Learning for whom?

The IB Learner Profile calls for all learners to be thinkers and inquirers, who ‘communicate confidently and creatively, collaborate effectively and listen carefully to the perspectives of other individuals. We thoughtfully consider our own ideas and experience, working to understand our strengths and weaknesses in order to support our learning and personal development.’

These attributes are the essence of effective professional learning communities.

Writing my chapter for the IB book ‘Journeys in Communities of Practice‘ was a highly rewarding experience. It provided an opportunity to reflect on the development of a learning culture in my school and the community of practice we had built over time. In addition I enjoyed working with and learning from editor Dale Worsley, as well as meeting him in person and participating in one of his inquiry circles, while visiting New York earlier this year.

By the time the book came out, a year after writing the chapter, it was interesting to reflect on our further growth too! As our school years draws to an end, I’m excited by the achievements and reflections of teachers who, through being part of this thriving learning community, have

  • made strong connections between theory and best practice.
  • opened classroom doors for collaboration and team teaching.
  • stepped aside to let students take ownership of their learning.
  • overcame anxieties about technology.
  • deepened their understanding of inquiry and concept driven learning.
  • created learning spaces that reflect their beliefs about learning.

We often take our own situations for granted and, to be honest, I was happily involved in the ongoing learning at my school and hadn’t thought very much about how challenging the process of building such a learning community can be. I hope educators around the world benefit from reading my own and others’ stories in the ‘Journeys’ book.

I can’t help but wonder though…

What percentage of schools and educators can afford to pay $60 for a slim paperback book? (That’s the cost including shipping)

and…

How many could pay $50 to participate in a webinar based on the book? (There are – as there should be – a growing number of free-access opportunities for educators to learn online.)

The IB Learner Profile, mentioned at the start, also calls for us to be principled.

‘Principled – We act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness and justice, and with respect for the dignity and rights of people everywhere… ‘

Does the IB as an organisation model its own principles?

A different kind of conference -2

‘ Every speaker was engaging and interesting which taught me a lot.’ (Timmi)

‘I thought it was an unbelievable experience and really increased my knowledge of the world’. (Jack)

‘I thought it was fun way of learning, instead of teachers just talking to us and telling us what to do, it was more interactive. It was like a big class discussion and we got to have different fun activities. I liked the breakout groups because we got to share what we learnt with everyone.’ (Jackie)

Thursday’s conference for students was highly successful if, like me, you gauge success by the potential for learning, the level of engagement, and the depth of students’ thinking. You can read about the details of the day in an earlier post. The students’ reflections and the images from the day should tell you the rest of the story…

What some of the kids said:

Corey:

Yesterday was a fun learning experience. I loved all of the stations and I did not believe some of the things they were telling me. My favourite session was the Glenallen School on overcoming challenges. They brought in two of their students, named Bella and Kim. Kim and Bella both made a short speech for us telling us about themselves and why they have to use a machine to talk. After their speeches we got ask them questions, and some of the answers were really interesting. Some people asked them how does your machine work and the answers were unbelievable, I never knew machines could do those type of things, like estimate what their sentence is going to be or there’s like a brain switch that can read what she’s trying to say! Some of my friends even got to go up to Kim and Bella to see both of these machines. I asked Bella how she became school captain and she said to me without her machine “all of my friends voted for me”.

Ella:

I noticed:

1. That one person can make a change.
2. If you set goals for yourself anything is possible.
3. That disabled people think just like us and even though they may look different they still have feelings and should be treated the same.
4. That there is way more animal cruelty in the world than I thought and that we have to stop it.
5. Just one life can help the world and make a change! to never give up!

Jackie:

Learning about what 12 year old girls and Ethiopian woman do every day has made me a very grateful person. Knowing they have to walk 3 hours carrying 15 kilos, back to their families, has made me realise what a struggle their life is compared to mine. Every day I have to go to school for 8 hours, when most of them can’t go to school because they are busy helping their families. What I am able to do every day, I take for granted. When I come home I have dinner made already and sometimes we go out for dinner, and our delicious food is made for us. But these women have to make unappetising food, by hand, every day, for 3 hours. 1.3 billion People live on just $1.25 per day, while we live on hundreds. I learnt that I am a very lucky and I should be more grateful for everyday that I live. I want to make a difference for these girls and one day.

Daniel

My favourite part of the day was when a woman named Bianca talked to us about homelessness. I learned that there are three types of homelessness and that a reason that many people become homeless is when there are family issues and the child moves out early and doesn’t have any money. I think that it was a good learning experience even though it was on Skype. I never knew that there were 45,500 homeless people every night in Australia. I wonder why Australia doesn’t give them a home because Australia is a wealthy country but 45,500 is a lot less homeless people than in a lot of other countries in the world.

Monique

I noticed:
1. …that everyone can do something to help others.
2. … that I am really lucky to have a roof over my head and to have food and clean water to drink.
3. …that not many people are as lucky as I am.
4. …that the speakers were passionate about what they spoke about.
5. …that lots of people try to make a difference.

Next: Any tips on how to create an un-conference?

What really matters?

What do you think is unfair?

We take some time to think individually and write each idea on a separate sticky note. One teacher finds it difficult to get started. Another finds it cathartic getting all the injustices she sees around her down on paper. Someone wrestles with the difference between annoying things and unfair things. Once we’re on a roll, most of us could keep going at this for ages!

What we find unfair ranges from trivial to extremely serious, from intensely personal to global….

  • playground bullying
  • that sweets are fattening
  • uneven distribution of wealth
  • favouritism
  • lack of access to education
  • the price of petrol
  • lack of accountability at work
  • racist comments

The next stage is to arrange these injustices on a diagram of concentric circles.  Does it relate to me personally?  To my family? Or is it a local, national or global issue? 

At first we take turns to place our notes and explain our reasoning, but soon everyone has something to say, opinions differ and there is vigorous debate. We discover that deciding where to place our injustices is not so easy. Some could go in several circles. Some could go in all. Sometimes it depends on the perspective of the writer. We realise that it doesn’t matter where we place them, it’s about the process.

In the process of the debate, different examples are presented, new issues are raised and a range of perspectives are explored. In a way, the process draws us closer together as we reveal what bothers us and find commonalities. We make connections between the different injustices and relate them to our own experiences. We shift back and forth between personal and global perspectives.

We discuss how global issues might affect us personally and how personal issues might be relevant in broader contexts. Visualising students sitting in groups having the same sorts of discussions, the  teachers are excited to try this with their classes.

This will be the first step in setting the scene and provoking thinking for our PYP exhibition unit.

The central idea is ‘Developing an awareness and understanding of inequity empowers us to act‘. Within this broad conceptual understanding, students will find what they are passionate about to explore in depth. 

Last year we focused on social inequities in the world. While the learning was rich and the exhibition highly successful, some students inquired into issues beyond their grasp and there was limited opportunity for really meaningful action. This time, everyone will have the opportunity to find something to which they can relate deeply. We hope to use tools and experiences such as the one above to help them find what really matters to them. 

As a learning community, my school is further down the track in our understanding of inquiry learning than we were at this time last year. Teachers talk about how much they have changed. There is a greater awareness of what’s possible when teachers let go and learning is more student owned.

Our exhibition will be a celebration, not just of our students’ learning and growth, but of our own. Watch this space to read about how the learning unfolds…

With thanks to our (virtual) friend, Sam Sherratt , not just for sharing the concentric circles idea, but for inspiring us to let go and really let the students lead.