Should we focus on teaching or learning?

Inquiry happens when you focus on the art of teaching.” Kath Murdoch.

This is an interesting moment in Kath’s conversation with teachers. I lose focus on my note-taking as I pursue this thought… I tend to say ‘focus less on teaching and more on learning’, and here is Kath Murdoch, inquiry guru, expressing what, on the face of it, seems to be just the opposite.

Kath has spent the week with teachers at my school, provoking thinking, that of teachers and students alike, modelling in classrooms and then collaboratively analysing teachers’ observations. The conversations during the week have been as valuable for teachers as the classroom observations, especially the final day reflections, when teachers draw out the big ideas in response to Kath’s question:

What does it mean to have an inquiry stance in our teaching?

After the session, I attempt to categorise the teachers’ ideas under conceptual headings. The more I think about their statements, the more my categories overlap. I consider first Kath’s shared list of inquiry practices and then Ron Ritchhart’s cultural forces. In the end it comes down to a handful of big ideas, for me…

  • Language:  Use a language of learning not compliance. Choose language that supports learners in describing and reflecting on their thinking and learning.
  • Process:  Focus as much on the process of learning as the content. Use split screen teaching. Notice and name how we are learning, not just what we are leaning.
  • Release:  Let go of your expectations and allow students to lead. Ensure the learners do the heavy lifting. Release responsibility as early as possible, then observe where to take the learning next.
  • Teacher as learner:  Position yourself as part of the learning community, not as the expert in the room, both physically and through your interactions. Make your own thinking process visible.
  • Time:   Do less, but do it more deeply. Devote time to developing learning dispositions. Give children time to reflect on how and why they change their ideas or thinking.

But, even as I elaborate on these, I notice they are further interconnected. I keep going back to change and revise them. It’s impossible to separate ‘using the language of learning’ from the notion of ‘teacher as part of the learning community’… or the ‘focus on process’ from the notion of time…

And, in a moment of clarity, I see that Kath and I are talking about the same thing… The ‘art of teaching’ IS knowing how to focus on the learning.

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?

Do you doubt you have anything to offer?

I start today’s collaborative planning session asking each of the teachers to share what strengths they think they bring to the new team. (Two have worked together for years, one started this year and one will join the team in the new year.) People are reluctant to share what they see as their own strengths and, instead, they each take a turn to say what they think the others bring the team, which is delightfully affirming.

Do you doubt you have anything to offer?

We’re excited to be organising Unleashing Learning, a conference by educators for educators, the success of which (among other things!) will depend on our own and other teachers presenting workshops. What’s becoming apparent is that there are excellent educators who doubt they have anything to offer. They measure themselves against others and judge themselves as inadequate. Is this you?

Are you ready to share…?

Unleashing Learning…

Unleashing Learning… 

A conference by educators for educators -13/14 March 2016

Imagine and experience the powerful learning that happens when learners feel they are valued members of a learning community, empowered by ownership of their learning.

  • Be inspired by the personal messages of other educators in the field.
  • Participate in interactive, hands on workshops engaging with big ideas.
  • Choose your own learning from a broad range of options.
  • Connect with educators from other schools in Melbourne to exchange ideas.
  • Have an opportunity to reflect on your practice and share it with others.
  • Suggest ‘unconference’ topics for impromptu discussions with like-minded people.

Join our learning community in any of the following ways:

  • share ideas for and help organise the event in any way you can
  • attend our conference on 13 and/or 14 March 2016 as a participant
  • present an inspiring 5 minute talk, based on a personal learning experience or powerful message of your own.
  • present a 90 minute interactive workshop exploring an aspect of ‘unleashing learning’ – powerful learning that happens when learners feel they are valued members of a learning community, empowered by ownership of their learning.
  • facilitate a group reflection session.
  • if you’re coming from afar, spend a few more days at our school, observing, engaging and exchanging ideas.

Unleash the Learning here!  (expressions of interest)

What does ‘unleashing learning’ say to you?

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Thanks to #Learning2 for the inspiration.

Making the PYP really happen…

It was the first time I had led a ‘Making the PYP Happen’ workshop and it was for teachers at my own school, so I approached the planning with a strong sense of responsibility. How would I ensure the workshop was valuable and would impact on practice?

MTPYPH is a workshop for teachers new to the PYP and its name describes it. The purpose of the workshop is to support participants, not just in understanding the principles and practices of the PYP, but in actually ‘making it happen’ for themselves and their students in their own particular learning environments.

The philosophy and underpinning principles of the PYP correlate closely with my school’s beliefs about learning. One of our new teachers (with a background in PYP schools) said ‘ The difference is that you LIVE the PYP here’. I’ve thought a lot about what that means! It means we go beyond fulfilling requirements and ticking boxes. It means we are not afraid to question or challenge the aspects that are less compatible with our beliefs. It means we constantly reflect on how best to make it meaningful in our context.

So planning the recent workshop, with my colleague Joc, included thoughtful consideration of how to take it ‘beyond the book’ and make it relevant and thought provoking. We wanted to focus on the big ideas in order to  help the teachers make connections between the separate elements.

This unit map was helpful in pulling the elements together and went far beyond the original intention (as learning experiences do when the learners take control!) The teachers changed the directions of the arrows and added their own as they realised connections and developed new understandings. This led to ideas for how to improve and develop the unit map for future use.

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The workshop focused on  inquiry, concept driven learning and constructivism. Teachers explored the PYP curriculum model and essential elements through the lenses of these big ideas, by inquiring, focusing on big ideas and constructing meaning themselves, both collaboratively and through individual reflection.

It’s been gratifying to hear them reflect on the shifts they are already making…

  • What I previously saw as disasters, I now recognise as opportunities for learning.
  • I’m realising that the less I talk, the more students do and learn.
  • I’m not planning the learning in advance so much. I’m allowing the learning in each lesson to shape further learning.
  • I’m accepting that learning is messy and realising that students are not all on the same learning path.
  • I’m not so stressed about ticking boxes and completing tasks. The learning is more organic as I hand over more to the kids.
  • I’m stepping back a bit, allowing the students to lead more, reflecting more as a teacher…
  • Relinquishing control, choosing intentional questions so the children can have more ownership of learning.
  • Providing more opportunities for student choice.
  • More opportunities for problem solving and collaborative thinking.
  • Trying to make more connections across different learning areas.
  • I’m reflecting more with my class on the learning.
  • I’m allowing myself to be more of a messy learner, pursuing my own learning and developing the bigger picture of the whole child.

Seems like they ARE making the PYP happen.

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Collaboratively reflecting on what we can learn about students from various samples and photos…

Learning with @langwitches…

‘The back channel is the conversation that happens behind the real life front conversation.’

love the way @langwitches explains this to the children, even though the back channel is as much real life for me as the front conversation!

On her first day working with teachers, a full day, full on workshop which blows minds – some love it, others are overwhelmed – Silvia introduces several back channels at once. Participants are encouraged to use Today’s Meet and/or Twitter and volunteers take collaborative notes in a Google doc

Monday

The goals are multi-layered – 

  • Understanding NOW literacies.
  • Global sharing. 
  • Documenting for learning.
  • Exposure to new tools and new ways of thinking.
  • Connecting to our whole school goal of using data to inform learning (that of the teachers, as much as the students).

The rest of the week consists of intense learning in our upper primary school, with and from Silvia – in classrooms, in small groups and individually. Teams meet with Silvia to talk, listen, choose and plan before she models in the classrooms. They meet again to debrief and yet again to reflect after they have experimented for themselves.

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Teachers are the documenters of and for learning. We’re watching, listening and gathering data to inform future learning… of the teachers, as much as of the students.

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It’s a meaningful model of professional learning:

  • Extended over an entire week, with time for experimentation and reflection.
  • Something for everyone.
  • Tailored to our needs and goals.
  • Big picture then zooming in to the details.
  • Responsive, rather than pre planned and packaged.
  • Thought provoking and challenging.
  • Inquiry driven.
  • Personalised.
  • Change making.

Back to the back channel…

I’m a back chaneller by nature. I like to talk to construct meaning. I interrupt. I blog in my head, as I  distil the essence of learning experiences. And I tweet…

So from Day 1, I document the learning, via several back channels at once. I observe Silvia’s ‘front conversations’ – with teachers, with students, with teams – and I try to listen more than I talk. I have ‘back conversations’ in my head and with others. I join the Today’s Meets. And I tweet…

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I curate stories of documentation via Storify.

I encourage teachers to blog and I join the conversation via comments.

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And then, I blog!

More soon…

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… 

Coaching for learning…

Do you set the bar high and constantly seek to improve your practice?

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It’s a privilege to work in a school with a strong learning culture, where teachers’ professional learning is valued and new opportunities for further learning and growth are constantly being sought.

The latest initiative is a one-on-one coaching model, providing opportunities for teachers to engage in reflective conversations about teaching and learning, set goals, analyse evidence and take action to enhance their practice.

It’s an approach that meshes well with our beliefs about how learning takes place, our determination to abandon ‘one size fits no-one’ PD and our commitment to teachers having choice in their professional learning.

We’re just beginning the journey, reading a great deal, thinking, talking and making connections to whole school goals as well as our learning principles.

We’ve had some engaging conversations with inspiring, passionate educators already implementing different models in their schools. Thanks Cameron Paterson for your initial insights and for introducing us to Chris Munro, who we now feel is part of our team!

Interestingly, our conversations with Chris (and Helen!) and with Maggie Hos McGrane, who are approaching coaching in different ways, for different purposes, using different models, highlighted the same big ideas. They even used similar language, gave similar examples and quoted similar success stories!

These are some of the common threads pulled from conversations with those generous educators…

A constructive approach to improving practice.

Coaching is non judgemental, not tied to evaluation or appraisal. It’s about teachers choosing to improve their practice, through goal setting, observation and one-on-one reflective conversation.

Listening is a key element

Coaching is about LISTENING, not about TELLING. It’s like inquiry teaching… Listen to where the learner (teacher) is at and ask questions that help them figure out where to go next. The coach needs to get rid of their ‘internal dialogue’ – It’s not about you!

Protected Time

Coaching provides a legitimate opportunity for ‘me time’, in which the coachee can talk about themselves and their practice as much they like. What a luxury in terms of professional learning.

Evidence based

Coaching is grounded in evidence. From the first conversation, it’s about noticing and naming what the coachee is feeling, followed by gathering of agreed data through planned observation, to seeking evidence that change has taken place. How will the teacher know she has been successful? How is student learning impacted?

Action

If there’s no action, there is no point in coaching. What happens as a result of the reflective conversations? What do teachers do? How does practice change? How is learning affected?

Have you implemented coaching at your school? How have you approached it? Has it been successful? Do you have ideas to add to those above?

Personalised learning for teachers…

Our strong beliefs about what comprises effective professional learning underpin the planning for our up-coming professional learning day, BY the teachers FOR the teachers…

We have so much knowledge, expertise and passion within – It’s not always necessary to depend on outside presenters to take our learning forward.

We begin by surveying the teacher-learners to find out what sort of learning opportunities they would prefer. The results indicate they’d like a combination of time to pursue their own interests independently and facilitated workshops addressing relevant topics of their choice.

So, our student- free day next Monday will look like this-

Session1 – Teachmeet.

In the traditional Teachmeet style, teachers will present for 2 or 7 minutes, sharing a tool, a strategy, an idea or an example of practice. Without the need for coercion, we have volunteers from every single grade level (and several from some!) on a range of topics, such as:

  • Team teaching
  • Effective search strategies
  • Capturing student thinking
  • Reading ideas
  • A variety of apps eg Book Creator and Explain Everything
  • An approach to home learning
  • Purposeful groupings
  • And more…

Session 2 – Workshops

Teachers choose to facilitate and/or participate in two out of eight one-hour workshops on topics of interest, identified through the survey. Workshops will be hands on, encouraging active group participation and opportunities for participants to construct meaning for themselves, on the following topics:

  • Twitter for global learning
  • Supporting kids with Dyslexia
  • Encouraging creative thinking
  • Provoking inquiry through great picture books
  • Open ended iPad apps for learning
  • Promoting social cohesion in the classroom
  • Exploring ePortfolios
  • Using data to inform teaching and learning

Session 3 – Personal learning 

Teachers choose to collaborate in teams or work individually on anything they like. For many, this is a continuation of previous personal learning time but some have chosen new areas for inquiry and others will use the time to apply their learning from the morning sessions. Ideas are as diverse as:

  • Positive psychology and student wellbeing
  • Using animation to express learning
  • Harvard research into thinking and learning
  • Vocabulary enrichment
  • Augmented reality
  • Building resources for Maths inquiry
  • How to encourage ownership of learning and student voice

As always, we have dismissed the notion that one size fits all, and ensured that our learning principles underpin, not just student learning at our school, but our own professional learning too.

Our learning principles –

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning occurs by acquiring skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to other contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and best takes place through collaboration and interaction.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

We’ll ask everyone to reflect at the end of day, not just on what they have learned, but on what they notice about themselves as learners and on the process of learning itself.

If you’re in Melbourne and excited by the potential to be a part of this vibrant learning community, see my previous post.