Building cohesion…

“Cohesion is the powerful social glue that turns us from human beings into people. It is the glue that binds us to every element of our social context. When there is strong healthy cohesion in school communities, we feel connected to those around us; we’re on the same page with them. We feel we belong, that we are part of the team, with shared values and a shared sense of what is normal.”

Helen Street: CONTEXTUAL WELLBEING (Slightly adapted)

How might we build cohesion?

With ‘building cohesion’ as our 2020 focus, we started the year with a whole school workshop in which over 120 educators across disciplines and campuses connected and interconnected through a range of activities. Noticing and naming the ways they built cohesion, each time they changed groups during the morning, heightened awareness and highlighted transferable possibilities.

In groups, teachers shared a highlight from the holidays and something they hope for this year. Next we asked each person to consider and share a time when they felt a sense of belonging and identify common characteristics.

  • Caring relationships
  • Shared experiences
  • Shared values
  • Storytelling
  • Active listening
  • Deeper conversations
  • Sense of connection
  • Common purpose
  • Choice and ownership
  • Appreciation of each other
  • Mutual trust
  • Collaboration
  • Authenticity
  • Personal growth
  • Non judgemental acceptance.
  • Openness and support
  • Playfulness

Co-developing this shared understanding of how it feels to belong will help us reflect on the extent to which these things are evident in our classrooms and in our learning community, and to recognise possibilities for improvement.

How might we build cohesion in our classrooms?

Many of us have already read and engaged with the content of the book ‘Contextual Wellbeing’ as a springboard for such reflections. Providing quotes such as those below helped provoke thinking and encourage a flow of ideas.

With any wellbeing program… teachers have to be careful not to counteract their positive impact with unnecessary class competition and inequitable teaching the rest of the time. As soon as students are pitted against each other with tests, awards or ability grouping, cohesion and positive relationships suffer. It is the power of ‘show over tell’: explicit teaching of social and emotional competencies has to be backed up with real life contextual wellbeing.

Teachers are under continual pressure to make headway with a dauntingly large curriculum, so it is a big ask that they regularly find time for gluing the class together. But that time willingly spent on building cohesion will save an enormous amount of wasted time and energy throughout the rest of the year. A happy class is a cohesive class is a productive class.

Norms and rules are not the same thing. It does not matter what rules apply to the classroom, it is the established norms that guide the behaviour of those who feel they belong. Rules are written down and made explicit whereas norms are established through the repetition of certain behaviours and reinforced with every element of social context. Norms are the true behavioural guides within any group.

Norms develop through repeating desired behaviours, and contextual support, not through repeated verbal reminders. The more a class follows the rules in their daily activities, the more likely the rules will become norms. It also follows that the more the rules are broken, the more ‘not following the rules’ will become the normal way to behave.

Rewards and punishments may bring a disruptive child to the river of compliance, but only cohesion will keep them drinking. Instead of ‘paying’ disconnected kids to behave, or threatening them if they don’t, we need to help them connect to a world where positive behaviour is normal.

How might we further extend the idea of building cohesion?

Teachers then engaged with a series of broader questions which emerged from our self study, addressing how we might build cohesion beyond our classrooms, in our curriculum, in our community and in our culture. Building cohesion in all these areas will be the theme and the through-line of our action plan as we move forward.

And what better way to build cohesion than to have a whole school inquiry, involving the entire learning community?

Central idea: Building community creates a sense of belonging.

Some of the lines of inquiry at different year levels include:

  • how we build community through play
  • how we learn together as a community
  • the connection between place and community
  • opportunities and challenges in building community
  • parents as part of our learning community
  • how we build relationships within our community
  • diversity and commonality in our community
  • the impact of restorative action on community
  • how we co-construct our community
  • the interplay between individuals and community
  • the power of cohesion

What are some of the ways you build cohesion in your school or context?

Self study as an appreciative inquiry…

Over coffee with @shazbailey1, we chat about strategies for making the self study process worthwhile. She shares an approach she took with her teachers and, when I ask if I can steal it, she tells me to adapt and improve on it and then blog about it so that she can steal it back. The biography of an idea 🙂

The enhanced version of the IB Primary Years Program has detailed, well researched articles on all areas of the program, divided into sections: The Learner, Learning and Teaching and The Learning Community. I like the title ‘Principles into Practice’ which fits with our approach to the self study we are currently (perpetually, actually) undertaking. ‘How will we bring the beliefs of the PYP to life?’ rather than ‘How will we ensure we comply with the standards and practices?’

In last night’s session, teachers considered the headings of the sections and talked about which topics they are most familiar with and which they know least about…

Next, they each chose a section to inquire into and spent some time reading the articles and reflecting, individually, in pairs or groups, using a thinking routine adapted from Project Zero.

Connect: What connections can you make to current practice in our school?

Extend: How was your thinking extended? What’s new for you here?

Explore: What might we explore further? (individually and as a school)

The outcome:

  • Productive discussion in mixed groups, across grade levels and specialist areas.
  • Collaborative reflection around big ideas.
  • Collegial sharing and support.
  • A deeper understanding of the principles of the program
  • Documentation of current practice in how we live the PYP.
  • An opportunity to question the way things are.
  • Further ideas for exploration as a school community.
  • Individual goals that teachers will work on.
  • An organic approach to appreciative inquiry.

So simple. So much data for moving forward…

How do we live the PYP?

With the following objectives in mind, we set out to plan a day of thinking, learning and reflecting to launch our PYP self study:

  • Understand the purpose and requirements of the self study – an appreciative inquiry.
  • Ensure clarity of vision for the PYP evaluation – Rather than an exercise in compliance, we will see it as an opportunity to explore how best to bring the standards and practices to life.
  • Connect across teams, grades and campuses to share learning.
  • Ensure familiarity with the standards and practices (the old ones for now – we will map them against the new in a later step).
  • Highlight the major areas of focus in the Enhanced PYP.
  • Begin to reflect on how we bring the standards and practices to life.

A quick Kahoot! quiz in teams provided an opportunity to revisit some of the big ideas in the PYP, introduce some facts and figures about the program globally, mention some of the changes with the enhancements… and add an element of fun.

A provocation: How do we live the PYP?

Teachers considered how we LIVE the PYP at our school. Apart from the obvious, responses included factors such as…

  • Fluid and flexible units
  • Teachers as learners and inquirers
  • Reflection is integral to everything
  • Agency, choice and voice – for students and teachers
  • Curiosity is at the core
  • Time is invested in planning and reflecting
  • We consider the whole child
  • Being open to emergent inquiries
  • A natural language that permeates everything
  • Inquiry as a stance
  • Constant change and growth
  • We inquire into our own practice
  • Individuality is encouraged- in students and teachers
  • We put the learner fist
  • Learning is not prescriptive, innovation is encouraged
  • We walk the talk
  • Open to change and to different perspectives
  • Planning is in response to learning
  • We value process and document our journey.

An inquiry: How might we continue to bring the beliefs of the PYP to life?

In mixed groups we examined standards C1, 2 and 4, using the traffic light protocol (on first instinct, how would we self assess? – Green= going well, orange = on the way, red= not moving yet) and generated questions for both clarification and innovation.

Reflect: How are we currently doing?

Clarify: What do we need to know?

Innovate: What if…? How might we…?

Next we reflected in more depth on Standard C3, the practices that relate to teaching and learning.

Consider: What might this look like in practice?

Share: How are we doing this?

Document: How will we record our evidence?

Taking this practice as an example, ‘Teaching and learning develops student attitudes and skills that allow for meaningful student action in response to students’ own needs and the needs of others,’ we considered the learner action we have witnessed so far this year:

It was then inspiring to witness teachers of 3 year olds sharing learning with teachers of children up to 12, across campuses, languages and specialist areas. The examples were efficiently recorded and photos and videos uploaded to our dedicated Google site. It felt less like gathering evidence of compliance and more like a celebration of the wonderful learning that takes places in our school.

An analysis of the group and individual reflections from the day reveals common threads and patterns that will guide our inquiries moving forward. The next step might be to align the themes that were revealed with the new standards and practices and explore the notion of ‘motifs’ within them…

#PYPEvaluation 2

PYP Evaluation – an appreciative inquiry…

As we begin the self study for our IB PYP evaluation, it’s worth considering how to make it feel less like an inspection (compliance, judgement) and more like an invitation to reflect and an opportunity for growth.

What if we view the process as an appreciative inquiry? 

Define: How best might we LIVE the PYP? 

Rather than proving how we comply with the standards, let’s continue to explore how best to bring them to life.

Discover: What is…?

Reflect on our practice, identify our strengths and celebrate our successes.

Dream: What if..?

Fearlessly and creatively ask ‘what if?‘ and imagine new possibilities.

Design: How might we…?

Identify the best possibilities for innovation, encourage our people to take ownership and bring their ideas to life.

Deliver: How will we…?

Take action. Make things happen 🙂

 

(Thanks @fionannbir and @megangraff)

A whole school collaborative reflection…

Conversation…

Clusters of teachers are scattered in different areas of the school talking about learning… It’s a student free day and we’re discussing the IB standards, reflecting in groups on our practice and recording evidence as part of our self-study process. 

Relaxation…

We start the day with a brief mindfulness exercise followed by a meditation  session, led by Fiona, our Head of Learning Resources. She’s modelling a focus on wellbeing and encouraging teachers to use these approaches with their students.

Inspiration…

We view the first few minutes of the Apple recruitment video, mentally replacing Apple with Our School’s Name. The messages include –

Main ideas

Collaboration…

We’re a three campus school and our teachers rarely have a chance for inter-campus interactions, so this a great opportunity to establish connections and collaborate with different people.

IMG_0016

Integration…

There are printouts on the tables of each of the four curriculum standards (Collaborative Planning, Written Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, Assessment) as well as our school’s Learning Principles. The task is to make connections between all the above.

Investigation…

Making connections in this way encourages teachers to carefully read and consider the various practices, analyse and discuss them. Experienced practitioners work with some who are brand new to the PYP, drawing on examples and deepening understanding collaboratively.

Application…

Time for creativity. Teachers work in small groups, sharing photos of great learning from their classes, finding suitable illustrations of the various practices analysed and discussed in the previous session. Peer support and encouragement are at hand for those still mastering the tools on recently acquired ipads.

Presentation…

Here’s an example, connecting practices across the four standards, including living evidence!

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 11.21.42 pm Reflection…

Clusters of teachers are scattered in different areas of the school talking about learning… For the final session, the teachers break into their assigned teams (in which they have been working since last year) to reflect collaboratively on the standards and practices and record evidence from across the school.

Celebration…

It’s exciting –

  • to see the high level of engagement and participation.
  • to notice teachers (some of whom haven’t before) taking the lead and driving important conversations.
  • to observe new members of staff making valuable contributions.
  • to listen to over a hundred voices engaged in educational dialogue.
  • to hear teachers say they will apply some of the strategies modelled today in their classrooms.
  • to receive so many ‘thank you’s for organising this day of learning.
  • to realise how far we have come in the past few years…