What if collaborative meetings always led to action?

What if collaborative meetings always led to action?

Starting with the end in mind, our team leaders considered what they would like participants to FEEL, THINK, BE, HAVE, SAY and DO after their collaborative meetings…

The consensus was for people to come out feeling motivated, empowered and challenged, with a sense of purpose and shared vision, eager to move forward with the implementation of new ideas. (Meeting Wise!)

So…

How might we create a culture of productive collaboration?

Team leaders reflected on the culture of their teams by using match sticks to represent their team dynamics, which proved to be both an interesting exercise in visualisation and a powerful reality check. (Thanks, @kjinquiry!)

The next step was to consider the conditions that might contribute towards a productive collaborative culture. Which of these are most important for all team members? How would you prioritise these and what would you add?

  • having a positive image of the child
  • being comfortable with cognitive dissonance
  • having autonomy/ a sense of agency
  • feeling safe
  • assuming positive intentions of other team members
  • having a clear purpose
  • contributing actively and equitably
  • being willing to grow, see things in new ways and open to change
  • having knowledge and understanding of pedagogy

And then…

How do we develop  a culture of productive collaboration within our teams?

Some of the ideas that were shared:

  • Create an essential agreement and agree on meeting norms
  • Acknowledge mistakes and share insecurities
  • Celebrate successes
  • Constantly reflect – individually and as a group
  • Listen to and acknowledge all perspectives
  • Ensure agenda is available in advance and input is open to everyone
  • Celebrate the zone of discomfort and ask people to try things
  • Be non judgemental
  • Develop trust and respect so tensions are easily talked through
  • Listen to each other
  • Always focus on the child
  • Ensure everyone has a voice
  • Compromise, affirm, reassure and encourage
  • Allow time. Be creative in finding time!
  • Keep asking questions  – Why? What if? How might we?
  • Be flexible
  • Try to understand where everyone is coming from
  • Take turns to plan and facilitate meetings
  • Bring others/ experts into the planning and reflection process
  • Be available as much as possible
  • Know when to lead and when to follow

And also…

How do we ensure our meetings are valuable?

Team leaders jotted down things they currently do in meetings and then evaluated those against a list of criteria that make meetings really valuable…

Collaborative planning and reflection meetings should: (adapted from IB PYP standards and practices)

  • take place regularly and systematically.
  • address all the essential elements of the PYP 
  • be based on agreed expectations for student learning.
  • consider the different learning needs of students.
  • address horizontal and vertical articulation.
  • include analysing and responding to student learning eg looking for misconceptions and patterns
  • involve teachers modelling the attributes of the learner profile.
  • ensure that our practice aligns with our learning principles.
  • take an inquiry stance, eg through framing inquiry questions.
  • consider the development of conceptual understandings.
  • include planning provocations, addressing our agreed purpose and criteria

These are some of the wonderings that came up as a result:

  • Who needs to be at meetings and how often should they take place?
  • Are there other ways to deal with administrative matters, outside of meeting time? 
  • If we spent time setting the tone for our collaborative meetings, would they be more productive?
  • How can we support teams which are not functioning productively?
  • How can we work around timetable constraints?
  • How can we share what we value about culture and content with our teams?
  • How might we address challenges in a solution focussed manner?
  • How can we get people to step up to facilitate a meeting?
  • What kinds of student data should we bring to meetings?

And coming full circle to where we started…

What action will this collaborative meeting lead to?

What will our team leaders (and you, the reader)  FEEL, THINK, BE, HAVE, SAY and DO as a result?

What’s behind the story?

The planning session, as usual with the Year 2 team, is passionate and thought-provoking.  Everyone has opinions, there is questioning and probing and tension as we figure out what we want the learners to get out of the unit of inquiry. It’s based on one we have done before, so starting from what we do NOT want the unit to be about proves really helpful.

It’s an inquiry into the concept of story. Through exposure to and exploration of many and varied stories, we want the children to understand that stories can be told in different ways, that story is a powerful tool for conveying ideas, experiences and values. We want them to to reach a point where they are able to describe and explain their own connection to stories. We want to them to build the understandings and language to engage in conversation about their responses to stories. And we want them to be able to share their own experiences and ideas through different forms of story.

We discuss the possibility (yet again) of connecting with children in other places to share and discuss stories, via Twitter, blogs or Skype and I’m told that it’s difficult to do these things because there isn’t time. It’s a familiar story and my instinct tells me it’s an excuse. How hard can it be to find five minutes a day to check Twitter? What’s so difficult about signing into Skype to have a conversation?

Then I remember that my role is to interpret the story, to find the underlying message and respond to that…

That’s a different story!

Collaborative thinking…

One of my favourite things in the PYP is collaborative planning.

Six times a year, my colleague Layla or I meet with each grade level team to collaborate on planning units of inquiry.  Facilitating such sessions can range from exciting to frustrating, depending on the team, the unit, the time and, particularly, the ability to frame and agree on the desired conceptual understandings that will underpin the inquiry.

This week, I experimented with a different approach to tune teachers into the unit, establish common understanding and model good practice.

The unit of inquiry:

Year 2 – Central Idea: Public places are organised to meet the needs of community.

The opening task for teachers: (given one step at a time)

  1. Write ten places you have been in the past week on separate post it notes.
  2. Work collaboratively to sort them in any way you like.
  3. What did you realise about the concept of place?

Tania’s role was to document the learning. She took photos of the group collaborating, observed the participants’ interactions and recorded the things they said.

planning

Tania’s observations along the way:

  • ‘Are there any the same?’
  • ‘Can you explain to me?’
  • Grouping/ looking for similar places.
  • Debating and questioning each other.
  • Using language to clarify/ refine ideas.
  • Making connections between places and actions.
  • Sharing common vocabulary.
  • Completed a general sort, then refined this to sort again into bigger concepts (Is it recreational, business, infrastructure, wellbeing place, cultural place, an essential service?  And from these more subsets were made.)

Statements about the concept of place:

  • Places can be used for different things.
  • Places have different meanings to different people.
  • Places connect people.
  • A place doesn’t have to be tangible, it can be in the mind.
  • There are public places and private places.
  • Places can isolate people eg remote rural places.
  • Places can unite and separate people eg religious places.
  • Places serve different purposes and needs.
  • There are natural and made-made places.
  • Places are organised in different ways.

What the teachers noticed about themselves as learners:

  • I made connections with others’ thinking.
  • Trying to understand what others were thinking about was valuable.
  • Listening to others points of view helped me clarify.
  • Trying to think outside the boundaries to push the thinking further.
  • Listening to others helped me formulate my thinking.
  • I really thought about the concept of place.

Discussion about how we could apply the above in the classroom:

  • The learners could do the same brainstorming and sorting activity to tune them into the idea of place.
  • Split screen teaching – focusing on content as well as process of learning.
  • The role of the teacher in observing the learning.
  • Documenting data about students’ actions and thinking.
  • How we might use that data to inform teaching and learning.
  • Connecting to our whole school goal of using both formal and informal data to improve learning.

Agreed understandings:

Understandings Beginning Developing Established
Public places are organised to serve the needs of communities.  function I can identify places that I use and say what their purpose is. I can explain how some public places are organised and used. I can compare and contrast a range of public places and classify how they serve different needs.
People use public places for different purposes.  perspective I can find out what other people I know use public places for. I can give examples of different ways people use the same public place and why. I can compare and contrast people’s perspectives on public places and their purpose around the world.
Shared places need to be used appropriately by members of the community.  responsibility I can tell you about how I act appropriately in our shared learning space. I can give examples of how I and other people should act appropriately in familiar public places. I understand and can explain what appropriate use of different public places looks/sounds and feels like.

Conclusions:

  • Process is as important as content.
  • Successful collaborative planning is enhanced by ensuring shared understandings.
  • Different voices bring a range of perspectives which contribute to mutual learning.
  • Experiencing the learning in the same way that our students do can help us relate to the process and refine our expectations.
  • Observing and documenting the learning process reveals valuable information.
  • Collaborative analysis of the data gleaned from documenting learning is a worthwhile exercise.
  • Being aware of ourselves as learners supports our own learning and that of our students.
  • Our beliefs about learning (learning principles) apply just as much to teachers as learners.
  • Putting ourselves in the role of learners adds fresh perspectives and brings depth to learning. (Thanks @katherineqi )

 

An inquiry into ownership of learning…

What do you notice about Audri as a learner?

We begin our Year 4 collaborative planning session with Audri… to generate thinking about the ways young learners own their learning, outside the classroom…

The teachers notice and name his confidence, persistence, belief in himself, resourcefulness, curiosity, commitment, ownership of learning, enthusiasm, excitement...

Layla wonders if Audri’s uniqueness and enthusiasm would be stifled in a traditional school setting.

Jina responds that she is excited by the possibilities of creating such authentic learning opportunities in her classroom.

Watching an extract from Guy Claxton on building learning power adds another layer to our conversation:

He says the ‘The ability to learn is very learnable’…

Some key questions which he asks:

  • What habits or attitudes of mind do you invite and cultivate in your students?
  • What learning muscles are being stretched beyond mastering content?

Important learning dispositions that have value for our learners in the ‘real’ world (beyond passivity, remembering, note taking and regurgitating, even if these might be useful in some contexts):

  • Curiosity – asking questions, seeking problems, finding solutions, desire to learn
  • Persistence – sticking with it in the face of challenges and difficulties
  • Resourcefulness – experimenting, taking initiative, having a range of strategies on which to draw
  • Collaboration – being willing to and knowing how to collaborate effectively
  • Thoughtfulness – standing back and thinking metacognatively, being able to think clearly and critically
  • Imagination – visualising new concepts, producing new ideas

Claxton says it is possible to strengthen all of these, even within the parameters of conventional classrooms. One of the major considerations is how we talk. Most teachers spend a great deal of time talking about ‘work’.  Shifting the focus to the process of learning, makes a huge difference.

Back in our planning meeting, we talk about the importance of making thinking visible and the value of noticing and naming learning behaviours, raised in both Making Thinking Visible by Ron Ritchhart et al and Choice Words by Peter Johnston. (Both books are highly recommended.)

The latter highlights the influence our language has on student learning. I particularly like examples like this one, which demonstrate the effect of a few well-chosen words…

“What have you learned most recently as a reader?” …the teacher begins with ‘given’ information that is not up for discussion: a) the student is a reader, and b) readers learn things. The only question is, what has this particular reader learned? For a student to respond to this question, he or she has to review recent learnings. The opening question requires an answer that begins, “I learned. . . .” It insists on an agentive identity statement about reading and learning. At the same time, it creates a learning history, which is an antidote for students who think they are not good and have always been not good.”

As I’ve frequently said in this space –

We have learned that it’s more valuable to spend time building a deep understanding of what a unit of inquiry is about and deciding on conceptual understandings than on planning activities.

A valuable tip we gleaned from Sam Sherratt  is to agree on one word that sums up the conceptual essence of the unit. In this case it is ‘ownership.’

Central idea – Taking ownership of learning empowers us.

Conceptual understanding rubric –

Beginning Developing Established
Learning is meaningful when we take responsibility for it.

Responsibility

I see the teacher as the one who knows what to do, how to do it and if it’s good.

I expect the teacher to tell me what to do and how to do it.

Sometimes I make decisions about my own learning, without asking the teacher.

I can describe some ways I am becoming more responsible for my own learning.

I make decisions that support and promote my learning.

I can explain the reasons behind my choices and decisions.

Reflection and metacognition lead to ownership of learning.

Reflection

I don’t think much about my learning.

I can’t explain why I am doing specific tasks.

I don’t understand the difference between ‘work’ and ‘learning’.

I am beginning to think about how I learn.

I can explain why I am doing specific tasks.

I can identify the skills and attitudes I need or am using.

I can decide which strategies to use in my learning and explain my choice.

I think about myself as a learner and can identify my strengths and challenges.

I reflect on my learning, set learning goals based on my reflections, and act on them.

I can explain how I could use my learning in different contexts.

I can explain what I gained from a learning experience, what I contributed, what could have made it better.

Feedback welcome!

Meeting Wise

Is every meeting at your school about learning?

Does every meeting connect to ongoing work and goals?

Do you come out of every meeting with a plan for action or a sense of where to go next?

To be honest, we often used to go round in circles in our meetings, talk at the same time, interrupt each other… We are a passionate bunch, and it was never through disrespect, rather a result of caring a great deal, having lots of ideas, wanting our opinions heard..

Since introducing Meeting Wise agendas, our meetings have become much more focused.

The Meeting Wise authors highlight four aspects for careful consideration when planning successful meetings:

  • Purpose
  • Process
  • Preparation
  • Pacing

Today in our meetings: 

  • The objectives are clear
  • Participants come prepared
  • Everyone has a voice
  • We have clear, expected norms
  • The content of the meeting relates directly to the stated objectives
  • Participants have turns to take on roles of facilitator, timekeeper, note taker, so…
  • Everyone has a sense of ownership
  • There is a sense of true collaboration within groups
  • Distributive leadership is fostered
  • We usually have fun!
  • We use effective protocols to ensure all the above
  • Participants leave with a clear sense of the next steps

I took most of these statements from the plus /delta we do at the end of meetings, in which participants share what went well and what could be improved. This is usually addressed at the start of the next meeting of the particular group.

Learning Team Leaders have received a copy of Meeting Wise and all teams are gradually improving their meetings by implementing the suggested procedures and protocols and adapting them to our needs.

Highly recommended!

(See my earlier post in which I applied the Meeting Wise questions to classroom learning.)

Planning for an inquiry into digital citizenship…

Today’s collaborative planning session with the Year 5 team is both challenging and invigorating. There are 7 of us in the room and one digital participant. The conversation is impassioned and (mostly) focused as we debate, disagree and eventually reach some common understandings.

It takes over an hour to ensure our conceptual understandings are sound and to consider the evidence that will demonstrate these understandings in our learners. This part is the crux.

It doesn’t bother us that most of the planner is still blank and we have barely thought about the learning engagements. We know (now) that if this part is established, we only need a few good provocations, then (almost) sit back and see how the learning unfolds.

Observing and listening to the learning, will determine what happens… that’s how inquiry works, so how can you plan it in advance?

The unit is about digital citizenship, which could easily fit into any of the PYP trans disciplinary themes and end up looking quite different. We want ours to be in ‘How We Express Ourselves’, because, as Silvia Tolisano says, ‘We are preparing students for a time when what they know is not as important as what they can do with what they know…’

It quickly becomes apparent that

  • we can never rehash an old unit, because we are always learning.
  • some of the understandings from last year are no longer relevant and we need to shift the focus from consumption to creation.
  • having 1:1 iPads has changed the way students do things and teachers see things.
  • our approaches to teaching literacy and literature require some radical new thinking, as might our definitions of both.
  • we need to ensure our students are learning ‘now literacies‘, (Silvia Tolisano) so they can engage effectively in a world very different from when their parents and teachers went to school. (So why does so much of school still look the same?)
  • there is endless potential for global collaboration to enhance authentic learning within this unit and the teachers are finally ready. (See my first ever blog post FIVE years ago! We have been chipping away, but there is so much more we can do…)
  • the teachers will need to pursue their own inquiries if this unit of inquiry is to be a success… but then, that is what inquiry teachers do.

So how do I tag this post? Is it about planning? Digital citizenship? Inquiry? Concept driven learning?

Or is it about change?

 

An inquiry into how the world works…

Headphones on, each member of the group watches their assigned video and considers how it fits into the PYP trans disciplinary theme ‘How the World Works’…

Inquiry into the natural world and its laws, the interaction between the natural world (physical and biological) and human societies; how humans use their understanding of scientific principles; the impact of scientific and technological advances on society and on the environment.

We’re watching things as diverse as the longest pedestrian suspension bridge, how fish breathe, a poo powered flame thrower, a man-made forest on a river island in India and ice cream that doesn’t melt

Sharing back with the group provokes discussion about what excites us, connections we see, problems solved and issues raised and the varied aspects each of us might find interesting to explore further. We look at the ways people apply scientific knowledge to solve problems, meet needs, create art…

We check which of the science strands are addressed by the videos and highlight the relevant concepts in each.

This is not a classroom, it’s a collaborative planning session.

The goals are as follows-

  • To get the teachers excited about what’s possible
  • To highlight the fact that science is everywhere
  • To encourage us to observe and notice science around us
  • To provoke thinking about the ways humans apply scientific knowledge
  • To create a context in which to plan for student learning and inquiry.

We’re planning for our PYP exhibition* unit and it’s the first time we’re exploring it in the theme of ‘How the World Works’.

The teachers are already excited about…

  • provoking our learners’ curiosity
  • inquiry that is real, relevant and engaging
  • opportunities for exploring passions
  • the possibilities for creativity and innovation
  • observing and really noticing the world
  • the potential to change perspectives
  • opportunities for learners to use a broad range of skills
  • scope for hands-on making and doing
  • bringing all the learning from previous years together
  • the potential to include the natural world, art, technology, ethics…

And concerned about…

  • ensuring it goes beyond being ‘just a science fair’
  • opportunities for action as a result of the learning

We’re keen to hear from other PYP practitioners who have explored ‘How the World Works’ for their exhibition units, in particular if it was a dynamic, student centred, passion driven, authentic learning experience for all.

* I hope in the IB PYP review, they decide to replace the term ‘exhibition’. It makes it sound as if the focus is on the product, when the most important aspect should be the process of meaningful, in-depth, personal and collaborative inquiry, drawing together all the skills and attitudes they have developed over time – Learners taking responsibility for their own learning. 

 

Planning for concept driven learning…

Cross-posted at Inquire within, following on from Inquiry: to what end? by Cristina Milos.

In a concept driven, inquiry based learning environment, we do NOT plan a series of activities to ensure coverage of the requirements of our national curriculum.

Instead we spend our planning time reflecting collaboratively, exploring which conceptual lenses will produce the deepest learning and designing a few powerful provocations to generate student thinking and inquiry.

The Australian curriculum expects us to ‘cover’ a large amount of geographical knowledge in Year 6 including, among other things 

  • The location of the major countries of the Asia region in relation to Australia and the geographical diversity within the region.
  • Differences in the economic, demographic and social characteristics between countries across the world.
  • The various connections Australia has with other countries and how these connections change people and places.
  • The effects that people’s connections with, and proximity to, places throughout the world have on shaping their awareness and opinion of those places.

We start our planning session by revisiting the reflections at the end of last year’s planner. Some of the teachers who taught the unit last year share what went well and what can be improved. Joc is concerned by the lack of depth and we realise that we had too many different lines of inquiry. Michelle feels the students had many misconceptions and generalisations…

There’s no point in trying to include too many aspects of the Australian Curriculum if the learning is superficial as a result. As Cristina suggests in her post, we need to ask ourselves ‘To what end?’

We revisit the big ideas and consider which conceptual lenses will help our learners break down misconceptions and result in deeper learning.

As we develop the rubric for conceptual understandings, we go back and forth, change our own and each others’ minds and realise that we need to change one of the concepts to better achieve the desired end. This part of the planning takes time, but it’s well worth the investment. Planning learning engagements will be simple once we know where we are heading and why.

Using ‘reflection‘ (How do we know?) as one of our conceptual lenses will provide opportunities for our learners to reflect on preconceived generalisations and stereotypes. At the start of the unit of inquiry they will be able to say what they THINK they know about different countries and HOW they know. By the end, we hope they can explain how some of their preconceptions have changed as a result of acquiring new knowledge and developing understanding.

Once we are satisfied with that, the central idea needs rewriting …

‘Deepening our knowledge about the world takes us beyond generalisations and stereotypes’

With this big idea as the through-line, learners will have a clear sense of purpose, as they interact with people in other countries, find out more about the factors that influence how they live (causation) and explore how countries are interconnected (connection).

They will have opportunities to focus on their own areas of interest, to question and wonder, read, view and talk to primary sources… all the while increasing their knowledge, deepening their understandings and making sure they go beyond stereotypes and generalisations.

(At the time of facilitating the collaborative planning session, this seems like a good direction, but I’m never certain. Feedback, questions and challenges welcomed…)

The shifting roles of the Librarian and the IT Facilitator…

Once upon a time (in what seems like a faraway land, in another lifetime) students went to the computer room and the library for isolated weekly lessons.

When we acquired laptops, the roles of Linda and Fiona, eLearning Facilitator and Librarian respectively, changed. They shifted to flexible timetables, going into classrooms, as required, to deliver specific lessons, team teach or support teachers and students with resources or tech trouble shooting.

This year, every student in Year 4- 6 has their own iPad and it’s clear that the traditional Librarian and eLearning Facilitator roles are shifting again. Resources are at the learners’ fingertips, devices are easy to use and apps are intuitive. It’s evident that iPads, by their very nature, promote inquiry learning. As Linda points out, there’s no need for the e in eLearning any more. And the once distinct roles of librarian and technology teacher have blurred, resulting in a dynamic partnership of overlapping skills and ideas.

In this week’s meeting, I ask the Learning Team Leaders –

What’s the most obvious way to eat these biscuits (cookies)?

With that out of the way, everyone writes down as many other ways as they can think of to eat them. Once we’re past the obvious, the ideas get more creative and, the more time people have to think, the more unusual the ideas they come up with. I love this exercise, borrowed from Heidi Siwak’s recent blog post.

The group notes that-

  • creativity takes time
  • looking at things from different angles helps generate new ideas
  • we need to be prompted to think beyond obvious solutions
  • hearing others’ ideas can spark creative thinking

At this point I ask everyone to think creatively about Linda’s and Fiona’s roles. 

Initiatives already in place

  • Active participation in collaborative planning sessions with teaching teams
  • Curation of online resources to support learning (Netvibes)
  • Working together to develop understanding of how to evaluate online resources
  • Establishment of e-book, audio-book and video-book libraries
  • Responding to teacher needs individually, in groups or whole school sessions as required
  • Leading whole grade level collaborations
  • Expanding the use of blogs to promote global interactions
  • Introduction of Twitter, supporting kids and teachers in developing global PLNs
  • Collaboration with the music teacher, using Garageband
  • Animation (collaboration with the art teacher) and film-making workshops for Y6 PYP exhibition groups

Once we’re ready to spend some time looking beyond the obvious, a range of new ideas are generated.

Suggestions

  • Dropping into classrooms and responding to learners at point of need
  • Introducing new projects for small groups of students
  • Becoming involved with learning in other contexts, such as the kitchen garden
  • Working with individual students on personal passion projects
  • Promoting trans-disciplinary learning by building connections with specialist teachers
  • Helping students define and refine inquiry questions
  • Integrating learning in ever more organic, authentic ways, not isolated out-of-context lessons

What’s next? 

Fiona would like to collaborate with the Art and Music teachers on a unit of inquiry exploring multimodal texts and the way eBooks incorporate video and music.

Linda’s next project is to meet with the new Year 4 and 5 tech minions, see what needs they perceive and develop their program with them accordingly.

We’ve only begun to look at new possibilities and we’d love to hear about how these roles are developing and shifting at your school…

And, while we’re thinking creatively, who else in the school has knowledge and skills that can be drawn upon in new, different and innovative ways?