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?

Advertisements

Reflection, goal setting and TIM

This post was originally shared on my blog, Honor Learners.

We have been working towards helping our Kindergarten learners develop an understanding of who they are as learners.  A key element in supporting our learners to take ownership of their learning are the skills of reflection and goal setting.

As part of our writing workshop, we conference with our learners during and after writing.  We encourage them to identify their sunshine, things they did well, and their areas for growth, what they still need to learn. Initially, this required lots of modelling, and now most learners confidently engage in these reflections.

We decided to use the same model of sunshine and growth for our three way conferences. As teachers, we created a Seesaw activity (link) and decided the criteria. However, after being challenged to consider what choices we as teachers were making for our learners that they could make for themselves, our plans changed. I asked my collaborative team if I could lead a lesson that would result in the learners making the decision about the criteria.

With their support, I planned a three part lesson using the Torrance Incubation Method (TIM) and I incorporated some elements of Creative Problem Solving (CPS.) The TIM model is based around incorporating a creativity skill, or approach to creativity as I prefer to call them, into each part of your lesson: heightening anticipation, deepening expectations, and extending the learning. I found the following this resource useful when trying to understand the model myself.

The approach to creativity I chose to integrate into this lesson was ‘putting it into context.’ As we heightened anticipation, we explained the why behind the conference and asked learners for help to decide what learning they wanted to share. As we deepened expectations, we used the creativity tool ‘stick ’em up brainstorming’ to generate ideas of what learning we could share. Finally, in the extending learning, we converged our ideas because we had to take into consideration the length of each conference. We supported learners, by grouping ideas or creating clusters. Then we voted on some or rephrased a few more. We found that the criteria developed and selected by learners was very similar to that of the teachers. The difference was, that they seemed to expect more from themselves!

As a reflection of the conferences, I found that they were the most productive conferences I had been a part of. Most learners were honest with themselves and everyone had goals to work towards. As a teacher, we just need to ensure that we revisit these goals and use them to guide our learning.

To take this further, I decided to plan a series of TIM lessons to focus around goal setting in writing. I decided to work with a group of emergent + writers, who are demonstrating readiness by applying initial sounds and more to their writing.  using a variation of the the gradual increase of independence. The tool was introduced to us by Taryn BondClegg (@makingoodhumans) and designed by Suzzane Kitto (@OrenjiButa) who has shared her resources here.

My variation to the gradual increase of independence was to make it more visual for younger learners and link it to our sunshine and growth model.

I chose to turn the success criteria for writing that our learners have been generating into visual, movable cards. I was also able to personalize the process by the number and content of the cards.

You can get a copy here.

The learning outcome for the lesson was for learners to self assess themselves as writers. The creativity goal was to ’embrace the challenge.’  We heightened anticipation with a word hunt that we then had to puzzle together as a sentence. In the deepening expectation phase, I we explored the metaphor of seeds needing lots of help and sunshine being something that helps seeds grow. I then challenged learners to self assess their learning. The final part of the lesson, extending the learning, was the challenge to find evidence of the criteria in their writing books. This led to interesting discussions about what we were really doing well and things we needed to work on to improve our writing.

For the subsequent lesson, I decided to help learners narrow their focus, by choosing one goal to work on at a time. The creativity goal I chose to integrate was ‘making it swing, make it ring.’ First, I integrated a lot of kinesthetic whole body movement into our phonics lesson prior to writing. We also played a hand mirroring game to heighten anticipation. To deepen expectations, we referred back to our gradual increase of independence and took our discussions from the previous lesson further. Learners began to realize that they could keep doing the things they did well, and spend more attention on what they thought were shared or guided goals. I suggested working on one of those goals at a time might be more productive. Finally, to extend the learning, we came up with actions for each of the criteria we had chosen. The great thing was that each learner had ownership over the goal they chose.

I have begun to see that some learners are really supported by focusing on one goal at a time and are keen to prove it to me during our conferencing.  As I conference with learners, I ask if they want to share their goals with their family. As learners share their goals, they are adding an element of accountability to their learning.  Some have felt ready to do this, and I have embedded the creativity skill of ‘highlighting the essence,’ as I support learners to share both the process and their goals with their families. With permission, here is a link, to one learners’ goal sharing.

Through this series of lessons, I have been embedding approaches to creativity using TIM and I have been applying my own learning to promote learner agency. I found that identifying and embedding the creativity skills or approaches to learning, made lessons more engaging. My next step is to make these approaches to creativity more explicit in our teaching and learning.

I have moved from co-constructed success criteria with learners to learners have interactions with their success criteria and developing a much deeper understanding of how the success criteria supports learning. Learners have made choices and have begun to take action. For those who have not taken action yet, they are beginning to see the need to take ownership for their learning as we reflect and conference, and I am confident they will when they are ready. In addition to engaging in goal setting, learners have been learning about goal setting. With lots of opportunities to choose act and reflect upon goals, it is my hope that our young kindergarten learners will have the skills they need to make informed choices, take risks and continue to grow and learn.

As a final reflection about learner agency, I do not want to say that I am releasing control of the learning, as that is not something I ever had. I would say that am making a conscious effort to support learners to have ownership and accountability of their learning.

Parents + Student-Directed Learning = ?

Originally posted on my personal blog empower2b.

So this week I was faced with the challenge of introducing the unfamiliar approach of student-directed learning to the families in my class. I knew many had heard about it through their children and was already getting many questions about it. I assured them that all would be answered and addressed at my Back To School Night presentation before the students were too far into the process of establishing their routines.

I know my class this year and their excited little selves were going home exclaiming things such as:

  • I don’t have to do any math if I don’t want to!
  • I get to do what I want, ALL of the time!
  • Ms. Mel TRUSTS ME to take responsibility for my learning, I am in charge!

Now I am not a parent but I KNOW that if I was and I was being told these things by my 4th grader I would be wondering what the hell was going on up there at the school! So I had to make a plan and address a few key points at Back To School Night that would reassure them that I have not devised a plan that would allow me to sit on Facebook (NB.I don’t even have an account) while the kids had free reign over their day!

STEP 1: What are the key takeaways that I wanted all parents to leave understanding at the end of my 30-minute presentation? This is what I decided were the priority…

  1. The purpose of student-directed learning.
  2. What SDL looks like in the classroom.
  3. How the curriculum requirements are met.
  4. SDL allows me to meet the individual needs of ALL of my students.
  5. SDL enables the students to gain a deep meaning of concepts.
  6. SDL is an authentic way for students to develop skills such as time management.

This is a lot of information to cover in a 30-minute presentation which also requires me to ensure that the parents “get to know me” and the different aspects of the school day. It was time to get creative!

STEP 2: Putting together the presentation.
Over the previous two years, I have presented on how I am creating a student-directed learning environment. These were my starting points of what I was going to put into the presentation. I included many photos of the students during the different stages of the week as well as some clips of the students explaining what their week looks like (last year this was a “Could” do activity for them to include in their portfolios and have come in useful for me as well!).

STEP 3: Creating a hook.

So we always teach the students to “hook their audience”, wouldn’t it be better if I tried to do the same thing? When thinking about explaining the purpose of SDL I took to Twitter to see what I could find that other people were doing and I saw that a teacher had asked their parents to fill out a graph where she was tracking the age the students in her class first started walking. What a fantastic idea (I wish I knew who it came from so I could site this great idea!)! I HAD FOUND MY HOOK!

STEP 4: Presenting to the parents

On the night of Back to School Night, I asked the parents when they arrived to put their child’s name on the graph. It was a great way of explaining to the parents about the value of differentiation. Why is it that we are ok with the students gaining skills as babies at different stages yet we want them to all be learning at the same pace and time when they get to school? The graph enabled them to see that their children all learned to walk, talk, and crawl at different stages.

I highlighted that by allowing the students to be directors of their learning in the classroom they will be able to schedule their tasks when it suits THEIR learning styles. If they find a task challenging they can schedule this at their prime learning time of the day (we have spent a lot of time discussing whether they are morning or afternoon people and how this affects their focus at these times). I also was able to show the parents the different structures in place that the students will be using to help them with the process.

Snip20180915_35Snip20180915_36

I then showed them some of the reflections from the students from last year, including a video of them that a group of students put together for their portfolios at the end of the year. The parents were able to see the ability I will have to offer a more individualized program for their students.

Snip20180915_37Snip20180915_38

Step 5: Parent Feedback

Following back to school night it has been exciting to hear from some parents who came along. Here is what two of them had to say…

“Thank you also for introducing your way of teaching and your ideas about it. I was really impressed and love the idea of being responsible for the students own learning. As a trainer for life balance and relaxation I  – of course – appreciate the idea to somehow adapt the schedule to one’s own biorhythm! It is a quite progressive idea and I LOVE IT and support it!!”

“Thank you for the great presentation you gave on Back to School night. I really appreciated hearing more about your approach and I am excited to follow … development of his schedule and learning this year.”

The most exciting part for me though was the feedback from my students the following day. They were so excited to have been talking with their parents about the different things that they have been doing in the classroom and the new understanding that they have of themselves as learners. This is the best result for me, to have the students connecting with their parents and sharing the learning journey with them.

Step 6: The future

I have invited parents to come in and be involved in the classroom and see how it all works. I believe that an “open door policy” is the best way for the parents to feel included and informed about how their students are learning. I look forward to seeing how the year progresses and am hopeful the parents will be with us for the journey…and now understand that their students are still doing math every day 😉

Agency…Empowering students to direct their own learning

Originally posted on my personal blog empower2b.

In a world that is constantly changing, how is the education system going to evolve? Senge et al. (2012) suggest it is time to move away from the traditional schooling system that originated from the industrial era. This is an opinion is evident in the movement seen in education recently. According to Holland (2015), “…2016 may be the year of student agency — the ability to act independently within a given environment and assume an amount of control and empowerment” (Holland, 2015, para. 1). In the second half of 2018, this self-directed learning movement is gaining momentum as schools and organisations, such as the International Baccalaureate (IB), make student agency the main focus. Pushing outside comfort zones as educators and looking at how to elevate the learning environment for each individual learner is the first step to innovative teaching. (Couros, 2015)

In order to enhance opportunities for students to develop a skill set to enable them to be successful in employment that may not currently exist, educators need to be risk-takers and push past boundaries of the familiar. It is no longer possible to offer the “same” experience that has always been provided and be satisfied and successful professionally. Classroom diversity is also a realistic norm in today’s schools with class populations offering a range in academic level, cultures, beliefs and the life experiences children have had. This is particularly the case in the international school setting and educators need to cater to class populations that do not fit the one-size-fits-all mould. So how? How do schools encourage their educators to create a learning environment that provides individualised programs to ALL students, no matter their needs? When preparing for lessons, how can students be guided to take more responsibility for their learning journey? The answer is agency!

“Students have a sense of “agency” when they feel in control of things that happen around them; when they feel that they can influence events. This an important sense for learners to develop. They need to be active participants in their learning.” (NZ Ministry of Education, 2016)
Couros (2015) states that students “…must learn to collaborate with others from around the world to develop solutions for problems. Even more importantly, our students must learn how to ask the right questions – questions that will challenge old systems and inspire growth.” (Couros, 2015.) The concept of ‘agency’ is not a new educational term; many may argue that teachers have always been looking for ways to individualise learning for their students. John Dewey talked about the importance of student-directed learning in 1938 when he highlighted “that students should assume an active role in their learning process so as to develop the skills for becoming successful members of their communities.” (Holland, 2016, para. 6)  Agency enables all of this to happen!

The IB is currently releasing a series of enhancements to their Primary Years Programme (PYP), and one of the major changes for the programme is the inclusion, and indeed focus, on student agency. The PYP defines agency as being  “… the power to take meaningful and intentional action, and acknowledges the rights and responsibilities of the individual, supporting voice, choice and ownership for everyone in the learning community.” (IBO, 2017) Stevens (2016) believes that creating opportunities for students to have a voice and choice towards their own learning journey enables them to “…feel that that their opinions and ideas are heard and valued by their peers and teachers, they’re much more likely to be engaged with their education.” (Stevens, 2016, para. 1)

Screen Shot 2018-07-05 at 8.23.26 AM

Figure 1. IB PYP enhanced organizing structure. This figure illustrates the structure the PYP will take beginning in 2019.

Through voice and choice students are empowered to have a say in what their learning journey should look like, resulting in them believing that they are in control of their growth. It is difficult to see how you can have agency without empowering the students; in fact, Kearns (2017) suggests that “empowerment is synonymous with agency.” (Kearns, 2017, para. 9)

Levinson (2016) suggests the students of today are using the knowledge and skills that they are developing outside of the classroom to move them forward and often beyond what their teachers are aware of. Enabling a self-directed approach in the classroom allows students to have the agency to use skills to further develop inside the classroom and possibly assisting those they are with.  One goal of agency is student action. Action is an essential element of all IB programmes and can take various forms, such as: social justice lifestyle choices, participation, social entrepreneurship, and advocacy. (IBO, 2017)
Agency can take many different forms and like its purpose with students, enables educators to create an individualised environment in their classrooms. However, in ALL cases where agency is the goal, student-directed learning should always remain the focus. Students will have increased choice and voice throughout their day or in the way they organize their learning. These may include, but are not limited to:

  • Personalising learning through individual schedules
  • Teacher- and student-led workshops that students can sign up for
  • Creating physical learning environments to support the social, physical and emotional well-being
  • Creating a culture of respect in the classrooms in which students feel supported to take risks and be accountable, even when they make mistakes.
  • Collaborating and co-constructing learning and learning goals.
  • Genius Hour / iTime / 20% Time / Passion Projects

Opportunities to create agency in the classroom

When changing the climate of the classroom into one that is focused on being student directed, a fun and empowering place to start is the physical environment. Merrill (2018) states, “Flexible spaces, educators agree, alter the fundamental dynamics of teaching and learning, giving students more control and responsibility, improving academic engagement, and undermining the typical face-forward orientation of the traditional learning environment.” (para.15) When establishing a class climate at the beginning of the year, task the students in the class to “create” their classroom environment (Refer to figure 4 for an example of the classroom environment one class created during a mathematics geometry unit.).

Screen Shot 2018-07-05 at 6.57.15 PM

Figure 2. Taylor (2017) Flexible learning space.  This figure illustrates the results of a student-designed classroom during a transdisciplinary mathematics unit.

 

When teachers create a flexible learning environment the students will be empowered with the agency to develop their weekly goals and to sign up for focused teaching groups with the teachers or with students who believe their enhanced level of understanding will enable them to teach their peers. This will assist them in gaining a greater awareness of their strengths and weaknesses academically and also encourage them to be proactive in deepening their understanding. To assist students in gaining a more accurate self-awareness, they reflect on their learning of the literacy and numeracy achievement standards. They explain their decisions of where to place each standard by providing of their evidence of learning.

 

In his presentation at the Learning 2 conference Sam Sherratt (2018) discussed the importance of moving students away from being compliant and, instead, empowering them to take the lead. Stephen Downes (2010) states, “We need to move beyond the idea that an education is something that is provided for us and toward the idea that an education is something that we create for ourselves.” (Couros, 2015, p. 31) In an upper elementary school classroom, students are taught how to create their own weekly schedule.  Using their weekly goals the students decide upon the focused workshops and tasks that they will undertake throughout the week. With guidance from their teacher students focus on ensuring they have a balance of curriculum areas, a range of independent versus group work opportunities, and also meeting their individual needs with focused instruction.

IMG_0848

Figure 3. Empowered to create. This figure illustrates the student’s taking responsibility to schedule their weekly lessons and sign up for workshops.
Senge (2012) highlights the importance of students learning by being “alive”, and not compartmentalized into subjects that are looked at in isolation. In the IB PYP the focus is on providing the students with a transdisciplinary curriculum where different subjects are taught and connected simultaneously.  “Understanding a world of interdependency and change rather than memorizing facts and striving for right answers” (Senge et al., 2012, p. 65) is the goal. Through the units of inquiry undertaken throughout the year, the focus on content is overtaken by the importance of teaching concepts and skills. It is through the transdisciplinary inquiry that students get to take true control over their learning and achieve a level of learning that is authentic and connected to the wider world. Through asking questions and making connections between the key concepts and the different curriculum areas, the students can gain a realistic understanding of the unit. Assessments are no longer based purely on the content being addressed but instead a reflection of the learning they had made. This learning could be in literacy or maths but also the skills they developed and the connections they had made.

A real example of how agency can lead to authentic action

As students of the United Nations International School (UNIS), there is a level of responsibility to take action and help make improvements in the wider community.  A culture of student-directed learning and agency helps make this process of taking action a more authentic one. As students set their learning goals for the week, throughout the units of inquiry they set action goals that refer to how they can apply their new understandings practically. With teacher guidance, they are encouraged to look to the broader community, outside of the school, and gain different perspectives on the topics they are looking at.

It is through the transdisciplinary inquiry that students get to take true control over their learning and achieve a level of learning that is authentic and connected to the wider world. Let’s consider a real example. Fourth-grade students are looking at the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The teacher introduces the unit and the students ask questions that highlight their wonderings about the topic. Through these discussions and inquiry, the students begin to make connections to the rights of the Vietnamese children that they see outside the school every day. What rights are the local children accessing? What are the different circumstances that affect the rights they have compared to the students at UNIS? Soon the students are exploring a range of different avenues, all connected to the UN convention. They are working individually, in pairs or in small groups. They are emailing the local embassies and UN headquarters asking for information and interviews. They are working with a member of the Vietnamese staff in the school, to organise and attend field trips to the Hanoi Old Quarter to talk with local kids and find out more about them.

All of a sudden their “learning” is real and connected to where they live. They have popped their international school bubble and are seeing the world through a more realistic perspective. Then one day the teacher asks them: “what are you going to do now you have learned all of this?” Brainstorming begins, ideas flow and the excitement levels rise. All of a sudden the question, “As students of the UN, what is my responsibility?” makes sense, and an answer is achievable!

By the end of this unit of inquiry, the students in grade four were taking authentic action! They created social enterprises with a goal of achieving their desired actions towards giving Vietnamese children less fortunate than themselves, access to their rights. The following six weeks, as they worked on their new unit of inquiry, focused on building a small business (in their case, a social enterprise), and keeping in mind their end goal.

Following a successful Grade 4 Market Day, the students jumped straight into planning for their actions. They organised pencil drives for a local charity, went shopping with the school gardener, made gardening kits, and then delivered them to families living on the banks of the Red River; they purchased a Lifestraw water filter and gave it to a small rural community school, and they purchased teddy bears for each of the children in an orphanage in Ho Chi Minh City. The classroom was buzzing and the students were driven!

Upon reflection, students stated that they felt that they had gained more than just an understanding of the content about children’s rights. They stated that their time management skills, communication skills, and collaborative skills developed significantly and allowed them to take more risks. When reflecting on staying with the transdisciplinary, student-directed approach, they unanimously requested to stay with the new classroom approach. The students want to be held accountable for their learning; they want to be in control of their education journey!

For many educators change inevitably brings a sense of loss to those involved and evokes a number of different positive and negative emotions (Fullan, 2001). For innovation to be successful there needs to be collaboration and buy-in from the entire school community. (C. DeLuca, personal communication 2018) By empowering teachers and other members of the school community to have input and a certain degree of voice and choice, more support for the change will be achieved. (A. Richardson, C.Stander, and M.Taylor, personal communication 2018) Transparency and clarity are necessary in order to ensure that students are meeting the requirements that the school asks for. Inviting teachers into those classrooms where the innovation is in operation is a way for them to visualise the reality, see for themselves what it “can look like”, and to give them the opportunity to ask questions and inquire into the possible concerns they may have.

When communicating with parents, an open-door policy is also a strategy that Taylor (2017) suggests is successful. Provide the background and research for the change with an open invitation for them to come and witness the changes for themselves. Ask for feedback prior to the parents coming into the classroom so that you are able to address these areas during the open house. The key is to remember that parents want what is best for their child and their child’s future. Show them the big picture and the evidence of results.

“If innovation is going to be a priority in education, we need to create a culture where trust is the norm.” (Couros, 2015, p. 69) and to do this, educators need to be comfortable playing with the unknown and be ready to make mistakes. As a school community, it is important to value a shared vision that is centered around student learning being current and according to the latest research. The priority should always be on preparing the students for their future, not for a future that is now in the past.

References

Couros, G. (2015). The innovators mindset empower learning, unleash talent, and lead a culture of creativity. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.

Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a Culture of Change. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

Holland, B. (2015, December 9). The Year of Agency. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/the-year-of-agency-beth-holland

International Baccalaureate. (2017, November). The Learner in the enhanced PYP. Retrieved from http://blogs.ibo.org/sharingpyp/files/2017/12/2017-December-The-Learner.pdf.

Kearns, G. (2017, December 11). Why student agency already exists. Retrieved from https://www.renaissance.com/2017/06/01/blog-why-student-agency-already-exists/

Levinson, M. (2016, April 11). Next Generation Learning: Bringing Student Agency Back to Schooling. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/blog/next-generation-learning-student-agency-matt-levinson

Merrill, S. (2018, June 14). Flexible Classrooms: Research Is Scarce, But Promising. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/article/flexible-classrooms-research-scarce-promising

New Zealand Ministry of Education. (2016, November 15). Learner agency. Retrieved from http://nzcurriculum.tki.org.nz/Curriculum-resources/NZC-Online-blog/Learner-agency

Senge, P. M., Cambron-McCabe, N., Lucas, T., Kleiner, A., Smith, B., & Dutton, J. (2012). Schools that learn.: A fifth discipline fieldbook for educators, parents and everyone who cares about education. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group.

Sherratt, S. (2018, April 09). Already breaking moulds: Studio 5. Retrieved from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcM2Sos091Y&list=PLOkeXFURWAFpzz-uzQ-nG-HTv0kq-iy_x&index=7 L2 Talks Europe

Stevens, K. (2016, April 22). 5-Minute Film Festival: Student Voice and Choice. Retrieved from https://www.edutopia.org/film-fest-student-voice-agency

Taylor, M. (2017, December 15). Exciting, authentic, connected…transdisciplinary learning! Retrieved from http://blogs.unishanoi.org/mtaylor/

Where Do I Start????

Changing the way I approached the classroom environment last year completely changed the way I approached my teaching. Letting go of the control I had over where the students sat and how they worked was the first step to me recognizing the power in giving over some control to the students and allowing them to take responsibility for their own learning. By December 2017 I was teaching in an entirely new way that saw less structured scheduling and more voice and choice for my students. I became OBSESSED with reading other peoples ideas and trying them out in my room and I was a skipping record that only talked about the one topic with anyone who would listen to me.

Fast forward to August 2018 and I am STUCK! I have NO IDEA where to begin! I continue to read and see other peoples ideas and love all of them…but where do I start with this new class of students? How do I start the year in the way I closed the previous one? I have to admit I am struggling not to go back to my old ways. I am seeing blogs and tweets about amazing experiences teachers are having in their classrooms as they have their students start on their next learning journey. Disheveled classrooms being created and designed by the learners, tasks being written and undertaken, workshops being offered…the inspiration is endless and I find I have replaced my Facebook (I deactivated my Facebook account over the summer and haven’t looked back!) time suckage with Twitter and blogs…but instead of inspiring me on what I can be doing in my own classroom it is often causing PANIC! Why does it look and seem so easy for these incredible educators and why do I seem to be blocked in finding a way for it to work with my class? I would literally be failing at that point…myself and my new, enthusiastic class of students.

This blog post is not going to be a great one, in fact, I may not even post it…it is me trying to sort out where I am at and where I want to get to, and most importantly, HOW do I get there? On moving up day last school year I sold a great sell to my new class and they have come back raring to go on the student-directed learning journey! My struggle has been how to incorporate the student-directed approach into the community building sessions. How do I introduce the students to the different routines that we will be following and building our new class community while preparing them for a successful transition into a classroom structure that is entirely new to them?

I decided to place a greater focus on the students looking at themselves as learners and who they are as learners. Instead of talking about general aspects of their lives with each other they had a great focus on who they are in their role as a student. The students completed a MICUP (Multiple Intelligence Checklist for Upper Primary) and identified the different categories of intelligence that are their strengths and those that are more challenging. They interviewed each other about their learning preferences when working in the classroom (asking questions such as what time of the day do you feel more focused?). They then used the answers to create “Learner Profiles” of themselves.

IMG_6682

As a class, we brainstormed what we believe our roles are in creating a successful learning environment. We looked at the UN values and the school values and used our understandings in conjunction with what we brainstormed about the ideal classroom and we wrote our own list of values that we will strive to achieve (the students decided to use values rather than work agreements, rules or essential agreements).

 

IMG_6684 2

As we worked through all of these tasks and activities we continued to reflect on our key learning objective of “I can explain who I am as a learner and how I will work in my class community to achieve success in grade 4.” At the end of the second week of school, we did a class health check where we reflected on how we were feeling as a class. It was a great math lesson where we created criteria and then followed the data handling process of collecting data, recording data, analyzing data and drawing conclusions. The class thought we are doing a great job as 90% rated themselves as feeling between a 7 and 10 out of 10, however, we quickly agreed that it is not a success until everyone in the class are feeling this way. By looking at our class values they quickly came up with an area of focus for next week and possible ways we can help everyone feel emotionally safe in the classroom.

IMG_6819

As I sit here and procrastinate planning for the week ahead I am thinking of where to next…pre-assessments are 90% done, the classroom community is established and now just needs time…but what is the regular school week going to look like? What I am realizing is that I am needing to practice what I preach in my class…I need to be the open-minded one and I need to be balanced when I am preparing for the week ahead. Most importantly though I need to be the risk taker!

How are you going with your start to the year? What has worked and what have you learned to do differently next time?

2018 – A great year for taking risks

It’s getting close to that time of year again (for many of us around the world anyway) – a fresh start, another chance, a do-over… aka a new school year.

For some of us it’s already here. For others it’s just around the corner. For some it’s still a few weeks away. But regardless of which, it’s coming.

And for some reason the start of this new school year feels different, it feels special. It feels extra hopeful and extra full of possibility!

It feels like the perfect time for all of us educators to be risk-takers and do something truly significant to shift the paradigm of what education is to what education could be.

But what’s so special about this year?

Here are four reasons I can think of (although I’m sure there are more!)

1. The momentum from last year. Momentum from last year really started rolling within the IB community in March with the annual World and Heads conference. There was a collective buzz, a sense of joint purpose and a burst of energy towards truly making a change in education.

2. The start of a new school year. Even though there was a palpable momentum that percolated last spring, taking a risk with only 3 months of school left can seem daunting, and for some pointless. So this new year presents the perfect time to harness that momentum from the conference last spring, but at a time where everything is new, possible, and malleable.

3. A growing community of support. Something that was able to take hold at the end of the last school year was an amazing community of like-minded educators, dissatisfied with the current state of education and willing to take a risk and swim upstream in order to reimagine education. There are currently 170 authors from 35 countries on this blog who share ideas, struggles and reflections with one another, in a challenging yet supportive online community. Swimming upstream when you feel like you are the only one doing it can feel lonely, scary and frustrating. Swimming upstream and knowing you have the encouragement and support of hundreds of educators from all over the world feels completely different.

img_3619

4. The release and launch of the Enhanced PYP. A common deterrent for taking risks can be the fear of getting in trouble from a supervisor or administrator who may have a different philosophy or a less developed understanding of progressive pedagogy. The launch of the Enhanced PYP this fall will definitely help with this. Swimming upstream is a whole lot easier with programmatic backing! Being able to explain, justify and defend risks will feel completely different now that the PYP has slapped the word AGENCY in big, bold letters in the center circle.

img_3617

What risks shall you take?

Some people know exactly what they want to do, but have just been waiting for the perfect time. Well now is your time – go for it!

Others may want to make a change but are unsure of what to do.

Here are some ideas:

Start with your own why. If you start by focusing on the what or how of the risk, you’re missing the most important part.

“I’m going to try X this year!”

“Why?”

“… I don’t really know. I heard about someone else doing it so I wanted to try”

Transplanted risks and innovations are usually the ones that flop and fail. Innovations and risks need to be contextual to the school, the country, the students, the teacher. Here are some tips about how to grow your own innovation.

Identify opportunities for growth in your own teaching practice. If you’re having trouble growing your own innovation, a good starting point is self-reflection. Find out what areas of your teaching practice already support student agency, as well as where there may be space for more student agency. Here is a link to a questionnaire I created to help educators find their own areas of growth.

Seek guidance from experts. If you are set in your why and know the areas in which you need to grow, but aren’t sure exactly what first steps to take, try consulting this blog post from Kath Murdoch where she offers 10 tangible suggestions that up the voice, choice and ownership within the first weeks of school.

And if you’re still not sure now is the time to take some risks, read these encouraging words from the wise Sir Ken Robinson. We are the system, so only we have the power to change it.

To wrap things up, I’ll leave you with a quote that my Head of School shared with our staff a few days ago:

What risks are you willing take this year to try and create a more happy, healthy, humane, relevant and significant year of learning for your students?