Covid-19 – a dreadful opportunity for schools

On Tuesday the government here in The Netherlands announced that primary schools will re-open on 11 May and secondary schools on 1 June. Although somewhat anticipated, it’s triggered a lot of discussion about how schools will re-open in a safe way that respects the physical distancing rules still in place.

What’s obvious to all is that schools cannot re-open and carry on like they did before. It won’t be possible for everyone to be in school at the same time and that means our schedules, classes and routines cannot simply be re-activated. And realistically, we won’t be able to re-activate them for a long time as disruption is here to stay for the foreseeable future.

Image by CoxinhaFotos from Pixabay

Is this a massive headache? Yes. Is there a simple answer? No. But it is a (dreadful) opportunity for us to re-think the way schools work and perhaps emerge from the crisis in better shape than when we entered.


We know that a lot of things schools currently do don’t make pedagogical or even basic sense. For me, the biggest is that schools are usually built upon the idea of groups of people doing the same pre-planned thing at the same time. Students are batched by age and expected to learn through fixed a timetable of classes often set for them often years in advance. 


And this jars with our understanding of learning as a very personal, individual process. As Sir Ken Robinson argues, we have systems based on a paradigm of standardization when what we need are systems based on the individuality of those they serve: the students and their unique bundles of interests, talents and needs.

Sir Ken Robinson – Changing educational paradigms (RSA Animate)

So why do we still do what we do? My experience of trying to influence that paradigm is that it is so strong because the assumptions it’s built upon pervade everything: the schedule, the curriculum, the mindsets of teachers, parents and students. Everything. So if you want to change the paradigm from standardization to anything else, you need nothing short of a revolution in all areas!


Covid-19 isn’t a revolution or something that anyone wants. But it is forcing us to go back to the drawing board and re-think everything we do. And that is an opportunity to do things better.


The good news is that we’re not starting with a blank page. There are plenty of “alternative” models to education and even more smaller scale initiatives that might be useful starting points.


For example, a number of schools in the #Future of Education Now network run a “9th day” timetable. This is where on regular days through the year – the 9th day believe it or not – the timetable is collapsed. Instead of regular classes, students sign-up for extra-support sessions, enrichment classes offered by teachers, students or other members of the community, or activities that take longer than an ordinary class would allow. Similarly, teachers can sign-up students who they feel need some extra support.


This initiative could be combined with existing systems of online learning to provide more effective personalized learning both during the Covid-19 crisis and after. Online task setting and classes remain, but students have a designated day(s) when they are in school with some of their peers – at safe distances! – accessing the sessions and support they need, rather than attending the classes their pre-set schedule tells them they need to attend. It provides flexibility as staff and students can self-isolate when they need to without disrupting provision. More importantly, it’s scalable, perhaps starting with one day and increasing as and when possible.


As I previously said, there are no simple answers. 9th day models won’t work for a lot of schools. Maybe when the details are looked at it won’t work for any! But the point is that there are options out there for schools to try and make Covid-19 a trigger for systematic improvement, not just a crisis to managed. That’s a point made by many others too; are we going to look back at this as a “temporary blip or a permanent flip”?


I’d go further to say that it is our obligation to try and make a permanent flip. If healthcare workers are walking into buildings full of the virus and people working in the food industry turn up to work each day to make sure we can all eat, the least we can do is try to think about long-term, systematic improvement and ensure their children return to schools better able to meet their needs.


So I’d be interested to hear what opportunities you see to improve schools during this crisis? And, more importantly, how do we bring them about?

Revelations about team teaching

A couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to attend the Future of Education Now conference at the Western Academy in Beijing. For me, one of the most exciting revelations of the conference is about team teaching.

If you’d asked me before the conference if I was involved in team teaching, I would have said “of course!”. After all, our team plans units together, we design and share resources and we help each other think about the learning going on in each others’ classes. Of course we team teach!

Except we don’t…

And here is the revelatory slide:

What we actually do is franchise teaching. Yes, we work together on the planning and take an shared interest in the learning of all of our students, but when we step away from our collaborative meetings and into “our” classrooms, we’re on our own. And the students are on their own with us.

I’m not saying this model is bad. Teaching is so personal, it’s great to have the flexibility to implement a unit in the way we think it’s best done for our students. However, we’re missing so many benefits of team teaching. 

See exhibit B from the conference, WAB Middle School’s Learning Lab and their approach to team teaching math:

Essentially, what they do is combine three or more math classes and set a common, differentiated math challenge. Students can then choose how they want to approach this challenge by going to a certain learning space. One space might be teacher-led, like a more traditional classroom set-up. Another might facilitate small group work on the challenge and one space might allow students to withdraw into a “cave” and think on their own about the challenge. Each space is supported by one or more math teachers.

As the video explains, this empowers students to make a choice about their learning, giving them ownership even when the learning objective is prescribed. And, dare I say it, choose to work with the teacher with whom they feel they have the best connection. Again, teaching and learning are personal, and we need to accept that some teacher-student relationships are stronger than others.

Having multiple teachers allows each one of these spaces to be well supported (if a single teacher tries to differentiate a classroom like this, they inevitably leave one or more groups to their own devices for at least part of the session). Furthermore it allows teachers to play to their strengths. Are they best in a more structured, teacher-led format? Then supervise the teacher-led section. Are they great questioners? Then maybe the small group area is the best for them.

My school isn’t blessed to have the amazing learning spaces seen at WAB (my colleague and I did seriously consider taking a sledgehammer to the non-load bearing walls between the classrooms – that’s the thinking you get when you cross 14 time zones in 6 days), but team teaching is something many schools can easily implement. 

For example, we’ve always griped about classes in the same subject being blocked with each other on the timetable: if one teacher is away, it’s very difficult to get a subject specialist to cover the class. But this structure means that two or more classes can be team taught straight away, simply using the different classrooms as the different zones.

And there are lots of different ways to use the different teachers and spaces, not just for the style of learning. Thinking from a Global Politics perspective, we could offer 2-3 group case-studies on the same concept, and allow the students to choose which is most interesting and relevant to them. During revision time, we could set-up the room based on different revision needs – one room looking at the human rights unit, one at peace and conflict, and one at exam technique – again dividing the rooms between our areas of speciality as a teacher.

Sometimes the most simple ideas are the best and this is certainly one we’ll explore further. And who knows, maybe one day I’ll be let loose with a sledgehammer.

Lesson 3 from a year of self-directed learning: give them a stage!

In September 2018, we established a program that enabled a group of MYP students to direct their own learning for a year. In these blog posts I share three key lessons from that year.

Lesson 3: Give students a stage

So far, this series of blog posts might have given the impression that there were more failures than successes in our first year. But that’s definitely not true! I saw some extraordinary things last year. A 13-year old, new to English language and literature, writing, producing and promoting on her own Broadway-style musical. Students overcoming deep-rooted fears of public speaking and math. A debate between a group of 12 to 15 year olds about the merits of liberalism, Marxism and anarchism that wouldn’t have been out of place at a university. 

“You’re Next: The Musical”. One of the most extraordinary student achievements I’ve ever seen.

A common factor in each of these successes is that the students had a stage on which to demonstrate their learning. In the case of the musical, it was literally a stage, but in other projects it was simply running a workshop for peers or sharing learning at a student-led conference. 

A flipside of handing students ownership over their learning is that we teachers also lose a lot of control over the learning process (read: deadlines!). We tried to negotiate mid-point review and final deadlines with the students, but it often happened that when these approached, the students would make the case for extending the deadline; just a little more time for some final research, another day to do the final touches. Anyone who has written a dissertation will know the feeling. 

By giving students an authentic stage, we take away the possibility of extensions. It forces students to reflect on their learning and bring it together in a final product for their audience, be it their peers, parents or wider community. Furthermore, we don’t have to play the bad guy by refusing to give deadline extensions and can instead coach the student through.

For example, early on in the year we had a student working on a project about anatomical drawing. He was interested in Da Vinci and, with our arts and science Learning Guides, was developing his drawing skills and knowledge of muscle groups. For many weeks he sat quietly by the window sketching away, telling the Learning Guides he needed a bit more time to achieve his goals. As time went on we grew concerned about how he was progressing. Was too much time being spent on this project? When would the final product emerge?

We decided to give him a stage by asking him to give a workshop to the group the following week. It certainly caused some anxiety. The sketching became more frantic and on the morning of the workshop the student asked to postpone his session. But it had been advertised on the schedule and there was no backup plan, so he’d need to go ahead! We talked through how the workshop could be delivered and encouraged him onto his stage.

What followed was a session that any teacher would have been proud of. The student was able to teach us those techniques he’d spent hours practicing, all the while talking us through the different muscle groups and cheering everyone up by telling us that we all actually have six packs…somewhere! His knowledge and expertise shone through and was contagious. So much so, the group asked for another workshop the following week to continue their drawings. 

A lesson any teacher would be have been proud of.

Speaking to the student afterwards, he admitted that he’d begun to tread water with his project. He had put so much time into it, he didn’t know how to bring it together and was worried about what he’d do next. The workshop gave him the incentive to face these challenges and critically consider what he’d learned. Furthermore, the “buzz” of being an expert in front of peers was something he wanted to feel again.

We now try to ensure student’s are always given a stage for their learning, be this a one-off performance or exhibition, a workshop for their peers or a student-led conference with their family and friends. It doesn’t mean the end of their learning: just an authentic checkpoint.

Lesson 1: Democracy doesn’t work

Lesson 2: Traditional paradigms of education are difficult to escape

Lesson 2 from a year of self-directed learning: traditional paradigms are difficult to escape

In September 2018, we established a program that enabled a group of MYP students to direct their own learning for a year. In these blog posts I share three key lessons from that year.

Lesson 2: Traditional paradigms of education are difficult to escape

For a long time, one of my favourite things to do was to ask people what their dream school would look like. I was struck by how similar their responses were. Schools should be tailored to individuals, focused on holistic development, connected with the “real world”, they said. When I asked them – especially those working in education – why schools are not already like this, the response was that it’s just not possible with the constraints that schools face; curriculum requirements, restricted lesson time, an aversion to change by key stakeholders. 

A central idea of Pathfinder was to remove as many of these constraints as possible and start with a blank slate. In many ways it worked. We grouped students from different year groups to take advantage of peer learning, collapsed timetables to allow students more flexibility with how to use their time, and stripped the MYP back to its fundamental principles to allow students to design the curriculum. 

However, we couldn’t achieve a completely blank slate and this affected the purity of what we tried to do. For example, we designed an assessment system that would focus on individual progress rather than a numerical achievement level: students would receive a “+” if they’d improved from their last assessment, an “=” if they’d maintained their level and a “-” if they’d slipped back. 

In many ways it worked well. One of my favourite moments of the year was seeing two students high five after both getting a “+” for maths, when I knew they’d got quite different achievement levels. This conversation would usually have left the student with the lower number feeling despondent about their genuine achievement. 

However, this system couldn’t take root because we lacked a means to clearly communicate progress to parents. Existing reporting systems are, understandably, designed around traditional paradigms; students grouped by age, receiving regular numerical grades, everyone doing the same thing at the same time. This meant that we needed to use a myriad of documents to communicate and track progress, which inevitably didn’t work. As such, we’ve had to (temporarily) compromise our ideal assessment system in order to ensure clear communication with students and parents. 

Similarly, we’ve bumped up against the traditional paradigm that exists in the rest of the school. The need to plug into a timetable and registering system that operates on the basis of distinct student groups attending regular classes has caused real headaches. And, most of all, students have felt the discomfort of challenging the norm: it can be disconcerting to know that all of their peers are studying something different, and difficult to connect with friends who experience a very different day to themselves (even when Pathfinder students feel they’ve had a much better day!).

We’ve managed this with a lot of adaptation, good will and frank discussion. But the tentacles of tradition and stickiness of institutions have been difficult to throw off entirely. 

For me there are two lessons here. First, it may well be easier to establish a new paradigm through a completely new school or through whole school transformation. And second, we need a revolution in all areas of education – digital platforms, teacher training, public perception of education – if we are to establish and maintain a different way of learning.

An interesting review of the “school within a school” initiative. Lee and Ready describe the difficulties of attempting to run to paradigms alongside each other in a single school.

Lesson 1: Democracy doesn’t work

Lesson 3: Give students a stage

Lesson 1 from a year of self-directed learning: democracy doesn’t work

In September 2018, as the rest of the school reported to their mentor groups to receive information about the coming year, seventeen intrepid students arrived at room B201 to start an exciting adventure. 

They were the first cohort of the Pathfinder Programme. Pathfinder is the product of a thought experiment that asked “if we had to design a school from scratch, what would be its purpose and how would it work?”.

You can read more about how we answered that question here. In essence, Pathfinder allows MYP students to direct their own learning for a year or more – both in terms of the curriculum followed and how they use their time – and thus to start plotting their own unique path in the world.

Year 1 was a huge learning curve for us. The programme of September 2018 is very different from the one with which we begin September 2019, having been constantly adapted and improved from our experiences. I’d like to share three key lessons from year 1.

Lesson 1: Democracy doesn’t work

Well I don’t really mean that, but it probably got your attention! What I mean by this is that it’s difficult to be truly democratic when there are other ends to be achieved and time is limited. 

We started out with the aim of allowing students to “establish their own learning community, deciding what is learned, how and when”. Basically, deciding everything! In wrestling with decisions usually made by teachers, they would have full ownership over their learning community, be much more motivated for it and learn some invaluable skills along the way. 

What we rather naively overlooked is that this process of making decisions and maintaining a healthy learning community is hugely time consuming. Democratic decisions do not always lead to the best outcomes and they need to be constantly revisited and reconsidered (absolutely no reference to anything going on in northern Europe 😉 

One example of this is of the student’s deliberations about how to layout the room. We’d piled all the furniture in the corner and left the decision to the students. After a day or so of discussion the room was arranged…in the image of a traditional classroom! After a week it became apparent to the students that this didn’t fit their new way of working so another committee was formed to re-think the design with more input from us teachers. Even then nobody was entirely happy and the room remained rather centralised and disconnected. 

The process itself was valuable, but it took a huge amount of time and was just one decision of many that students needed to take if they were to truly own their learning community.  Furthermore it came at the expense of an environment conducive to the collaborative project-based learning that they were undertaking.

Our mistake was to think that democracy is always the best method to achieving the specific objectives set out in an academic curriculum. I think back to a conversation I had with Jim Rietmulder of the Circle School in Pennsylvania who objected when I enthusiastically told him that Pathfinder would be a democratic programme. He pointed out that for democratic schools, democracy IS the curriculum. For us, it was more of a means to achieve the objectives of our curriculum. I now fully appreciate this fundamental difference. We learned that true democracy is not the best method if you have pre-determined objectives to achieve. 

A post-democracy Pathfinder room

Consequently, we now seek to provide a framework in which students can make genuine choices about their learning and community, but limited in range and depth. So when the 2019/2020 cohort stepped into the Pathfinder room for the first time, they found it set-up in a way that we think suits the style of their learning but will have the opportunity to make changes based on their experience (and they already have made changes!).

In this way we hope to secure the benefits of student ownership whilst also enabling them to effectively work towards the objectives of the MYP.  

Lesson 2: Traditional paradigms of education are difficult to escape

Lesson 3: Give students a stage

Constantly Provoking Our Own Thinking

There is no doubt that the concept of student agency is out there in the education community. However, it seems that many of the conversations seem to be mainly floating around the pedagogical level, with the main focus being “How do we do it?”

I think if we, as an education community, remain only on the pedagogical level, then we’re missing the point.

Conversations about student agency need to dive down below the pedagogical to the philosophical and also political level. As educators we must be critically thinking about and engaging in conversations centering around: power, compliance, control, democracy, freedom and children’s rights. Specifically what those concepts look like… or don’t look like… or should look like… in schools and classrooms.

Yet, this is quite hard hard to do because many of us are products of the education system ourselves. Which means we have 20, 30, 40+ years in the current paradigm – both as students and then as educators. This can make it very difficult for us to stand outside the system in order to objectively and critically analyze it.

So I think it’s crucial that we continue to provoke our own thinking, and each other’s thinking, about these concepts. And one of the best ways we can do that is by choosing to expose ourselves and each other to provocations. Different stimuli that make us confront our own thoughts and feelings and presumptions and biases. Things that make us not only think, but also feel. Things that provoke our emotions, as a way to notice, explore and understand our own thinking.

Over the past year I’ve been slowly collecting an array of provocative quotes, tweets, images, cartoons and sketchnotes that I’ve come across that have provoked my own thinking and emotions. I’ve begun to share them in the workshops I lead about student agency to help other educators confront their thinking and feelings too. So I thought, why not share them here as well!?

So here is my personal collection of student agency provocations to get us, as a larger education community, feeling… thinking… discussing… not just about the “how” of student agency, but more importantly about the “why”.

(Links to more provocations)

Agency and the rise of “new power” (article)

Sir Ken Robinson – Bring on the learning revolution (Ted Talk)

Sir Ken Robinson – Do schools kill creativity? (Ted Talk)

7 Sins of our Forced Education System (article)

What works can hurt – side effects in education (academic journal) (and keynote speech)

The Future of Human Work is Imagination, Creativity and Strategy (article)

The role agency plays in happy children (article)

What kids need from grown-ups, but aren’t getting (article)

10 provocative quotes from “Deschooling Society” (article)

The case for the self-driven child (book review/interview with author)

Why school is not ready for us (Tedx Talk)

What skills will employers value in 2020? (article)

Kids don’t fail school… school fails kids (article)

Are we ready for exponential change (video)

What works may hurt – side effects in education (video)

What student agency provocations would you add to the collection?

What has helped provoke your thinking about power, compliance, control, freedom and children’s rights?

Student Agency Resources

Recently on Twitter I shared a Google Doc where I have been collecting and collating anything and everything I can find about student agency over the past few years – blog posts, videos, images, podcasts, slideshows, academic journals, articles and more.

Screen Shot 2018-08-19 at 4.16.28 PM.png

And I’ve received a really positive response from educators around the world, appreciative of the resources. Since I know not everyone is on Twitter, I thought I’d share the same resources here to hopefully reach even more educators wishing to deepen their understanding and practice of respecting and supporting student agency!

If you prefer the pretty, colour coded Google Doc click here. 

If not, check out the links below. 

Happy learning!  

Resource Categories:

  1. The “WHY” behind student agency
  2. Agency in General
  3. General “How To’s” – Strategies for Upping the Agency
  4. Students Setting Up the Learning Space:
  5. Students Planning Units:
  6. Students Planning their Day/Timetables:
  7. Students Owning Assessment:
  8. Student Voice/Democratic Process:
  9. Student Agency and Literacy:
  10. Student Agency in Early Years:
  11. Student Agency and Specialist Subjects:
  12. Student Agency and homework:
  13. Teacher Agency:
  14. Examples of Schools/Classes/Teachers Supporting Student Agency:
  15. Agency vs. school structures and systems:

 

  1. The “WHY” behind student agency:

Sir Ken Robinson – Bring on the learning revolution (Ted Talk)

Sir Ken Robinson – Do schools kill creativity? (Ted Talk)

7 Sins of our Forced Education System (article)

What works can hurt – side effects in education (academic journal) (and keynote speech)

The Future of Human Work is Imagination, Creativity and Strategy (article)

The role agency plays in happy children (article)

Who owns the learning in your classroom? (blog post)

Why is agentic learning important (article)

5 lessons on “learning” (blog post)

What kids need from grown-ups, but aren’t getting (article)

10 provocative quotes from “Deschooling Society” (article)

The case for the self-driven child (book review/interview with author)

The similarities between school and prison (comic)

Is real education reform possible? If so, how? (article)

Self-directed learning is the pursuit of happiness (article)

Why school is not ready for us (Tedx Talk)

What skills will employers value in 2020? (article)

Kids don’t fail school… school fails kids (article)

7 things that happen when students own their own learning (video) (and visual)

The difference between school and “real life” (sketchnote image)

WANTED: Professional Learners (article)

Are we ready for exponential change (video)

The Science of the Individual = The Case for Agency (compilation of research)

 

  1. Agency in General:

What is “agency” in the Enhanced PYP (graphic and short summary)

What is student agency and why should we care? (blog post)

10 questions in pursuit of learner agency (blog post)

The year of agency (article)

Developing student agency improves equity and access (blog post)

Student agency? Teacher Agency? School Agency? (blog post)

What is student agency (blog post)

‘Student Agency’ is not something you give or take (article)

#student agency (Twitter hashtag)

Making the shift from engagement to empowerment (video and blog post)

The art and science of developing student agency (article)

What is student agency? (Academic research)

The complexity of learner agency (academic research)

Don’t say agency unless you really mean it! (blog post)

Play at “agency” (article)

Misinterpreting Student Agency (article)

Traditional Approach vs. Agency-Supportive Approach (image)

What’s the difference between “engagement” and “empowerment” (visual)

Defining Learner Agency (blog post)

Choices for children – how and when to let children decide (blog post)

Learner Agency: Beyond the Buzzword (video workshop)

Living with Agency – beyond agency as a learner (blog post)

 

  1. General “How To’s” – Strategies for Upping the Agency

7 Ways to Promote More Choice in Compulsory Schooling (blog post)

5 ways to promote student agency (blog post)

Supporting Student Agency (blog post)

Supporting Student Agency – Take Two! (blog post)

Strategies for Supporting Voice, Choice and Ownership (Google Slides Presentation)

Let students teach (blog post)

How to reimagine schools (video series)

Opt-in lessons (blog post)

Learning to Self-Manage: Autonomy and Intrinsic Motivation (Harvard Article)

 

  1. Students Setting Up the Learning Space:

Preparing for students to set up the classroom (blog post)

Example of students setting up their classroom (blog post)

Teacher spaces vs. Student spaces (blog post)

Students setting up their own learning spaces (podcast)

Gleanealy School flexible learning spaces (video)

The boards are down (blog post)

Creating Spaces (blog post)

What an agency-supportive first week of school could look like (blog post)

 

  1. Students Planning Units:

Inviting students to teachers’ planning meetings (blog post)

The blank unit planner project (blog post)

Involving students in planning the lines of inquiry (blog post)

Involving students in planning for inquiry (blog post)

Student-led development of lines of inquiry (blog post)

Encouraging students to plan a unit (blog post)

Agency and the UOI (blog post)

Student-Planned UOIs (blog post)

Student-Planned UOIs: An Update (blog post)

 

  1. Students Planning their Day/Timetables:

Who should be writing the day plans? (blog post)

Student Written Day Plans (blog post)

How and why we let students create their own timetables (blog post)

Students making their own timetables (video)

Students Design their own school days (video & article)

Clear my schedule! (blog post)

Handing timetable reigns over to students (blog post)

 

  1. Students Owning Assessment:

Assessment done with students, not to students (blog post)

Should students be writing their own reports? (blog post)

Forced feedback vs. found feedback (blog post)

Co-constructing success criteria (blog post)

Rethinking exams in MYP (blog post)

What happens when students design their own assessments (article)

Student Written Report Cards (blog post)

Choice Boards – A Shift in Ownership (blog post)

Learning – Who gets to define success? (blog post)

Agency in assessment (blog post)

 

  1. Student Voice/Democratic Process:

Report Cards for Teachers (blog post)

School – a more fair and free place to learn (blog post)

How democratic is your classroom? (blog post)

What do we mean by “student voice”? (collection of short videos)

Continuum of ownership (image)

Student Voice – Our School’s Most Underutilized Resource (blog post)

When students have real power (blog post)

Respecting and Responding to Student Voice (blog post)

Continuum of Ownership (Sketchnote Visual)

More Agency in Student-Led Conferences (blog post)

 

  1. Student Agency and Literacy:

Student agency vs. reading instruction (blog post)

Reading “rules” we would never follow as adult readers (blog post)

On reading tasks (blog post)

Can I just read now!? (cartoon)

 

  1. Student Agency in Early Years:

Agency in Early Years (webinar)

Supporting Learner Agency in the Early Years (blog post)

Inside the world’s best kindergarten (article)

Promoting agency in early childhood (pdf newsletter)

Early Years Learning – Agency in Practice (pdf)

A sense of agency in early years (PDF)

Involving young children in decision making (PDF)

Respecting Students’ Agency and Rights to Participation (Academic Journal)

Engaging with children’s voices (article)

Promoting independence and agency in early childhood (brochure)

Examining learner agency in your setting (list of criteria)

Simple Moments (blog post)

Unstructured Play is critical for kids (article)

 

  1. Student Agency and Specialist Subjects:

Student agency in PE (blog post)

Personalized learning in PE (blog post)

Agency – a paradigm shift in the role of the library (blog post)

Voice, choice and ownership in the art classroom (blog post)

Agency in Visual Arts (blog)

Technology isn’t necessary in personalizing learning (blog post)

Launch Cycle – A framework for design thinking (video)

Examining learner agency in your setting (list of criteria)

 

  1. Student Agency and homework:

An inquiry into homework (blog post)

Home Learning – Student-Led Debate (blog post)

Student-Led Homework (blog post)

 

  1. Teacher Agency:

10 ways for leaders to encourage agency (blog post)

5 ways to increase teacher agency (blog post)

#teacheragency (Twitter hashtag)

Self-directed PD (blog post)

Personalized Professional Learning (blog post)

Personalized Professional Learning Take 2 (blog post)

Born to Learn – Moving beyond school reform to educational transformation (website)

Some thoughts on PD about agency (blog post)

Ideas for more agentic PD (blog post, podcast, visual)

How to lead an evolution through inquiry-based leadership (blog post)

Agency-Based Professional Development (blog post)

Agency As and For PD (blog post)

School Leaders… knowing when to follow the rules, bend the rules, break the rules (blog post)

Leading like a robot, or a rebel? (blog post)

Evolution Starts Here: Inquiry-Based Leadership (blog post)

 

  1. Examples of Schools/Classes/Teachers Supporting Student Agency:

Building Agency (video)

How schools develop student agency (blog post)

A year of supporting student agency (blog post)

Example of agency within units of inquiry, literacy and math (webinar min. 23 – 50)

Summerhill School (website)

Windsor House School (website)

Supporting Student Agency Take Two! (blog post)

Project Planning Paralysis (blog post)

Templestow School (video)

Studio 5: Breaking Down Moulds (podcast)

Already Breaking Moulds – Studio 5 (Learning2 Talk)

Studio 5 – What have we just walked into? (blog post)

Studio 5 (website)

Be the change you want to see in High School – article

How students create motivationally supportive learning environments for themselves (academic research)

Templestow High School (podcast)

FLOW21 – Western Academy of Bejing (website)

Voices of the alternative education movement (video)

Unschooling movement (written interview and podcast interview)

No Grades. No Timetable. Berlin Schools Turn Teaching Upside Down (article)

Examples of learner agency in early years (padlet)

Gleanealy School (short video)

Studio 3: Skills first approach (blog post)

Student Agency, Change and Pushing Boundaries (blog post)

Futures Academy ISB (article)

Innovation Institute SAS (website)

Purdue- Trying to upend the traditional highschool model

My pragmatic journey to voice and choice in the high school classroom (article)

Elon Musk Tinkers with Education (article)

 

  1. Agency vs. school structures and systems:

Who is the God of Curriculum and what does he/she have against student agency? (article)

Learning targets (blog post)

Flexible Scheduling (article)

Standards – Why realizing the full potential of education requires a fresh approach (article)

Breaking the mould of assemblies (blog post)

Timetables – the enemy of creativity (blog post)

Feeling backwards about backwards design (blog post)

The untouchables (blog post)

Breaking away from the homeroom mould (blog post)

Accept a piece of homework, even if it’s 10 years late.

This post was originally posted in my blog Ser y Estar.

I started teaching when I was 22 years old. I used to teach EFL in Mexico, and many times, as I was getting my class ready, I was asked if I knew were the teacher was. I moved from teaching EFL at language institutes to teaching Foreign Language/Language B/Language Acquisition and later on Language and Literature at a bilingual school in 2002. At that time, I also collaborated in a Cultural Radio Station, and was doing theater. This is the first time I ever write about my journey in a blog entry.

I used to teach in High School, and was one of the youngest teachers at the school where I used to teach. I used to think that being young was what helped me connect with students. Then I started thinking that being involved in the radio and in theater and always having something to talk about is what helped me bond with them. But it was later when I stared developing the pleasure of listening to my students’ stories and dreams when I think I started shaping the form of the teacher I am now.

It was 2006; at school, discussing the book “Memoirs of a Geisha” and making comparisons with the movie was a ‘hot topic’ with my students, especially when I introduced them to a telenovela that was popular when I was a child: Oyuki’s Sin, a Mexican Telenovela based in a Japanese context- those were the days of real creativity. The best part of our discussion emerged from looking into “what may happen when a foreign context (Japan) was used to give life to a story whose characters were very Mexican?” I don’t think I was even aware of the word ‘inquiry’ at that time, let alone interdisciplinary learning, but it just felt so right to do things that weren’t necessarily just about ‘language’ in a traditional conception.

Thus, we started talking about how we could use one of our favorite stories originally written in Spanish and use Japan (since we were talking about a lot) as a context. The objective was to write a theater proposal for a group of potential sponsors, in the hope that they would agree to finance our play. The exchange of ideas was great; students were speaking without my constant reminders. It was noisy, but it was meaningful. Questions navigated the waves of energy in the classroom: What colors would we use? What language would characters use? How could we choose the best names for our characters?

I invited a few Art teachers and a few others from the school of Marketing to serve as the potential sponsors, and my students presented their projects to them. Needless to say, my students were petrified, but they knew what they had to say so well, that once they felt how their ideas impacted their audience, they gained confidence and managed to get the fictional aid they were aiming for. I was proud of them, but I was partially unhappy for one of my students was not able to present. He had not finished his proposal and decided not to go to school that day.

I had read descriptions of this student had and seen illustrations of how he envisioned his stage (See below). When I checked my email and saw his apologies for not being in school and asking me if he could submit this task later, I could not say no. We had invested so much thinking and energy in making this happen that everyone deserved to show their work. Sadly, due to work of his father, they had to leave the city a few weeks later. I had not yet received “his homework”. I left Mexico in 2007, and I never saw what this student of mine could have produced.

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The incomplete homework I received via email in 2006.

I had resisted joining Facebook, but gave in when I found it practical to help me connect with my friends and family in Mexico. I soon started connecting with past students of mine too. Obviously, I connected with this student I have been talking about as well. We never discussed that homework again. Our passion for music, cinema, and literature remained the main topic of our conversations.

Then all of a sudden, a few months ago, as I was reminiscing on my experience doing theater, and as he shared how he has taken the short films he’s made to films like San Sebastian and even Cannes, that legendary homework came up and he said: “I actually have to show you something; it’s not red; it’s not Japanese… But there is a Japanese face, and it has a Japanese title (Tomoki= Wise Tree)”. A deadline that was not missed, and a late submission have never been more welcome. He had done this 2 years ago, and I was seeing how his life experience had transformed what he did with paper and paint into a beautiful universe of light, movement and image.

I had to wait 11 years for that incomplete moment to come to a closure, and the wait has been so worthy. As I reflect on what I value in my journey as an educator, relationships always comes as a high-ranking value (maybe the highest). I believe that a lot of the ideas I come up with and the journeys I design make sense and HAPPEN because they are designed for the students I have at that moment, they are never replicas of something I did before.

In 2006 I used my blog to write about my theater journey. However, here is one of my very first blog entries about education. I remember that I started to write a reflection about one of the female characters in the play I was participating in and could not conclude it. I changed the content of the blog and wrote a note of appreciation for my students. In retrospective, I think that the day I wrote the blog post linked above was that day when I realized I wanted to be the educational version of Peter Pan: I wanted to stay a learner… I wanted to stay curious and full of possibilities at heart… Rebel at heart.

Nurture what matters: Get outside and play!

Every weekend I go to my favourite place to play. A two hour drive south of Luanda is a great beach with consistently fun surf. On this morning, I stand on the beach crunching on my apple – sweet and salty, the fruit mingling with the salt water still dripping in my mouth; a salt crust forming on my skin where the water is already evaporating in the 9 am sun. The water’s starting to get busier as it does on Sundays and a family from my school has already arrived with their two kids out in the water for their surf lessons.

I spot the older one in the water and notice an approaching wave. Under my breath, I cheer him on. “Paddle, paddle! Up! Nice!” He surfs a great wave, cruising along the face. I can see his face from where I am and it’s a picture of intense concentration mingled with joy, excitement, and maybe some disbelief. He surfs the wave for a long time adjusting his speed by shifting his weight on the board and making small changes in his position on the wave, anticipating the cresting water. As he’s falling off the wave, he throws his hands in the air with excitement, celebrating his wave. I smile to myself and give a nod of approval.

As I write this, my mind is going through all the learning that happened in that moment and how it translates to the classroom and life. In surfing, we talk about “reading a wave.” That means that you can determine where a wave will break, the force it will exert on you, how to use the force to generate speed as you surf it, when to avoid a wave, and more. In a broad sense, this might be considered water literacy with reading waves, a small piece of a much bigger puzzle. Much like literacy in other areas, it requires a lot of practice. Along with reading waves, this student is learning about ocean currents and water safety. These are skills that might help him or others stay safe around water in the future. As his mom pointed out to me, the lessons are also helping him learn Portuguese as his instructor is a Portuguese speaker and local Angolan. Finally, he is developing certain attributes that will contribute to his growth as a person and lifelong learner. From surfing, he’s learning resilience, commitment, respect for the ocean, appreciation for nature and his host country, and the joy of learning something new.

I finish my apple, take a drink of water, and pick up my board to head back out. As I’m walking out, my student walks out of the water with his board and begins walking back up the beach toward the point, joining my path. “Nice wave!” I say to him.

“Oh, hi Mr. Brodie. You saw it? That was my best wave ever! I rode it for a long time!!” He goes on to explain to me what he’s learned about the waves at this beach, how they break, and how best to surf them.

And then he says something that is music to my ears.

“You know, Mr. Brodie, we have a good surfing community now. A bunch of the other Year 7s come a lot and I come every weekend. It’s really fun! Thanks for the field trip.”

You see, for Year 7 outdoor education, I planned an overnight trip to this beach and coordinated lessons with the local surf school. The trip was a resounding success and the students had a part in organizing it. Through trips like this, students are given opportunities to step out of their comfort zone and engage in new experiences. Sometimes these are as simple as leaving the compound (here anyway) and experiencing part of your host country.

I’ve also recently started a course with about 20 of my colleagues called “Exploring What Matters: The Action for Happiness Course.” Last week we learned about the 10 keys to happier living. Reflecting on my experience with this trip and the subsequent discussions I’ve had with students and teachers involved, I’ve realized that at least five of these keys were part of the learning experience.

This helps explain why on each of the three excursions we have taken the year group on, I’ve been struck by their growth as a community and the depth of learning that happens. These hands on, real world experiences are so impactful for our students. Especially in the middle years as their world view broadens and navigating situations with their peers takes on the utmost importance. I can’t help but wonder why we don’t do this more.

How often do you take your students out? Do you play too? How would your ideal program incorporate experiential learning, excursions, and play at different ages? What examples do you have of students developing sustained passions? And, finally, where does student agency fit into this?

Would love to hear thoughts on this. Comment or tweet at me – @ChrisRBrodie

The Shift: A Journey in Mindset and Discomfort with the Comfortable

Shifts have been a big part of my career as an educator. International educators, and many of our students, experience this much more than our national counterparts: shifts in school culture, shifts in curriculum, shifts in colleagues, and shifts in education trends. One shift I’ve wanted to make completely but have really just been dipping my toes in is student agency.

You see, while I wouldn’t call myself an early adopter, I’m enthusiastic to break the traditional mold and try things that might reach more of my students. As someone who loves to learn but struggled with my traditional education, I’m eager to find as many ways as I can to coax the love of learning out of my students. When I first experimented with student agency, Gary Stager, author of Invent to Learn, paid our school a visit and encouraged coding in the classroom. But it wasn’t the coding or use of Microworlds that stood out to me, it was one thing he said, almost off-the-cuff, “Why not let kids make their own schedules?” This got me thinking, ya why not? I was teaching Grade 2 at the time and was quite new to the PYP and international education but was being encouraged by my leadership to take risks like this. So, I experimented, saw the merits and challenges and put it in my toolbox. I then continued on with my learning of the PYP, getting ready for accreditation, and giving students ownership where I felt I could – working within the system.

At the time, I was not aware of the term “student agency,” yet, the concept always seemed to come up during professional discussions. Especially for teachers new to the PYP, letting go of control was scary and the concept of student agency was being grappled with in questions like,

“What about the curriculum?”

“How do I meet the standards and have student-driven inquiry?”

“But those concepts are so broad, what do I teach?

“How do I know what to teach?”

“How should I schedule inquiry time?”

“How do I plan for that?”

You get the picture.

Shifting to MYP was a considerable change; more so than I expected or realized at the time. Unfortunately, it meant that in the first year, I wasn’t dipping my toe into the pool of student agency as much or taking it out of my toolbox very often. Sure, I was still having my students set their own learning goals and encouraging student inquiries. However, it seemed to fall flat as I was doing what I was told was the way to deliver English Language Acquisition units and assessments. But the curriculum and assessments seemed to be getting in the way of learning instead of enhancing or encouraging. When I found myself feeling kind of bored, I got concerned. If I was bored, my students definitely were too. This can’t be right! Then the work began: rewrite units, have students write units, change assessment practices, and put the learning in the students’ hands more often. Thanks to Taryn Bond-Clegg’s posts, I was reminded of my toolbox and a colleague and I instituted a workshop structure during a unit in which students were exploring creativity through poetry, spoken word, and songs. It was a real success and gave the students and teachers many great learning experiences.

During this shift back toward the students and away from the institution, I have been reminded of a blog post by Jonathan Field about school leadership and I think it applies just as well to teaching. He says, “start with a YES and see where it takes you.” Recently I’ve found the word “Yes” becoming a bigger part of my daily vocabulary and it feels great. How often do you say “yes” to your students?