Agency in the Time of CoVid – Part 2

Before this school year started, I shared my thinking about what agency in the time of CoVid might look like.

Now that we are 5 weeks into the school year – thanks to the very special group of educators I get to spend my days with – I am able to share some examples of what we think agency in the time of CoVid has looked like.

… at least at our school anyway!

  • We’ve had a whole school Unit of Inquiry where learners have had time, space and support to get to know their learning environments (physical and virtual), their learning communities and to get to know themselves as learners.
  • We’ve had teachers and TAs spend weeks inquiring into their learners to begin to get to know them as human beings
  • and bit by bit put together the complex puzzle of each individual child by purposefully collecting evidence, analyzing and responding to it
  • We’ve launched “Flex Fridays” where learners plan their own day
  • We’ve had teachers and TAs invest time in coaching learners about how to plan their own day
  • We’ve had teachers and TAs invest time in helping learners understand learning, so they can plan their own personal inquires to pursue
  • We’ve had teachers and TAs offer choice-based workshops
  • We’ve had teachers and TAs support learners to run their own workshops for their peers
  • We’ve had teachers and TAs create time and space for learners to share their talents – within their grade-leves
  • and across the whole Primary School
  • We’ve had teachers and TAs encourage their learners to choose to share and celebrate learning they are proud of with the whole community at our Learning Showcases
  • We’ve had teachers ask for feedback from their learners about what is working and what isn’t and work with them to improve things
  • We’ve had teachers invite and involve their learners in deciding and planning of their second Unit of Inquiry
  • We’ve had teachers and TAs listen to, honor and quickly respond to the voices of the learners in their pleas for more time for social connections – in the forms of playdates, picnics, hang outs, dress-up days and birthday parties
  • We’ve had teachers and TAs plan responsively based on the needs and interests of their learners – from day to day, week to week, and unit to unit
  • We’ve had teachers continue to advocate for play and think about ways to support planning for play at home
  • We’ve had teachers continue to bring Studio habits of mind and TAB to life
  • We’ve had elections for a Learner Voice Board, so learners can represent their peers in the decisions being made in the Primary School

And did I mention… all of this happened 100% virtually.

In 5 short weeks, there are so many examples of how learners are being respected as human beings, being included in decisions about their own learning, having their voices heard, learning how to make choices for themselves and experiencing ownership over their learning. And I KNOW I am forgetting many, many other examples.

Our educators are rock-stars.

Absolute rock-stars.

And I am thankful everyday, that I get to be part of a community of PYP educators that doesn’t let anything – not even a global pandemic! – stand in the way of what they believe children deserve. ❤️

Supporting Teacher Agency – Take 1

Last year, when I was new to my school and new to my role, my biggest focus was to ‘seek to understand‘. Now that I have had that first year (and what a year it was!) to learn about the school, experience the context and build relationships, I feel I am ready to move on to a new professional goal – supporting teacher agency.

New-ish goal might be more accurate.

Last time I was out of the classroom I was experimenting with Ed Camps and other models of Personalized Professional Learning and I was having some major shifts in thinking from working with adult learners. But it wasn’t until I found myself called back into the classroom that I began to find my identity as an agency-supportive educator. That’s when I was able to ‘risk and reflect‘ when working with my Grade 4s and then embarking on the collaborative adventure that was Studio 5. That’s also when I began to dabble with Agency PD to support schools around the world with their journey.

But now it’s time to ground that passion and that goal in this context with this staff. And boy, am I lucky with this staff! ❤️

I am a firm believer that the medium is the message. And learning through agency can be just as (if not more!) powerful than learning about agency.  Therefor I believe that putting my eggs in the basket of supporting teacher agency will have the biggest impact on teachers supporting the agency of their child-learners.

So as I work with my principal and the rest of our school’s Academic Leadership Team to get ready for a new (and unprecedented) school year, there have been some specific agency-supportive ‘moves’ I have tried to attempt to begin the year respecting and supporting the agency of the wonderful teachers at my school.

Here’s what I’ve been experimenting with so far:

Town Halls

No doubt this year there is lots of new and lots of unknown. Lots of differences and lots of change. So as my principal and I have been thinking through approaches to this unique year, we have intentionally attempted to make decisions with our staff, instead of for our staff.

We hosted a ‘Town Hall’  and shared our current thinking with our whole Primary staff on things like the structure of the day, scheduling, first UOI of the year, Family-Led conferences and the public planner.

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Then we invited them into an adapted, asynchronous Tuning Protocol where they could share their questions and feedback with us.

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Then we coded and analyzed ALL that data!

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Then we organized the trends in the data to be able to feedback to staff and respond.

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I then recorded and shared videos responding to the major questions and feedback and created a pathway for further questions and feedback.

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Think Tanks

There are some things we are trying to build and decide as leaders that we have less experience with than teachers. The last few months of the school year, teachers were on the ground with distance learning and therefor the ones with experience and expertise! So we have been trying to capitalize on this, by including their voice and opinions in not just the decisions, but the thinking as well.

One of the ways we have done this is through an asynchronous “think tank”. Where we have used Nearpod to invite teachers to think through some of the nuances of how we are approaching asynchronous learning this year.

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We invited PRO and CON analyses…

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We asked for votes on potential models…

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We invited them not only to connect with our thinking, but also to contribute models and designs based on their thinking….

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And because our staff are ROCK STARS, we not only got some mock-ups, but they initiated a critical-friends conversation in the comments sections offering feedback on one another’s ideas!

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We were then able to export all this data from Nearpod and bring it with us to leadership meetings to ensure that teachers’ voices and ideas were part of the thinking process.

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Agency Supportive O-Week

Planning for orientation is a normal part of any leader’s back to school process. This year is unique though. We will have teachers on campus, teacher in the same time zone but unable to be on campus, and some teachers spread around the world in very different time zones! So it challenged us to re-think some of our traditional approaches to planning staff orientation.

Myself and a colleague of mine – who are both passionate about supporting  agency of both child and adult learners – pitched a collection of ideas to our Academic Leadership Team to hopefully inform the course of our orientation week planning.

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Hopefully with an orientation week that respects and supports teacher agency, we can not only personalize the professional learning to each unique individual’s needs and interests, but also maximize everyone’s time to ensure that every minute is purposefully… while at the same time modeling some of the philosophies and practices we hope to see teachers use with their learners!

In-House Experts

Leaders know some stuff. Leaders do not know everything. And that’s okay. Now more than ever leaders must look to the teachers who were on the ground during remote emergency learning last spring to harness their experience and expertise as we prepare for another unprecedented year.

Myself and my principal have tried to keep this in mind as much as possible, as we build our orientation week.

We’ve invited teachers to help curate resources that can be used in orientation and through the year.

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We’ve invited teachers to lead workshops during orientation in the area of their expertise.

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We’ve invited teachers to contribute to criteria on diagnostic tools.

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We hope to invite and make space for teachers to share their learning and passions during orientation week.

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Space for Voice

We know this is a challenging time for all. Lots of questions, uncertainty, nerves, fears and excitement for starting the year. So we’ve tried to carve our space for teachers’ voice.

One of the ways we are doing that is offering drop-in office hours for them to pop by and have a space for whatever it is they need space for.

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Respect for Summer

Did I mention we are all still on summer holiday!? So we’ve been very careful to ensure all of our approaches are invitations, but not expectations. We know for some teachers August is still a protected time for rest and relaxation – great. We also know for other educators, in August a switch gets flicked and there is a burst of energy and interest in thinking about and working on the year ahead – great. And for some educators… it’s somewhere in-between – great.

So as much as possible, we are trying to be mindful of all those different perspectives and create structures that allow individuals to choose how much they participate based on what they feel is best for them at this moment in time.

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I’m sure there is MUCH more we could be doing, and hopefully we will continue to challenge ourselves and one another on the leadership team to keep finding and making space for inclusive practices that flatten hierarchical structures, harness expertise regardless of position and see the humanness of each individual within an organization.

 

How are you respecting and supporting the agency of your teachers?

How are you building and protecting space for teacher’s voice choice and ownership?

How are you modeling with teachers, what you expect in the classroom?

Agency in the time of COVID

I’ve started to receive some messages in my Twitter inbox asking my personal opinions about how us agency-supportive educators can stay true to our beliefs and philosophies this upcoming year despite the unique circumstances and constraints of how we are returning to school. These requests have engendered much deep thought and reflection throughout my summer holiday; despite my best efforts to shut-off and re-charge!

Instead of sharing my thoughts just with them individually via Twitter messages, I decided to share my thinking here, with all of you – in hopes of opening up a larger dialogue as an education community.

DISCLAIMER: I have no magic answers.

All I can do is share my thinking at the moment.

And then I hope you do the same.

So we can all learn and grow together and keep the global momentum for respecting and supporting student agency going, even during these uncertain, challenging (and likely more restrictive) times.

Regardless of health and safety protocols or whether we are face to face or online (or some sort of hybrid combination of both!) here is my perspective on where there might be space and opportunity this year for continuing to nurture learners’ agency:

  1. Prioritize their humanness – Now more than ever we must see, understand and respect our learners as human beings.  Definitely, their academic growth and development is still important; but it shouldn’t be the only thing on meeting agendas and day plans. This is a year where have to honor, prioritize and advocate for their physical well being, emotional and mental health, physical needs, and social development. We need to respect that they (like all of us) have gone through change, uncertainty, and potentially loss and trauma. Now more than ever we must see them as whole human beings – not partially complete adults-in-the-making.
  2. No secret teacher business – This is year there will likely be many new restrictions, special parameters and constraints in place; rightfully so, for the health and wellbeing of the community. Why not bring learners into the conversation? Make the “why” transparent. Take the time to discuss the reasons, purposes and benefits behind the decisions that have been made in these unique times.
  3. Democratic decision making (where possible) – Although this year many additional decisions will be made by leaders, administrators, boards, ministries and governments there will still be many decisions that rest with the teacher. Why not share those decisions with your learners? How best can we use the time we’ve been allocated? How can we still collaborate while needing to be 2 meters apart? What games can we play where we can keep our distance and don’t need equipment? What should the order of our units be? What online tools and resources might help our inquiry? Obviously, the specifics of the questions depends on your age of learners, subject, and unique context – but the idea of inviting and involving learners in the decisions that are still up for grabs can apply to all.
  4. Be intentional with making space and time for their voice – Make school (whether face-to-face- or virtual) a time and place where they know they will be heard. Specifically have a plan for their questions, ideas, problems; things they want to talk about out; perspectives and opinions and philosophies they’ve developed these past months; their reality, experiences, hopes and fears. Why not have a dedicated whiteboard somewhere in the physical or virtual classroom for this? Or a specific Padlet? Perhaps a daily Flip Grid? Or an infinite Google Form? Or carve out a designated community meeting time?  Somewhere and somehow intentional;  where their voice is not an add-on or interruption to the learning. Somewhere where their voice is seen and respected as an important part of the learning.
  5. Meet ’em where they are… and move ’em along – now more than ever we need to be critical of the “should be” approach to curriculum. Many agency-supportive educators are always critical of trying to standardize learning, achievement and human beings; but the current reality has amplified the tenuous nature of this curriculum model. What learning and progress was able to be made for each learner in the final months of last year’s school year differs learner to learner and has many variables – family situation, access to technology, health, language – just to name a few. Now more than ever we need to take the approach of understanding learners’ current knowledge, understanding and skills and helping them progress and grow from where they actually are. Regardless of if that is where they are “supposed to be” or if they are “ahead” or “behind”.
  6. Stay critical about what’s worth learning – the world has changed, but for many of us, our curriculum hasn’t. Many of us are going back to the same documents that contain the same outcomes and standards that were “critical” a year ago. But what’s worth learning now? What has risen in importance? What has declined in importance? What has presented itself, that wasn’t acknowledged before? What was there before, but now seems less relevant and significant? Getting discussions going about what’s worth learning with colleagues, your learners, their parents is also a great step towards exploring different paradigms of curriculum (like co-constructed and emergent approaches).
  7. Plan in response to learning – As PYP and inquiry-based educators we should always be planning in response to learning, but now more than ever, this approach makes the most sense. We don’t know where our learners are in their learning journey… Many of us don’t know if or how long we will be face-to-face or on-line… and none of us know what the future holds. So although it can be difficult to let go of those perfectly laid out curriculum maps and long range plans and unit designs… we might find that this year, getting to know our learners and their families first, then involving them in decision-making and planning and always going one step at a time might be a more fruitful approach.
  8. Explore the concepts of individual freedom and collective responsibility – Every country around the world is engaged in their own inquiry and exploration of the balance between an individual’s freedom and their responsibility to the collective wellbeing. Why not explore these same concepts within the context of your classroom. Where does individual freedom supersede collective responsibility in your learning community? Where does collective responsibility supersede individual freedom in your learning community? How does the interplay between those two concepts manifest in some of the changes learners are experiencing at school this year? What is their experience with this in their home country? How do they feel about it? What are their opinions? Do they have any suggestions? Agency-supportive educators often naturally find themselves trying to figure out how best to navigate these concepts anyway, but now more than ever the conversation is globally relevant.
  9. Use your language as your compass – the words and phrases we use when speaking to and about learners can be a very interesting barometer to reveal where our own and one another’s thoughts and practices are in relation to our learners’ agency. How often are we saying “make them” “force them” “allow them”? What does that reveal about our thinking? Beliefs? Philosophies? Decisions? Constraints? Contexts? When are these words and phrases in relation to the issues above (health and safety; wellbeing of the community etc.) and when are they not? If we are wondering where we’ve held our course and where we might have strayed – the answers will likely be found in our language.
  10. When in doubt… ask your learners –  How can we ensure choice this year? How can we ensure voice this year? How can we ensure ownership this year? It is second nature of us as educators to ask these questions of ourselves, of our colleagues, and of our leaders, administrators and coaches… by how often do we ask those same questions directly to our learners. Be transparent about your goal to respect and their support their agency in light of  the additional parameters and restrictions. Ask them how you are doing with this goal. Ask for their ideas, feedback, suggestions when it comes to amplifying their choice, voice and ownership in their learning and their learning community this year.

Did anyone else notice I used the phrase “now more than ever” in almost every section? That was not intentional! But I think it might be revealing…

Revealing that this year – as we go back to whatever re-opening plan our school or district has in store – not only are agency-supportive practices prefered, but they may actually end up being essential. Essential in order to give our learners the support that they deserve. Essential in order to surf the waves of uncertainty and change. Essential in order to maximize the learning in consideration of each learner’s unique needs, challenges and situations during this global pandemic.

So maybe we won’t be able to have 120 learners freely flowing through an open-concept, student-designed learning studio, mixing with different groups of peers and interacting with different adults… but I believe there is still lots of space – regardless of the constraints and parameters – to see and respect children as human beings, invite and involve them in their learning and the decisions that impact their lives, and make school a place where learning is relevant, significant, challenging and engaging for each learner.

What do YOU think?

What would YOU add to the list?

Where do YOU see space for agency-supportive practices this year?

I’m here – listening, learning, reflecting, changing.

Hopefully every educator in the world right now is taking this time to reflect about their role and responsibility in the Black Lives Matter movement.

I know I am.

As someone who is early in their own personal and professional journey of deep reflection and self inquiry, I don’t know exactly what to say or exactly how to contribute. I don’t feel like I have any tips or advice or suggestions. I don’t feel comfortable telling others what to do, because I am still trying to figure that out for myself.

But I also don’t want to stay silent either. I don’t want to be neutral. I want to publicly stand together with the rest of humanity at this important point in history.

So although I don’t feel I have anything new or novel to share to the conversation, I want to still speak up. I want to be open, honest and vulnerable.

All I feel I can share at this moment, is what I’m personally doing in my own journey to become anti-racist.

Which is currently…. listeninglearning and reflecting.

I’m provoking my own thinking about how, as an international educator, I am part of the problem. Reading these three articles really helped me contextualize the issues of equality and systemic racism, and how they specifically live and spread within the unique environments of international schools.

International education perpetuates structural racism and anti-racism is the solution

Black Lives Matter: An Open Letter to the AISB Community

An Open Letter to the International School Community: Our Role in the Black Lives Matter Movement and Anti-Racism Work 

I’m taking advice from my students. I am honoured to work at a school with an amazing student body, who has published this site called “80 Ways“. It suggests 10 books, 10 podcasts, 10 websites, 10 films, 10 articles, 10 accounts as well as actions, petitions and donation recommendations for understanding and supporting the movement. I plan to use this as a library as I continue to learn and grow and take action.

I’m confronting my own implicit bias, ignorance and privilege. I’m not shying away from conversations, or trying to present myself in a certain light. I’m trying to critically and harshly see these things in myself and trying to be brutally honest and vulnerable in discussions with family, friends and colleagues about it.

I’m thinking about my impact as PYPC and AP, and the responsibility I have to place anti-racism at the center of everything I do.  I’m auditing and documenting the changes I can make to unit planning processes, curriculum design, staff orientation, professional development, dress code, school policies and resource purchasing to ensure I help break the cycle of systemic racism at international schools.

I’m reflecting on the impetus, now more than ever, to shift the paradigm of education. For years I’ve been joining many others around the world calling for a drastic change to the current way we “do school”. But it wasn’t until coming across provocative articles like this one that got me wondering about the connection between re-imagining education and the Black Lives Matter movement. Now more than ever, I feel driven to continue to advocate for a new approach to education that rejects our current power-imbalanced, compliance-based model, to one that is more humane and democratic for all. Now, more than ever, I see the need to be rebels, not robots and push back against the system in which most of us have been indoctrinated, for sustainable and enduring change.

I am nothing, if not a learner. So I am open… to resources, to discussion, to conversation, to suggestion and to feedback.

I want to be a better ally in this fight – and I’m open to help with that journey.

I am here to listen. I am here to learn. I am here to help.

I am here.

Re-Opening Voices

I think by now, all us educators are acutely aware of the small crack in the door that has presented itself for truly re-imagining education when we re-open our school campuses.

It’s an exciting opportunity, but can also feel like a one-shot chance for pushing the envelope and shifting the paradigm.

“The Quest stands upon the edge of knife. Stray but a little, and it will fail.”

Although we’re not setting out with Gandalf to save Middle Earth, Galadrial’s words help us remember how important, and likely, fragile this opportunity is.

So how can we make sure we don’t waste this chance? How can we make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past? How can we make sure true change is brought about?

I think our answer comes from the second half of that quote:

“Hope remains while the company is true.”

But reflecting on who gets to be part of the “company” on this quest is essential.

What voices are included in making decisions about re-opening? What voices are neglected or excluded?

At our school, we want our re-opening plans to include the reflections, suggestions and ideas of our entire learning community. So before the school year ended and everyone began their holiday, we made sure to ask.

We made sure to ask what lessons we learned from Distance Learning that we could apply to future attempts at Distance Learning. And more importantly, what lessons we learned from Distance Learning that we could apply to to face-to-face school.

 

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We asked our entire staff:

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We asked every single one of  our learners:

(In written form for the older learners)

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(And with videos and voice option for the younger learners)

We asked our whole parent community:

Our next steps are to code that qualitative data from the surveys, draw conclusions from the trends and use those conclusions to inform the work we do over the coming months to get ready to re-open school in the fall.

So now, hopefully, our re-opening plans are not merely the reflection of what a handful of leaders think, but rather the leaders are able to make decisions and create something representative of what our entire community thinks.

What else could we be doing to ensure we don’t waste this chance to push the boundaries of what school could be?

What else could be doing to ensure our planning process is inclusive of all voices?

Something Special…

This year I was new to my role and new to my school.

Well, I should say “new-ish” because before working at this school, I was actually lucky enough to have visited this school the year before; as a consultant.

And when I was there last year as a visitor – I kept thinking to myself, “This staff is something special” Even when I got back to my school at the time, anytime anyone asked me about how my workshop went and what they school was like, I just kept saying “The staff was really special.”

And although I could identify the special-ness… I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what it was that made them so, well, special.

Lucky for me, I joined that school, so I had the whole year to try and figure it out!

Now the school year has come to an end, and I think I have discovered just what is so special about this collection of educators.

They are learners.

All of them. Every single one. Despite their role – teacher, teaching assistant, counsellor, integrationist, pedagogical coach, principal – each and every person that makes up the Primary staff has the heart and soul of a true PYP learner.

All year I was seeing glimpses of this. Enthusiasm for growing, an insatiable desire for support, constant questions. Anytime I would offer optional professional learning sessions or courses – there they would be! Ready to learn.

But it wasn’t until our end of year reflections, that I saw the true extent of this.

Our whole staff participated in 3 end of year reflections that looked through the following  lenses.

How have I grown as an educator?

We asked each staff member to reflect upon and notice and name the ways in which they have grown in their specific role. And either choose an artifact that already exists, or create something to synthesize, summarize and share that growth with the rest of the community. We used a Padlet as a central place to post these reflections.

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How have I grown as a learner?

Then we asked each staff member to reflect upon how they have grown as a learner this year. Specifically by choosing 1 skill in each of the 5 ATL categories that they feel they have strengthened or honed. We used Flipgrid as a central place to post these reflections.

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How have I grown as a person?

Next we asked each staff member to reflect upon how they have grown as a person. We encouraged them to reflect on what attributes of the Learner Profile they have developed over the past year. Since, this one was a little more personal, we used PearDeck to collect everyone’s reflections more privately.

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No convincing needed. No pulling teeth. Everyone just jumped right in!

I was blown away, not only by the willingness to be open and vulnerable to publicly share these reflection with one another. But the actual reflections themselves, revealed practitioners who see themselves as learners, understand themselves as learners, and who approach their own personal and professional growth as a life-long, on-going process. A process in which they have ownership over and see as within their control.

In my role as PYP Coordinator and Assistant Principal, this is treasure!

Trying to help a teacher, become a better teacher, can be challenging.

Trying to help a learner, help themself become a better teacher, is a true pleasure.

Many PYP schools strive to be a community of learners. This year, I had the privilege of living and breathing what that is actually like on a daily basis.

And it was pretty, freakin’ special. ❤️

Pedagogy 101 For PYP Parents

All week long I haven’t been able to stop thinking about a request that one of our parents made during our virtual “Parent Coffee”. Throughout this Distance Learning adventure, our Parent Coffees have provided space for the voices, opinions, perspectives and needs of our Primary School parent community. Each time, I leave with a page full of notes which lead to reflection, action and adjustments. But this time was different. This time my thinking was provoked – in a larger, more substantial way.

She was talking about how, inevitably, parents have taken on a bigger role in their children’s learning, and in most cases are now sharing in some of the roles and responsibilities that normally are fulfilled by teachers in face-to-face school. And as such, requested some help. Help that goes beyond what their children need to focus on and where to find resources and activities. Help more specifically focused on how to support their children in their learning; the pedagogical tips and tricks, us educators have in our back pocket when we are helping learners.

I’m sure parents at any school are likely overwhelmed at the prospect of taking more responsibility supporting their children’s learning. Now factor in what it must feel like to be a parent at a PYP school that is built on inquiry-based, concept-driven, agency supportive approaches to education. Wanting to help their child… but not being sure exactly how to do so.

We have to remember that most parents are not educators. They don’t have multiple degrees in education. They haven’t read endless books and blog posts. They don’t have resumes full of PD workshops. Understandably so, it’s our career – not theirs.

So how can we help? How can we share what we’ve learned through all those degrees, books and blogs, courses and workshops into something manageable and helpful that we can transfer over to them?

Here is my attempt. A pedagogy distilled. Condensed. Simplified.

Dedicated not only the wonderful parents at my school, but to all PYP parents around the world partnering with us during these difficult times to support their children.

1. Take an inquiry stance

Meet a question with a question. Often our first instinct when a child asks us a question is to provide an answer. But this approach can prevent a golden opportunity to have learners not only learn that thing, but also learn something about how to learn. So next time your child asks you a question (“How do you spell ….?” “How do you multiply fractions?” “What are the types of energy?”), no matter what the question is, instead of supplying the answer, try responding like this:

Great question! How could you find that out? What resource could you use to discover that? How could you figure that out?

Be prepared to inquire together. Sometimes, when you meet a question with a question, you get an “I don’t know”. That is an invitation to a great teachable moment! If your child doesn’t know how to find out on their own or what resource to use, you can step in as their partner and respond like this:

No problem! Let’s figure it out together. Maybe we can try this…. Have you ever used this… Let’s see if this resource has the answer….

This way you are still supporting them to figure out what they are trying to figure out, but along the way you’ve also helped develop their skill as an independent learner – so the next time, instead of needing to ask you, they might have some ways to figure it out on their own.

Ask the magic question – “What do you notice?”. No matter what subject, what area of learning, or what age – the secret ingredient to inquiry-based learning is asking learners to think about what they notice. Whether your child is learning their letters and looking at the letter “B”, or building their multiplication fluency by looking at a multiplication table, or developing their scientific knowledge by studying a model of a cell…. that one question works every time, and can always be followed up with “what else do you notice?” to probe for further thinking.

Don’t feel you have to be an expert, just be a learner. It is okay to not know something. In fact that presents an amazing opportunity to model your own approaches to learning. Feel confident to say, “I don’t know” or, “I have no idea”. Just make sure to follow it up with, “But now I want to know, so here is how I am going to find out!” or, “Let’s figure this out together!”

2. Support conceptual understanding

Value process. As often as possible get your child thinking beyond what they did and what they learned, and more about how they learned. Some great questions include:

How did you do that? Why did you do that? What strategy did you use? How did you learn that strategy? What steps did you take?

Harness the power of the key concepts. In the PYP we have 7 Key Concepts, that are secret ingredients to help learners think more deeply and understand… ANYTHING. The beauty of these key concepts, is they work for everything! You can apply these questions to any subject or area of learning. Whether your child is trying to learn about shapes… commas…. a historic figure…. a sports skill… sentence structure…. an art technique…. a water bottle! Anything. Here are the key concept questions you can ask your child at any time about anything they are learning:

What is it like? (Form)

How does it work? (Function)

How is it connected to other things? (Connection)

How does it change? (Change)

Why is it like that? Why is it the way it is? (Causation)

What are the different points of view? (Perspective)

What are our responsibilities? (Responsibility) 

3. Prioritize Reflection

Get them thinking about their thinking. Similar to the Key Concept questions, there are two questions you can ask your child to help them think deeper, about whatever it is they are learning. Again – any subject, any topic. More specifically, they get children thinking about their thinking! Here are two magic questions to support learners deep understanding:

How do you know?

What makes you say that?

Whether they are showing you the solution to a math problem, discussing parts of a book they are reading, summarizing information, sharing their perspective on a world event… these questions have super powers!

4. Support your child’s agency 

Invite and involve their voice. Don’t be afraid the let them express themselves. Give space for them to articulate what they like and don’t like about learning, and why that is. Listen to when they are advocating for what they need as learners. Listen for what they really care about and matters to them and try to understand and find ways to support it.

Respect and support their choices. Be aware of what choices you are making for your child, that they could probably be making themselves. Choices may include when they learn, where they learn, what they learn, and how they learn. Coach them to make informed choices, by making the decision making process explicit (What choice are you making for yourself?), then follow up with a reflection about how effective that choice was and whether it’s a good choice to be made again in the future (How did that choice work out for you? How do you know? What will you choose differently next time?).

Emphasize ownership. Sometimes learning can be something that gets misrepresented as something done to learners, or around learners. This creates a false sense that they are passively drifting through the process, and have no impact on their own learning. We want learners to know it’s their learning, they own it, they impact it. It is something done by them, for them, and we are the supporting actors. Use words and phrases that build that sense of ownership over their learning:

It’s your learning.

You’re in the driver’s seat.

Your learning, your choice. 

5. Be purposeful with feedback. 

Teach to fish, don’t give a fish. As much as possible, when you give feedback to your child, think about how to give advice that will go beyond that one moment. As teachers, we often use phrases like, “teach the writer, not the writing” to help us give tips that will impact that learner in a bigger, more sustainable way. Instead of just telling them how to fix something. Here are some examples of ways you can phrase that type of feedback:

“Readers…. (often go back an re-read what they don’t understand; share their opinion about what they read; break words into small chunks to help them sound it out etc.)

“Writers…. (read their writing outloud to themselves to try and find their mistakes; use capitals to show the reader a new sentence is starting; support their opinions with facts and evidence; add details to make their writing more interesting etc.)

“Mathematicians…. (double check their solutions for accuracy; use objects and drawings to help them solve problems; use short cuts and tricks called “algorithms”; use special words etc.)

This helps phrase feedback in a way that will help them in that moment, but also help them in that area beyond that moment as well. Feedback that not only fixes mistakes but helps them grow and develop as readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, historians, artists and athletes!

 

As PYP educators, we need to see this as more than a short-term investment. The time and energy we spend supporting parents who are looking for help in this area, will pay long-term dividends when life returns to normal and we have a coalition of parents who not only understand inquiry, concepts and agency – but have experience living it.

What other points of pedagogy could we share with our PYP parents?

How can we help them, help their children?

What tips and advice can we impart unto our parent community as they become pioneers of at-home pedagogy?

Learners or Students?

Lately I’ve been wondering if in our attempt to create life-long learners, we are accidentally creating life-long students.

Does what we do each day at school help learners, learn how to learn?

Or how to be taught?

The unexpected and unfortunate circumstances of Distance Learning has presented an interesting litmus test for answering this question.

How has the experience of distance learning differed for:

Children whose time at school has helped them to know:

  • what their own interests, passions, purposes, curiosities and needs are
  • how to set their own intentions, criteria for success, goals and finish lines
  • how to find, curate and judge resources that are most helpful for them as learners
  • when, where and with whom they learn best
  • how to make decisions about the best way to capture, document, and collect what they learn along the way
  • how, when and from who to ask for feedback, support, help and guidance
  • how to self-assess and triangulate perspectives on how they are doing and what their next steps are
  • how to take their learning public – the different tools, approaches, and forums for doing so
  • how to self-manage: to organize their time, tasks, and materials

Compared to…

Children who show up to school each day and are used to being told:

  • what to learn
  • why to learn it
  • when to learn it
  • how to learn it
  • where to learn it
  • with whom to learn it
  • what resources to use
  • how to capture and document
  • how they are doing and what their next steps are
  • when, how, with whom to share it with

Obviously, the goal is not to prepare children for Distance Learning. But Distance Learning gives us a unique snapshot into learning without school, learning beyond school and how learners approach learning when we’re not there with them.

What we do as educators each day can either contribute to an internal or external locus of control for the children we work with. Learning can either be seen as something done by them or something done to them. If children leave their years at school, thinking learning is only the by-product of teaching, then what happens when all of the sudden they no longer have ‘teachers’? Then there’s no more learning? Let’s hope not!

So what can we do, as educators, to be sure we are creating life-long learners?

  1. Unpack the difference between learning and school:

 

2. Spend more time, learning about learning:

What does learning look like?

What does learning feel like?

What do you believe about learning?

How is learning unleashed?

Understanding learning

Work or Learning?

An inquiry into learning

 

3. Ask this simple, powerful question of ourselves:

decisions

Credit John Spencer

 

4. . Take small steps sharing, and eventually shifting over, planning for learning

Screen Shot 2020-04-25 at 10.46.27 AMScreen Shot 2020-04-25 at 10.46.32 AMScreen Shot 2020-04-25 at 10.46.36 AM

Link to resource

 

5. Elevate the importance and role of ATL skills in everything we do

Screen Shot 2020-04-25 at 10.49.49 AM

Credit – Orenjibuta

 

6. Help learners take back ownership over their learning.

ownership

Credit – Barbara Bray and Sylvia Duckworth 

7. Be careful not to confuse compliance and engagement.

engagement

Credit – Barbara Bray and Sylvia Duckworth 

8. Be careful not to conceptualize “independent learners” as students who follow our directions by themselves without reminders

directions

 

9. Take lessons learned from Distance Learning back with us, to keep pushing the envelop and breaking the mould of what school could be

forward_to_school

 

10. Pull wisdom from the famous adage: Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. 

“Give a child their learning, and they’ll learn for a day.

Teach a child how to learn, and they’ll learn for a lifetime”

pole.

So whether you are still in Distance Learning, heading back to IRL school, or already back in the normal swing of things, now is a chance for all of us to reflect and take stock of whether our intentions and actions truly create the life-long learners we hope for.

 

How do you ensure you are supporting the growth of life-long learners?

How do you prioritize learning how to learn?

How do you help learners discover who they are as learners and how best they learn?

 

A Chance to Liberate Learning from Schooling

I haven’t blogged all year.

And I’m not quite sure why.

Likely because I was finding my footing at a new school, in a new country, doing a new job. Trying to understand a new organization; what are its values, beliefs, challenges, obstacles, strengths, perspectives, philosophies? While figuring out how my own individual values, beliefs, challenges, obstacles, strengths, perspectives and philosophies fit – or don’t fit – within that organization.

Whatever the reason, my last published post was August 3rd!

Then Distance Learning hit.

And once that whirlwind began (as I am sure all of you have experienced), it was a sprinted marathon. So although I had many thoughts and ideas bouncing around my head, I was too swept up in it all to sit down and write.

Until I was given an assignment from my Director of Learning….

To sit down. For 15 minutes. And write.

So here I am – sitting down. For 15 minutes. And writing.

Our assignment was about pausing to notice and reflect upon success within our Distance Learning experience so far. And there are SO many tangible moments of success that I could point to – the tireless efforts and mind-blowing creativity of the staff; the resilience and commitment of the learners; the seemingly never ending patience, support and empathy from leaders and coaches; structures, systems and approaches that had positive impacts… and the list goes on!

But my mind usually has a way of zooming out, to the intangible and abstract – especially when it comes to school. So instead, I find myself reflecting upon how Distance Learning may unexpectedly be helping an entire generation (of learners, educators and parents) brake some of the shackles and constraints of the traditional paradigm of school that have been hard to shake free from in the past.

I’m not sure about your experience with Distance Learning so far, but for me, the experience seems to have begun to separate and elevate the concept of learning from the current, collective, notion of schooling.

Not by choice or intention. But by having to start over. Having to start from scratch. Having to come up with totally new things. Having to look at old things, in completely new ways. Questioning the purpose, place and impact of things that we may have never needed to question before. Rendering the phrase, “that’s the way we’ve always done things” powerless.

There have always have been small pockets of educators and parents critically examining the current paradigm of education and asking questions like:

What is learning?

How does learning happen?

What is truly worth learning? Who decides?

How do we know learning has happened?

What’s the point of grades?

Do schools create life-long learners or life-long students?

Does everyone have to learn the same things? At the same time? In the same way? At the same pace?

How do we help learners, learn how to learn?

How do we raise the profile of approaches to learning skills and attributes? 

How do we best meet individual and family needs?

But now those conversations seemed to have migrated from small pockets in certain schools and Twitter circles, to general discussion, happening on a much wider scale.

It seems that we have stumbled into a situation that forces us to focus on how to plan for learning and support learners without:

  • compliance
  • rewards
  • punishments
  • extrinsic motivation
  • timetables
  • grades
  • seat-time
  • standardization

But instead, to focus on how to plan for learning and support learners through:

  • curiosity
  • relevance
  • motivation
  • interest
  • significance
  • personalization
  • choice
  • ownership
  • feedback
  • relationships
  • family partnership

It seems that for so long the system of school has muddled the concept of learning with self-imposed structures that seemed natural, invisible, ingrained and unchangeable. But now, these awful and unfortunate circumstances have engendered a global, collaborative inquiry into learning. Which has allowed us all to see through those structures and peel back those limitations, to gain a clearer, more accurate picture of LEARNING itself.

Obviously the necessity of distance learning, and the circumstances surrounding it, is something nobody wanted or planned for. And all of us are counting down the days to when life gets back to normal, when people are healthy, happy and safe and we’re back on campus, surrounded by learners, colleagues and families. But while we find ourselves in this unique situation, what lessons might we learn along the way that we can bring back with us?

How might this unwanted disruption to all of our lives, springboard our collective disruption of what school could be?

How do we take what we’ve been wondering and discovering about learning during these extraordinary circumstances, to help us shake-up and re-define what school looks like when we all go back to our ordinary circumstance?

How might this collective experience leave the door open a crack for bold moves and innovations when we return?

Starting the Year with the PYP Enhancements in Mind

Our PYP community is in a unique situation. We welcomed in the PYP Enhancements last school year – but for many of us, it was mid-way through the year. Which means this is the first time lots of us are planning our first weeks with the enhancements in mind.

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I’m sure many of these considerations were already present in our previous approaches to back to school planning. But now we have a solid, common, intentional framework from which to plan our first day, our first week, and even the days leading up to the first day.

So as we plan our start to the year we need to be sure to ask ourselves and each other:

Are we thinking about The Learners?

Are we thinking about Learning and Teaching?

Are we thinking about the Learning Community? 

To help us all in this collective goal I’ve shared some ‘start of the year’ blog posts organized around those 3 categories:

The Learner

Relationship Building 

Why We Must Invest in Relationship Building First

An Inquiry Into My Students

Connecting with Students 

Learning and Teaching

Sowing the Seeds for a Great Year – 10 Tips for an Inquiry-Based First Week 

What Does an Inquiry-Based First Week of School Look Like?

What Could an Agency-Supportive First Week of School look like?

Best First Week of School Ever!

Best First Month of School Ever!

My Plan For  a More Fair and Free Place to Learn

Starting the year off slowly

The Learning Community 

Reaching Out to Families

Getting Parents On-board 

How are you ensuring the PYP Enhancements are guiding your back to school planning?

What other resources would you add to this list to help strengthen our focus on The Learner, Learning and Teaching and The Learning Community?