Agency PD – A First Attempt

A few weeks ago I shared my thinking about how best to structure professional development focused around student agency, and this past weekend I had a chance to test it out! I spent the day with an amazing group of passionate and dedicated educators all committed to upping the amount of voice, choice and ownership in the work they do to support their learners in their specific role.

Here is how it went…

The Before:

The first thing I knew I needed to do was get to know them as learners. So I sent out a quick Google Form that helped me begin to understand who they are and what they are hoping for from our time together.

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The results were very informative and helped me put together a day of professional learning about agency tailored to their needs.

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From there I focused on building a workshop where they were able to not only learn about learner agency, but learn through experiencing their own agency as learners. All of my planning and decisions were guided by the question, “How can I help them learn about student agency” instead of focusing on “How can I teach them about student agency”.

Before the day of the workshop I also spent some time putting together a virtual learning space, our own Google Classroom, to help distribute documents and resources.

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I knew that not all participants were comfortable on Google Classroom, so I insured that there were plenty of other options and avenues for accessing resources and using some of the templates.

For example, sending out links via email:

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And having shorty links visible when they arrived the day of the workshop:

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The During:

When participants arrived the day of, I made sure they all had access to the presentation slides – which were editable – as there were a few activities where everyone would need to contribute thoughts and ideas.

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First we started with a simple activity to help them connect with each other, the topic of the workshop and their own experience as a student.

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Then I was transparent about the structure of the workshop – Choose, Act, Reflect – and my thinking behind it.

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The “Choose” Portion of the day…

To help them self-assess where they are in their own journey of understanding and supporting student agency, I used a Gradual Increase of Independence (adapted from the original design by @orenjibuta)

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Next I guided them in using the data from their own self-assessment to create their own personalized success criteria for the day

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Then, we co-constructed a menu about documenting learning – starting with the “why”, and moving to possible “hows” and “whats”

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Everyone took a turn to share how they were planning to document their learning throughout the day, and it was so great to see so many different approaches!

After that, it was time for them to plan their day! I took some time to give them an overview of all the different possible options that could support their learning throughout the day.

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I briefly explained what my optional workshops were about and how the conferences would work:

Who the Skype experts were:

I helped them centralize the things they might want to discuss with one another:

I previewed the resource document that I built for them.

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And then… they were off planning!!! (using their success criteria and self-assessment to inform the choices they made about their learning)

The “Act” Portion of the day…

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Optional Workshops:

1. The “Why” Behind Student Agency

First we started with an opportunity for them to tune into their own understanding of what they think student agency is.

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Next we moved into a “Tug of War” to help them debate and discuss a variety of underlying beliefs, assumptions and philosophies connected to agency.

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Finally, we did Chalk Talk to help them engage with some provocative stimuli to poke and provoke their thinking and emotions further. (Warning – some stimuli are quite extreme!)

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2. Transferring Decision into the Hands of Learners

First, I had everyone brainstorm all the decisions they make in their role as an educator

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Then, I had them use a quote from the Empower book to challenge them to think about which of those decisions learners “should” or “could” be making themselves.

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Then I invited them to visit other groups and leave some feedback to push each other’s thinking a little further.

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Finally, I had them reflect on any shifts in their thinking as a result of the activity.

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3. Self-Reflection and Planning for Action

First I introduced a few self-reflection tools, to help them see where they are already respecting and supporting student agency and also where there might be some space to make some changes in their practice to work towards even more respect and support for student agency.

I used a sketchnote from @terSonya

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and a questionnaire that I developed

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Once they had some time to engage with the tools, I supported them in using their self-reflection to develop a personal action plan

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Optional Guided Groups or Conferences:

I only had one conference slot filled about agency vs. the curriculum. We sat and chatted for 15 minutes about questions, challenges, ideas and resources.

Skypes with experts:

I was so fortunate to have 4 amazing educators donate some of their weekend to support the learning of people in the workshop.

@bondclegg chatted with MYP and DP educators about how to up the agency within and around program restrictions

@hktans chatted with leaders and administrators about how to support the development of teachers when it comes to understanding agency and also how to bend and break rules in order to re-imagine what school could be

@ms_AmandaRomano shared her own personal journey as an experienced educator unlearning, learning and relearning how to support student agency as a classroom teacher

Stephen Flett chatted with educators about how learning support can function within a system that supports more student agency

Collaborative Conversations:

There was LOTS of connecting, chatting, dialoguing, brainstorming and challenging

Independant Inquiry:

There was also lots of personal inquiry into the resource document

The “Reflect” Portion of the day…

When we all came back together at the end of the day, I guided them through a formative self-assessment where they were able to choose how best to assess their personalized success criteria to know where they currently are and where they need to go next

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Then we spent some time collectively brainstorming the “why”, “how” and “what” of reflection

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and everyone chose the style and content of reflection that was most useful and comfortable for them. It was great to see such a wide range of approaches to reflection! Everything from painting, writing, sketching, talking, sleeping… to even graphing!

Then we spent a few minutes talking about how the learning doesn’t have to end…

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How fears are normal…

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And how leaving your comfort zone often leads to something amazing!

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Finally, before they left, I asked if they could share their honest feedback with me about the day. I wanted to make sure I was honouring their voice as learners!

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The After:

When I got home, I read through the feedback:

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Reading through their feedback was so helpful. It helped me reflect on what parts of the workshop worked really well, and also some parts of the workshop I need to revise for next time.

As I was reading through the “wishes” I noticed that there were many people who felt that two things were missing from the workshop:

At first I started to go down the path of regret and all the shulda, coulda, wouldas…. but then I realized that  just because the workshop was over, didn’t mean that my support for their learning had to end! So I decided to take action and respond to what their feedback was telling me.

I made two Google Slide presentations (linked above) – one to address each area that seemed to be missing from the workshop. And I sent those presentations to the workshop participants via our Google Classroom and email.

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Now I can feel a little bit better that I honoured their voice as learners, and took action to respond to their needs… even if it was technically “after the workshop”.

My reflections….

  • overall, it was a really great day
  • learning through agency is essential in order to understand agency
  • empowering educators to understand themselves as learners and where they are on their own journey helps the learning extend beyond the hours of a workshop
  • investing time in the “before” and “after” really helped me honour their voice as learners
  • this structure created a really relaxed, comfortable vibe for the day
  • the medium IS the message

How do you support educators in developing their understanding of student agency?

What feedback do you have for me as a workshop planner/facilitator in order to better meet the needs of my learners?

APPENDIX (added to the original post)

The Monday after this workshop I received the following email from one of the participants:

workshop action for twitter

workshop action photo

What a great feeling to see that learning from the workshop lead to action that resulted in happy, successful teachers and students!!!

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What could be the future of learning?

It might seem strange to look towards the future by first looking back at the past, but it seems that there have always been deep thinkers considering the purpose of school and education, challenging the status quo and trying to revolutionize the way we learn. So what have we learned from them and what are we going to do with it? How we will use their voices to make our own choices and take ownership over the future of learning? 

“He who learns but does not think is lost. He who thinks but does not learn is in great danger” wrote Confucius (551 BCE) in Lunyu. He did not believe that we are born with natural abilities but develop our knowledge through long and careful study. He also had suggestions for pedagogy, “Only for one deeply frustrated over what he does not know will I provide a start; only for one struggling to form his thoughts into words will I provide a beginning.” (Lunyu).

Do we offer opportunities for learners to be thinkers? Do we help our children understand that they can develop skills and abilities through hard work or do we also quietly identify those who are “gifted” and who are not? Do we consider that we can grow our own abilities or are we “just not great at math”? How much do we let our students struggle and how much do we help?

The words of Socrates (470 BCE), as portrayed in Plato’s works, state that “knowledge will not come from teaching but from questioning,” through this process the student “will recover it [knowledge] for himself.” Socrates did not believe that any one person or organization can teach others but that we learn by seeking our own understanding of truth by questioning and interpreting the wisdom and knowledge of others. He believed the goal of education is to “help you know what you can; and, even more importantly, to know what you do not know.” (Bob Burges, New Foundations)

Do we teach our students how to question or how to answer? Do we allow them to find their own meaning or do we give them our meaning? Do we act as teachers or as guides?

Mo Tzu (468 BCE) believed that we learn through challenges and by reflecting on failures (and successes), that we realize self-knowledge through questioning not conforming. His philosophy was one that encouraged people to work hard to change their fate and the inequality in the world.

Do we allow children the space to make “shame free” mistakes? Do we offer the time and guidance for authentic reflection or is it a chore met often with a groan? Do we ask our students to conform too often to the norms we set out for them? Can we allow them more opportunities to determine their own destinies even within our school communities?

Plato (428 BCE) wrote about a learning society in The Republic and The Laws, he presented a model for what we now describe as lifelong education.

Do we encourage lifelong learning by having an endpoint to school? Should we be enhancing the education of our adult learners through more professional learning opportunities, mentorships and coaching? Can we make our schools learning organizations? Can we better model lifelong learning for our students?

Aristotle (384 BCE) wrote, ‘Anything that we have to learn to do we learn by the actual doing of it… We become just by doing just acts, temperate by doing temperate ones, brave by doing brave ones.’ (Aristotle Niconachean Ethics, Book II, p.91). He also categorized the disciplines into the theoretical, practical and technical.

Do we concentrate too much on the theoretical? Do we ignore practical and technical knowledge? Do we give our children the opportunities to do, to experience for themselves? Could we allow them more authentic learning experiences?

Michel De Montaigne (1533) wrote in his essay On Educating Children: “Obest plerumque iis qui discere volunt authoritas eorum qui docent.” [For those who want to learn, the obstacle can often be the authority of those who teach.]

Are we the obstacle? How do we share the “authority to teach”?

John Locke (1632) composed Some Thoughts Concerning Education where he stated that children “love to be treated as Rational Creatures,” and that parents and teachers should develop the habit of reasoning rather than just memorization. He emphasized a need for teaching critical-thinking skills. Locke also said that adults must should teach children how to learn and to enjoy learning; the teacher “should remember that his business is not so much to teach [the child] all that is knowable, as to raise in him a love and esteem of knowledge; and to put him in the right way of knowing and improving himself.”

Are we honoring children as “rational creatures”? Do we teach them how to learn or what to learn? Do we support their love of knowledge and guide them to find it on their own or do we prevent them from finding their passions through mandatory assignments and compulsory requirements?

On Education was written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712); he said that early education should be more about interactions with the world and less about books. He discussed the value of developing inferential thought processes through experiences and observations. Rousseau believed that middle education should then continue on to the selection of a trade and learning the skills of a trade. He believed education should be useful and purposeful for the learner.  And finally, he posits that education should conclude with lessons on human emotions, especially sympathy, so the learner could be prepared to be brought into the world and socialized as an active and compassionate citizen.

Do we allow our young learners the chance to interact with the world and develop their senses to wonder and question and derive meaning from experience or do we focus too much too early on reading and writing and arithmetic? Is there a role for apprenticeships in school? Do we include enough character development in our curriculum, are they ready when they leave us to be compassionate citizens?

John Dewey (1859) believed that students should be part of their learning, to not just learn pre-determined skills, but to use their own prior knowledge and make connections with new ideas, to find out through hands-on learning or experiential education. Instead of just mastering facts, learning rules and being compliant, Dewey suggested, schools should help students to be reflective, inquirers, autonomous, critical thinkers and morally sound citizens.

Do we focus too much on “predetermined skills”? Can we allow our students to be more a part of the learning? Do we have too many rules and expect too much compliance?

Jean Piaget (1896) suggested that teachers should view students as learners and view education as learner-centered. This means that there should be an allowance for learners’ to shape their curriculum. He also believed that learners can construct, or build, understanding for themselves. Piaget said: “Education, for most people, means trying to lead the child to resemble the typical adult of his society … but for me and no one else, education means making creators… You have to make inventors, innovators—not conformists” (from Conversations with Jean Piaget, Bringuier, 1980, p. 132).

Do we allow our students to construct their own meaning by shaping our curriculum? Do we nurture creators and innovators or conformists?

Paulo Freire (1921) and George Counts (1889) advocated for critical pedagogy. They believed that teaching is political and knowledge cannot be neutral. Their goal with critical pedagogy was to help students become more aware of the political perspectives within knowledge to develop critical consciousness and affect change in their world. Counts proposed that teachers “dare build a new social order” he continued by saying that teachers “cannot evade the responsibility of participating actively in the task of reconstituting the democratic tradition and of thus working positively toward a new society.”

Do we offer students opportunities to find information from diverse perspectives or are we teaching only one side of history and knowledge? Do we offer education for everyone or only those that fit our mold? “Do schools reflect society, or do schools transform society?” (quoted from Kevin Bartlett)

So what are my big takeaways? What we have learned about education and schools from the big thinkers throughout time? Will they guide us to reimagine schools? What could be the future of learning? Can we create learning communities where there could be:

  • More guidance for self discovery (Less teaching)
  • Learning organizations with more adult learning opportunities – lifelong learning!
  • More practical, authentic learning experiences offered – in the real world! (Less theory taught)
  • More opportunities to cultivate skills, especially critical thinking skills (Less emphasis on the knowledge and curriculum)
  • Possibilities for internships and apprenticeships
  • Classes and interactions focused on character development
  • Opportunities for active citizenship – action!
  • Chances for children to set the norms and determine the guidelines
  • Spaces for students voices to be heard as they determine their own path
  • Places with positive language aimed to develop a growth mindset
  • Spaces where we see the ability in everyone
  • More thoughtful provocations and productive struggle (Less teaching, helping and answering)
  • More active inquiry shaped by the learners (Less planning)
  • More opportunities for students to determine what they will learn, how they will learn, where they will learn, with whom they will learn and how they will know they have been successful
  • Education for everyone
  • Environments that develop creators and innovators (Not conformists)
  • Shared learning, planning, teaching, assessing (Less obstacles)

What could be the future of learning?

Agency As and For Professional Development

Teachers need agency too. I find that any book about teaching that I read right now can just as easily be applied from a leadership perspective about teachers. We need the same empowerment. We need the same freedoms. We need the same trust. Otherwise – we are robots. Bored, stuck robots.

Over the course of the year our staff have been speaking up and asking for different types of PD. There was a general frustration about how we were spending precious time. This week we had 3 days of PD scheduled while students are away for Spring Break before we began our own. A week or two ago, our PYP coordinator put out a Google Doc asking if anyone would like to present, as well as asking for the types of things people would like to learn more about. Being someone who just dives in, I of course signed up to speak about student agency. Yesterday was a day full of learning from one another – it was fantastic!

I struggled for a little while to wrap my head around how I was going to present my workshop. I had read Taryn BondClegg (@Makingoodhumans) going through the same journey of leading a workshop about agency. I had the same belief of trying to get staff to really experience agency while learning about it.

As usual, once the idea hit I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I structured the PD the same way I structured my class. Choose, then act, then reflect… with a little bit of time in the beginning to speak about agency in a broad sense and give the small amount of structure that the teachers needed to know what to do. Handout – Planning and Reflection

This is what the schedule for our session looked like:

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Participants also had a list of musts, coulds, and shoulds, similar to what my students would have. I usually make these types of lists/agreements with my students, but again because of the “beginner” aspect of the teachers in the workshop (and lack of time) I provided them with the following checklist:

I had barely even started the workshop when our Tech Integrator (sitting in on the workshop) was already emailing me to pick my brain about the process because he wants to use the structure (agency) in his future PD sessions. Win number one!

They did their research for roughly 35 minutes and I made sure to have a bit of an accountability aspect in their “must” list. I also thank Taryn again for sharing her list of resources with me to share with the staff as an option for their research. We also started to curate our own list (voice and ownership)!

Teachers shared with their grade levels (I had to cut them off) and then I showed them how I interpret student agency and the journey I have been on with my class (you can see our iterations of planning, class routines, class responsibilities, and more on my blog). The previous day, in a hopes and fears sharing exercise, I had told them that a fear of mine was that they would think I was trying to tell them what to do. I made it very clear that I wanted them to take things away as bits of inspiration (hopefully) to adapt and use as they might see fit for their own class. If I had different students, the routines we have really might not look the same way as it does right now. I wanted to be sure that they knew I wasn’t expecting them to take away exactly at I was doing and replicate it. This is also why I got them to research examples of agency before I shared my own experiences.

Ideally, I would have loved to have my class there to explain our routines themselves. Being Spring Break, I settled for making and showing a video of my class routines and then I spoke a little more about workshops. This turned into a section of Q&A I really didn’t expect or plan for, but could feel their need and want for it. We then did personal reflections about what they could start implementing for themselves, as well as identifying what ATLs they used during that session and that was that!

Except I hope it isn’t! I have had incredible feedback from them as well as “second hand compliments” from teachers who weren’t even in the workshop. I have received emails of thanks, and “complaints” that people can’t stop thinking. Yes!! Mission accomplished, I think! People are thinking… hopefully adapting… hopefully diving in…

I already plan to make Student-Led Conferences a similar experience for parents with their children at the end of this month. The structure of choose, act, reflect really fits nicely with the day and I am looking forward to it.

As Taryn would say, “The medium is the message.”

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Adapted from my post originally written on http://innovativeinquirers.weebly.com on March 28, 2018.

#Teacher Agency: If You Like Pina Coladas and Getting Caught in the Rain: Who Are You Waiting For?

 

Recently a friend of mine was sharing the struggles of leadership in a non-IB international school that is transitioning away from textbooks. During the first year of implementing change, teachers genuinely cringed at the thought and lamented how challenging it was to teach without these curriculum resources. It was hard. There was a learning curve. They had lived in their safe textbook bubble for years and never exercised any critical thinking around curriculum. No one really knew anything about Backwards By Design and had never really attempted creating unit plans. Concept-based approaches were just not on their radar.   Three years later, the struggle continues but in the very best of ways. Those teachers are discovering their mojo, their voice, and their agency. They have learned to finally be teachers that they always wanted to be. As I listened to his teachers’ journey, I recognized that, although my path may be different, I am really quite the same as them.

How often we wait for someone to give us permission to do things differently. We are afraid that stepping out in new directions will make us seem like renegades and trouble-makers. For once, I can comfortably say that I’m okay with being a rebel-it’s not a dirty word and it’s nothing to be ashamed of. And I think I’m finally in that place where I understand that these constraints are really self-imposed. That I have been free all along and I don’t have to do anything to prove to anyone that my ideas are worthy or good. It’s sorta like that cheesy 70’s song, Escape by Rupert Holmes, in which the man who put in a personal ad comes to find out that the woman who responds is his current partner. (Ha- the irony!) I feel like in many ways, it’s the same for me. That what I want is really already in front of me if I just choose to recognize it. Perhaps you feel the same way.

The truth is that our schools need us to be more of who we want to become. Even if we are weird. Even if we stir up a hornet’s nest. Even if we are critical. Even if our ideas challenge the status quo of our school’s culture. Because schools are not there for the adults in the building, they are there for the children who fill its classrooms. And, the futures that our children will live in will require us to rethink education and how we “do school”.

There is a beautiful message from the Hopi Elders, a Native American tribe based in my favorite home state of Arizona, that I keep up as a reminder. I’d like to share it with you.

Here are the things that must be considered:

            Where are you living?

            What are you doing?

            What are your relationships?

            Are you in right relation?

            Where is your water?

            Know our garden.

            It is time to speak your Truth.

            Create your community.

            Be good to each other.

            And do not look outside yourself for the leader.

This could be a good time!

There is a river flowing now very fast.

It is so great and swift that there are those who will be afraid.

They will try to hold on to the shore.

They will feel like they are being torn apart, and they will suffer greatly.

Know the river has its destination.

The elders say we must let go of the shore, push off toward the middle of

the river,

keep our eyes open, and our heads above the water.

See who is there with you and celebrate.

At this time in history, we are to take nothing personally,   least of all

ourselves!

For the moment we do, our spiritual growth and journey comes to a halt.

The time of the lonely wolf is over.

Gather yourselves!

Banish the word struggle from your attitude and vocabulary.

All that we do now must be done in a sacred manner and in celebration.

We are the ones we have been waiting for.

Let’s all give ourselves permission to be the best of who we are and “let go of the shore” of what is comfortable and allow ourselves to flail around until we gain a steady footing of the transformation in education that we are a part of. It may be hard, but it will be worth it.