Circle of viewpoints…

A colleague of mine has three daughters. One says when school shuts, she will follow her daily schedule and stick to the school routines. Another says she will finally have time to work on her personal projects. The third says that she will see how she feels when she wakes up each day.

As we prepare for school closure in Australia, emotions are heightened and interactions are fraught as individuals struggle with their particular anxieties and uncertainties. It’s a time for empathy, for pausing to remember that everyone’s reality is different and, for many, stories they don’t choose to share might be impacting their very way of being. What seemed right when we started preparing our guidelines for remote learning (was it really only the week before last?) has already been adapted several times and is still changing, as the sands rapidly shift.

If ever there was an appropriate, authentic time to practise the Circle of Viewpoints thinking routine for exploring different perspectives, from Project Zero, this is it. What might different teachers need right now? How might parents be feeling? How will we meet the needs of our diverse learners, as students and as human beings?

What will our students need?

  • a sense of community and connection with peers?
  • daily checkins with their teachers?
  • similar routines to usual?
  • plenty of opportunities and ideas to keep them busy?
  • lots of choice?
  • not too much choice?
  • no expectation that stress them out?
  • clear expectations that keep them focused?
  • time to work on personal projects?
  • time and space to just be with their families?
  • more work?
  • less work?
  • different work?
  • no work?

What will our parents need?

  • clear guidelines for schoolwork?
  • asynchronous opportunities only, to relieve pressure?
  • synchronous opportunities to maintain routine?
  • more work?
  • less work?
  • different work?
  • no work?
  • regular checkins from the school?
  • not too many checkins from the school?
  • appreciation that they might have several kids to care for?
  • recognition of their financial concerns?
  • understanding that they are worried their children will miss out on their education?
  • time and space to just be with their families?

What will educators need?

  • plenty of support from leaders?
  • tech support to ensure they can manage online learning?
  • a sense of community and cohesion?
  • clear expectations in terms of their roles?
  • understanding of their challenges and fears?
  • appreciation that they too might have several kids to care for?
  • recognition of their financial concerns and insecurities?
  • time and space to just be with their families?

As we plan for school closure, the most important thing to remember is that one size will not fit all. Awareness of the myriad factors, other than school, currently impacting lives, is paramount.

 

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?

An opportunity to stop and reflect…

‘What do you love about the Primary Years Program?’ is the check-in for today’s LTL meeting.

Our Learning Team Leaders, one from each grade level and a couple from specific learning areas, gather for our weekly meeting. With thoughtfully planned Meeting Wise agendas, clear objectives and protocols in place for everyone to have a voice, these meetings are a valuable space for collaboration, shared learning, community building, analysis of ideas and collective problem solving.

The objective of today’s meeting is to share the latest updates on the PYP review. Responses to the check-in question include the fact that it is purposeful and relevant, the attitudes it fosters, the culture it creates, the value placed on learner agency, the common language and understandings, inquiry as a stance, the concept driven approach, encouragement of ownership and action.

While all have access to the whole document, for the purpose of this meeting each participant receives one item from the review to read and consider. We then each share the gist of that particular change, using the ‘plus, minus, interesting’ protocol, followed by discussion and questions. This turns out to be a successful approach, encouraging everyone to engage with the big ideas and become familiar with the coming changes, while providing an opportunity to reflect on our growth as a learning community over time.

We finish with insights and puzzles:

  • Great to see that even the PYP is reviewed and updated – always moving forward.
  • How flexible will expectations be, once the changes are in place?
  • We are well on the way already to many of the things that are ‘new’.
  • What will the new planners look like?
  • Our students have so much agency already. We need to notice it more.
  • There is so much we are already doing. Will we still be able to be innovative?
  • It’s encouraging me to be reflective about how my teaching aligns with the changes.
  • Where to next?

It’s satisfying to note the understanding, passion and pride with which these educators talk about what has become, for us, not just a way of learning, but a way of being.

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.

A report card for teachers?

Teachers spend countless hours thinking about how best to describe their students for the written reports that go home to parents. At my school, these narrative comments focus less on work on more on learning. Teachers are encouraged to consider what they know about the whole child and to describe who each one is as a learner.

Who writes a report about the teacher as a learner? This creative teacher wrote his own report, an honest self- reflective appraisal of his first year teaching Year 6. (Read the whole post here.)

I challenge other teachers and leaders to reflect on their learning this year and write their own reports… 

Dean Kuran – Grade 6, 2016

Dean is a caring, enthusiastic learner who has taken many risks this year in his pursuit of being the best member of the school community he can be. He has demonstrated the qualities of being a risk-taker, moving into a new learning environment and being willing to take on new challenges, including a lunchtime drone-flying club, presenting and hosting TeachMeets, giving his students more ownership of their learning – while discovering the delicate line between ownership and anarchy – being ready to speak up and accept when he has made mistakes and responding positively to constructive criticism.

Dean has been resilient in the face of unforeseen circumstances, for both himself and his peers.  He has focused on finding a balance between extra-curricular activities and non-negotiable tasks. Dean has sought assistance from experts as he looks to take the next step in his development as a facilitator of learning, and has enjoyed experimenting more with inquiry approaches to writing and mathematics. He has dabbled in mindfulness, breathing exercises and a healthier lifestyle to reduce his stresses, and to assist those who also need time to regulate their emotions. 

Dean enjoys developing his learners into effective communicators so that they are confident and feel secure when they speak. He focuses on creating an environment that is safe, welcoming, flexible and energetic. Sometimes, the energy levels can reach a point that may not be conducive for effective learning, and Dean is encouraged to be more composed and forthright with this expectations. 

As an inquirer, Dean has experimented with a variety of approaches to his learning, including the split-screen method,  various thinking routines like this (a personal favourite, particularly in Number), and team-teaching. He has become so aware that learning is not about the product; it is about the process. The trials and tribulations. The new skills we learn, and the old skills we extend. The knowledge we gain. The actions we take. 

He is supported by a close network of mentorspeers and incredible learning support staff, who have enabled him to think deeply about the kind of educator, member of staff and person he wants to be for his students and those around him. He loves a walk down the road for a coffee too. 

Above all, Dean seeks two qualities from his learners, and they are the two that were sought from him by his parents; respect and responsibility.

Dean understands that there is a long way to go on this learning journey, but he is excited for what is to come next.

Process, not product.

Actions, not words.

 

(Leave a link to your report post in the comments.)

Imagine a library…

The check in for our meeting is ‘Imagine a library…’

We talk about libraries we have seen in different places and in our heads. Libraries that challenge prior notions of what a library might be. Tranquil libraries with waterfalls and vertical gardens, places to read, to imagine and simply to be. Interactive libraries that buzz with activity, places to gather, to socialise, to communicate. Wonder filled libraries that provoke curiosity to explore, to research, to find out about the world. Creative libraries, with equipment and inspiration to film, to make, to animate, to create…

Next we look at our learning principles, our shared beliefs about how children learn, and consider how practice should align with beliefs. How will these beliefs influence the way our library looks and the role of the librarian?

The new library at our junior campus will be an open plan, central hub, with access from all sides. There will be a decentralisation process… The younger children will have mini libraries in their own learning areas. Teacher resources will move from the library to the planning area. These shifts will not only ensure access at point of need, but free up space for a different vision. There are organisational problems to solve, logistics to work out, perceptions to be changed and understandings to be unlearned.

And it’s an incredibly exciting time to re-imagine possibilities…

Image credit: Deviant Art – EdCamp65RHH

Constructive criticism…

keep-calm-and-just-tell-meTell me…

if you disagree with what I say.

if you have a different perspective.

if you feel I’m taking over.

if you think I’m not pulling my weight.

if my carelessness frustrates you.

if my perfectionism annoys you.

if you find me apathetic.

if my enthusiasm drives you crazy.

if you feel like I’m criticising you.

if you have criticism of me.

if you think I complain too much.

if you wish I’d express an opinion.

if my expectations are not clear.

if you think I ask too much.

I’m the only one who can do something about me.

(And don’t forget to tell me what you’re happy about.)

Self challenge- A post a day for a week? #fail. The good thing about failing a challenge you set yourself is that you only have yourself to answer to!

10 questions for teacher reflection…

We’re not even half way through the school year here, but a request from someone important to me on the other side of the world provokes my thinking…

‘ Have you ever written a blog post on strategies, tools or frameworks that a teacher can use to reflect on their past year of teaching?’

My immediate response: ‘ Reflection has to happen all the way along. It’s too late at the end of the year.’

But here are some questions to ask yourself, as you look back, look within and look forward…

1. What were the most powerful learning experiences in your class this year? Can you describe what made them successful?

2. How do you learn best? What hinders your learning? How can this knowledge help you with future teaching and learning?

3. What do you believe about how learning occurs? What are the conditions for powerful learning? Does your practice align with your beliefs?

4. Who controls the learning in your classes? Do you seek compliance or do you foster student ownership? How will you encourage learner agency?

5. What are you proud of in your teaching or learning and what do you wish you could do better? How might you go about it? Who might support you?

6. What do you wish you could change in your teaching, your learning, your classroom, your school? What small steps could you take towards making it happen?

7. What are your strengths? How might you develop them further? How might you use them to support others in their teaching and learning?

8. What can you learn from your students? What works for them? Have you asked them? What might you change as a result?

9. What excites you? What excites your students? How might you make that part of your teaching and learning?

10. What do you dream of doing? How might you work towards that dream? Who might you share it with? What kind of support do you need?

Change…

We started the new school year after the summer break, with a focus on ownership of learning for teachers and students alike.  A couple of months later, our exciting Unleashing Learning conference provoked further thinking and action, followed by a week of learning and sharing with Sam Sherratt. And now, as the seasons change and we settle into the year, it’s exciting to observe bright spots of colour and evidence of new growth…

FullSizeRender 9

One team is exploring a new project based approach to maths. Another is experimenting with unleashing writing through play. Year 6 is investigating a year-long approach to the PYP exhibition, allowing students time to discover what they really care about, with a greater focus on sharing the learning journey. Two different groups are reading and discussing The Innovator’s Mindset by George Couros.

Teacher A has let go of control and seen what happens when students have agency. Teacher B is well on the way and feeling the exhilaration of learning unleashed. C wants to rethink the school musical and find a way to give students more ownership. D has realised that authentic, meaningful learning experiences trump delivering curriculum… and noticed that much more of the curriculum is addressed incidentally via this approach! E is rethinking the way she used to do things and collaborating with others to reimagine her role. F and G are changing the way they reflect with their teams and refining the process as they go. H is breathing imagination and creativity into everything she touches… And I? 

I hear the steady drumbeat of hope for real and meaningful change.

Once unleashed, there’s no stopping the learning…