about your ‘why’, the ‘how’ is much easier to achieve.  Are you asking the right question?

* Influenced by the Modern Learners podcast The Answer to How is Yes. Now reading the book by Peter Block.

(With apologies. This has been posted before under a different heading. Found the post in drafts and accidentally posted it again, deleted the previous one, now it’s back with the right title. For my new friends at NES. )

Learner agency and classroom management…

How does learner agency influence the need for ‘classroom management’?

Posting the question on Twitter brought responses such as these:

After listening to Derek Wenmoth’s video, our teachers collectively came up with a list of words that characterise agency. These included concepts like initiative, empowerment, intentionality, self-regulation, trust, awareness, active involvement, interdependence and, interestingly, wellbeing…

Inspired by Nadia Ellis’ post, we explored the meaning of ‘management’ and compared our agency list with synonyms for ‘manage’ – control, handle, master, manipulate, dominate, rule, oversee, supervise…  No wonder that little blue guy is pushing back!

So how might we create a culture of learner agency in our classrooms, a culture in which learners are empowered to take ownership of their learning and the need for classroom ‘management’ is diminished?

We’re exploring agency through the lens of Project Zero’s Eight Cultural Forces: language, time, opportunities, expectations, interactions, routines, modelling and physical environment. How might a thoughtful approach to each of these support the development of a culture of agency? What might we need to change? We’re compiling a collaborative list, so what are your thoughts?

Images from http://www.presentermedia.com/

Teachers as learners…

‘How do bloggers find their voice?’

Joc is facilitating a meeting with a team of teachers, exploring blogging as a writing form…

‘Through their passions?’ someone asks. Taking a stance on an issue? Sharing experiences? These are some of the possibilities raised by the the group. They have all read blog posts, but not written any.

‘By writing’, someone says.

I think back to eight years ago when I first started blogging.

My first three posts, which I soon deleted, sounded as though they were written by different people, as I struggled to find a voice. It was only when I let go of preconceived ideas, stopped trying to impress an imagined audience and just wrote, that I found a voice… my own.

It’s best not to over think or over plan. Try not to agonise over whether your writing is good enough. Write, check, publish, done. You can always write another post when you’ve developed your thinking further or changed your perspective. Just write. A lot. Or you will never find your voice.

Now write’ says Joc. She has provided links to some mentor texts (blog posts) and wants the teachers to experience this themselves, before they ask it of their students. Initially there is resistance. Anxiety even? Realisation dawns that this is what our students experience every day and our awesome teachers throw themselves willingly into the learning pit

Teachers in the flow of writing their posts.

And this is Megan’s take:

Today I was asked to just write for 30 minutes…. Easy right? Go for it? Ummm no, I thought…

About what? Where do I get my ideas from? Geeze….is this how I make the children feel when I say…”Just write about whatever you want”  Do they freeze up like me?

How am I meant to encourage children to be authors and find their voice, if I am unsure of how to find my own? I have never seen myself as a ‘writer’ but find such contention with this because I know how important it is, as a teacher, to model to the children, to show them different styles of writing, to show them what it might look like to take a leap and enter the world of being an author!

Have I ever written something as an author? I really can’t say. I have recorded my opinion while listening to someone speak…Is that being an author? I have modelled story writing with the children in class…Is that being an author? I have written my reflection or opinion on things…Is that being an author? I write questions to my children in response to their learning…Is that being an author? Perhaps I am just a little unsure of what being an author ‘looks like’ or perhaps I just lack the confidence in my own skills to ‘have a go’. I encourage that ‘growth mindset’ with children everyday, yet haven’t been able to apply it in my own world. Why?

If I really think about it, I am a writer everyday, I just don’t put my words in to writing.

My younger sister recently had a career change from Lawyer to Transformational coach – what a huge leap of faith she took. And, while following this niggle has lead to great things, she has also come across road-blocks when it comes to writing and expressing her voice. Being new into the industry she feels her voice isn’t valued or worth something…yet! And although she has felt this way she has realised that it is the only way to share her feelings to have her voice heard and to inspire people…so she did it!! She writes blogs, facebook posts, reflections, coaching seminars, she uses anything she can to share her passion and her voice. She was terrified…she didn’t know how it would be received….but she did it!

So……really I am just being a big wuss…look out blogging world, I am coming in hot!

By Megan McKenzie