A learning community…

Do you feel part of a learning community?

What teams exist within your school?

How do you build a culture of learning within and across your school teams?

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We start the year with a whole school gathering, an address by the principal in which he welcomes new staff,  shares achievements from the past year and outlines goals for the next. 

Moving inwards to the next circle, we have a two hour workshop for P- 6 staff across our three campuses, facilitated by the Teaching and Learning team.

Objectives

  • Get to know each other across teams and campuses.
  • Develop a shared understanding of the primary school goal for the year.

Almost a hundred teachers are seated at tables in groups of 6. Constantly moving between groups will allow opportunities to meet and talk to a range of people, while engaging in educational dialogue.

  • Choose one of the chocolates on the table and say how it represents you. The ice is broken and everyone is laughing before we go any further. 
  • Examine the visual (above) and discuss what it says to you. The responses are varied and interesting, questions are raised and discussion is animated as we consider the purpose of each of the teams.
  • Explore the goal: Use data to inform teaching and improve learning.

What is data? Teachers are asked to classify a dozen items under the headings of data or not data. Some groups debate whether informal, subjective information counts as valid data. Others question how much information we get from formal testing. Watching Peter Reynolds’ The Testing Camera reinforces that testing is a snapshot, not necessarily representative of where the student is at. The conclusion is reached that everything is data. Observing students and listening to the learning, analysing their thinking and questions, watching them play and learn and interact will provide much more data than testing alone.

  • Traffic light protocol (adapted).  Teachers highlight which types of data they are already using, which they are uncertain about and which they haven’t yet considered.
  • Hopes and Fears protocol (adapted) This provides an opportunity for teachers to share what they hope to achieve in terms of our goal and where they might need support. (We are gathering data too!) 

The activities have given everyone the opportunity to clarify what data is, consider how they already using it and how they might in the future. They have engaged with the big idea that everything is grounded in evidence. We don’t just plan lessons and teach them. We build our planning around responding to the individual needs of every learner. (We are ready to take this further as the year unfolds.)

  • Individual and group reflection time. Did we achieve our objectives?  A ‘Plus Delta’ protocol (with which we try to conclude all our meetings) returns these amongst the popular responses: 
    • Opportunity to meet and talk to different people from different campuses.
    • Clearer understanding of what data is and how we will use it.
  • What does the school value? Each group brainstorms a list, based on the workshop we have just had. Responses include some of the following: 
    • Learning.
    • Each child reaching their full potential in all areas. Student centred learning. The wellbeing of every child. Holistic development. Individuality. Meeting all children’s needs. Targeting teaching to student needs.
    • Collaboration and communication. Collegiality. Teamwork. Community. Relationships. Each other as colleagues. Staff input, ideas and initiative.
    • Deep understanding of learning. Educational dialogue. Teachers as learners. Critical and creative thinking. Different perspectives. Reflective practice. Purposeful PD which models purposeful teaching and learning.

Our workshop has been successful.

Moving inwards to the next circle… 

Effective School Teams

There are hoops on the floor and cards with each staff member’s name on them. The task is to silently place the cards into the hoops indicating existing teams in the school.

In the first round we are not permitted to move cards placed by others. It’s an interesting, yet frustrating process! How can I place some of the cards assigned to me if others have already created teams with which I don’t agree?

Once everyone has had a turn to explain their placements, we move on to the second round, silently again, now with the freedom to move and replace names in different configurations.

By the third round, there are overlapping hoops, string has been added to demonstrate connections across hoops and some names have been written on more than one card…

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The process reveals that:

  • Hoops are restrictive in exploring teams because they are closed circles and teams overlap.
  • We have many teams within our three campus school, some cross campus, some within. No-one works in isolation.
  • Everyone belongs to more than one team, some to many.
  • There are different perspectives on which teams people belong to.
  • Where you see yourself might be different from where others see you.
  • Some teams exist because of circumstance, some teams are imposed, some teams are chosen.
  • There are possibilities for new teams, which have not yet been considered.

The process is part of a discussion by our leadership team and the next steps will include all teachers examining the existing teams, defining their purpose, identifying the teams they belong to and would like to join…

Are all our teams effective?

  • Does every meeting of every team relate to learning?
  • Does every team have a shared sense of purpose?
  • Does every team have an essential agreement or shared norms?
  • Who steers the ship? Does every team have a leader or rotate leadership?
  • Does belonging to several teams give members broader knowledge and understanding?
  • Does belonging to too many teams mean you attend too many meetings and are spread to thinly?
  • What about informal teams? Unofficial groups who choose to collaborate?
  • Are all teams built on trust?
  • Do participants in every team learn from each other?
  • Does every team include healthy conflict and welcome different voices?
  • Are meetings well planned with clear learning related objectives?

and another question…

  • What teams do you belong to beyond the walls of the school?

Reflections:

  • One of the best teams to which I belong is an unofficial alliance, where ideas and thoughts are safely shared, analysed, criticised and developed.
  • Some of my most valuable learning comes from beyond the school walls – my global PLN.