Reimaging “mentoring” in PYP Exhibition

This year as we gear up for PYPx 2021, we have been dedicating a lot of time to reimagining the role of “mentors”. We have been thinking about “mentor” as a noun – traditionally a person statically assigned to an individual or group for the entire Exhibition process. And we have been thinking of “mentoring” as a verb – connecting with that just-right person, at that just-right time to help with that just-right thing!

We are not alone in these conversations, many PYP practitioners and schools around the world have also been reimagining what support looks like for learners throughout exhibition. Some posts that provoked our thinking on the matter include:

We got to a stage in our planning where we decided this was going to be the year we said goodbye to a static, pre-assigned mentors and instead, be risk-takers, to figure out how we can embrace a more organic, responsive, personalized approach to “mentoring” learners through their Exhibition journey. We felt that the shift from “forced help” to “found help” was a more life-worthy learning experience and that learning how to “gather” support, intentionally and purposefully, as opposed to being simple “given” support would help them grow the most.

So, we decided to build a PYP Exhibition Human Library… and because of the unique context of not knowing whether we will be on campus or learning from home – or a mixture of both – we decided to set it up as a digital database. We also decided to open it up not only to faculty and staff at our school, but also parents and older students. Anyone who might have something to offer to the learners along the way.

First we collected the data: We used a simple Google Form, which allowed us to…

collect information about who they are in the community

… languages and areas of expertise

…specific Approaches to Learning Skills they would feel comfortable helping the Grade 5 learners with

… any of the PYP-ish stuff that supports the Exhibition journey

… and details about the extent to which they are able to support and how best for learners to contact them.

Next we collated the data: We decided to use Google Slides to harness the capability of internal links to allow for smooth and independent self-navigation for the learners.

The first slide acts as a table of contents to allow learners to self-identify in what area they require support

From there they are taken to a sub menu, that either breaks down the skills…

or the languages…

Or the specific topics…

Any of those sections then lead to a list of people to help and contact details for arranging the desired support.

Now that the library is built we are at the stage of thinking through the systems and processes to support the use of this tool:

  • ensuring balance of who learners contact
  • coaching learners to look for a mentor when they struggling, facing a challenging, or wanting some feedback
  • contact expectations (CCing their homeroom teachers on email communication)
  • zoom protocols (ie going through the homeroom teacher’s account) to ensure child safeguarding

Once these things are fine tuned, we will be ready to put this Human Library in the hands of the learners in hopes that they are able to use it to find the right people, at the right time, to help in just the right way!

Wish us luck! We will report back about how it goes!

Goal Setting and the S&Ps

At our school we are really trying to amplify the role of the new IB Standards and Practices across our whole school community – with leadership, with parents, with the Board of Directors and with faculty. We are trying to have the S&Ps be our lighthouse, our beacon, our goal post to create a shared direction and have that beautiful ‘sunflower effect’ where everyone in an organization is pulling in the same direction.

So one of the actions we have taken to try and work toward this vision, is to use the new IB Standards and Practices as the reference point for goal setting.

This year especially, we know that everyone is stretched so thin and working harder then they have ever likely worked before! So we wanted something simple and straightforward, but still impactful in helping our faculty along their ongoing journey as PYP practitioners.

Here is what we did and how it went:

First we explained the why, how and what to our faculty

Then we explained each of the three parts: self-assessment, reflection, and goal setting

Self-Assessment

For the self-assessment part, we used the proficiency indicators we use to measure student learning and applied them to ourselves as learners

We pulled as many Standards & Practices as we could that are relevant to the role of a faculty member at an IB school

Reflection

We used a simple framework to synthesize trends from their self-assessment

Goal Setting

We used a simple framework to commit to one goal, advocate for the support they desire as a learner and articulate what success will look like for them

And, as always, we emphasized that we are looking for progress, never perfection!

And the result was some beautifully honest, vulnerable and genuine reflections…

Which led to personalized goals that link their own individual improvement as a PYP practioner with our school’s collective improvement as an IB school.

From there, I was able to collate all their individual self-assessment data to see trends across the school. This was helpful in my role as PYP Coordinator because it not only allowed me a deeper understanding of where each individual PYP educators thinks they are in their journey; but I could also see commonalities in strengths and areas for growth within teams, subject areas, and across the whole staff. This provides me with great guidance in terms of how to individually support each faculty member with their goal, but also the bigger projects and initiatives I can work on with the whole staff in specific areas.

I was also able to collate goal areas and types of support, which again, not only allowed me to get a good handle on what each individual faculty member is striving towards and what they need from me, but also where there are common goal areas to help those individuals connect with one another over the course of the year to learn together and support one another in their shared purpose.

*Note – This is hot off the press! We just started it two days ago… so there is still some data rolling in!

So what are my next steps?

  • share this data with my partner – the PYP Principal – so we can have a shared understanding of where our staff is and how best we can help them grow
  • begin to reach out to individuals for calibration conversations, offers of support, and follow-up probing questions
  • look for individuals who have common goals and work on helping them make connections with one another

We are just at the early stages of this journey, but it feels like we are off to a good start! As always, I welcome your thoughts, feedback, suggestions, ideas and stories from your own practice and experience with using the IB Standards and Practices as the common reference point for professional growth and development.

Reimagining the POI

This is not my first time sharing my two cents about the PYP POI.

At the time I wrote that post, I was teaching grade 5 so although I could reimagine our approach to our grade-level POI, thinking bigger – whole school – wasn’t really in my purview at the time.

But now that I am in the role of PYP Coordinator, these wonderings have begun to swirl around in my mind once more.

There are two potential ideas I have been chewing on lately that I am considering taking a risk and giving a try for next year. They are by no means fully cooked ideas yet; merely seedlings that I’ve been incubating for a while. Not only does getting them down in writing help me clarify and develop my own thinking, but getting potential feedback from my fellow PYP peeps around the world could be just what I need to get a few steps closer to being ready to launch!

So here’s what I’m thinking…

Living POI

One of the issues we have been bumping up against is trying to balance a more emergent, organic, learner-centered approach to unit planning with having some sort of central POI that is transparent, visible and accessible to the whole community. The traditional approach to POI planning – more or less – is to do it in advance, ‘lock it in’ or ‘freeze it’, throw it on the website, print it out, frame it, hang it on the wall… and then more or less follow it for the course of the year.

That approach is difficult for us, because our first two questions we ask ourselves anytime we are planning a new unit are:

  1. What are we noticing about our learners? (interests, strengths, curiosities, needs, misconceptions etc)
  2. What is going on in the world? (locally, globally, virally, seasonally etc.)

Then we consult our learning outcomes… and well, you know the rest!

Starting the unit planning process with these two questions have helped us get a little closer to building significant, relevant, engaging and challenging units that reflect that specific group of learners at that specific point in time. But has made it tricky to document the POI in the same neat and tidy way!

So I’ve been thinking about how we might adopt an approach for a “living POI”. One that can be organically, emergently, responsively built – unit by unit.

With the magic of Google Slides, I think I might have a way to do that!

I’d build a central Google Slide as the comprehensive, whole-school, PYP POI.

This would display the “big bones” of each unit for each grade-level – as it is built – whether transdisciplinary or stand alone.

Even though this will be the centralized place where everything is displayed, it wouldn’t be the place where everything is updated. To make it easier for teams, I would build each grade-level and subject team their own Google Slide deck for the units they are responsible for.

Each of these individual slides from every grade and subject team would be linked back to the master document.

That way, as they responsively, organically and emergently build units, they can simply document the “big bones” here. Then, thanks to the magic of Google, all I will need to do is hit the “update” button and it will appear in the central, whole-school “living POI”

This would allow each team to be the keeper of their grade-level or subject POI, while I can be the keeper of the whole-school “living POI”. Every time a unit is built, it can be easily updated and therefore accessible and visible to the whole school community.

This would also allow each team to have a smaller, more manageable set of slides to take ownership over and add to as they build units, throughout the year. While at the same time having easy access to the central POI to see all units happening through all grades throughout the whole school.

By the end of the year, we would have our POI documented, but we wouldn’t need to sacrifice our responsive, emergent, learner-centered approach to unit planning in order to make that happen.

Learner-Centered POI

One of the potential criticisms of a more emergent and organic approach to unit planning in the PYP is the loss of articulation over time.

However, I’m not sure the current traditional approach to POI articulation actually accomplishes what it is trying to accomplished anyway…

Most schools, at the end of every year, or on a pre-set cycle every few years, step back and analyze horizontal and vertical articulation of their POI to ensure balance across things like concepts, ATL skills, Learner Profile attributes etc.

But this ‘point in time’ articulation approach seems flawed to me. Sure, if a school builds a balanced POI and freezes it for 7-8 years then it accomplishes it’s goal of balance for the learners who go through those 7 or 8 years of the Primary Years Program at that school. But currently, I would bet that most schools are venturing more towards refining, updating and improving units on a more regular basis – many each and every year. So what good is a perfectly balanced POI at ‘one point in time’ if by the time those learners in Early Years make it to Grade 5 the units have grown and shifted and changed (as they should in an agency-supportive, learner-centered approach!) So if I am a Grade 5 teacher interested in balance and articulation and I look at a the current POI … it is very unlikely that my current Grade 5 learners explored the units documented in that POI when they were in younger grades. Meaning I am judging articulation by looking at units my group of learners may have never encountered!

What I think we need to be articulating is POI balance ‘across time’. Enter my idea for a “learner-centered” POI.

What if, instead of articulating the POI at a given time, we spent our time and effort articulating the POI each learner experiences across their years in the Primary Years Program?

My thinking is that we could set-up learner-centered POIs for each grade-level and then year after year capture the units they have explored and continuously update the elements of articulation we want to track to therefore inform future planning for that cohort.

Here is an example of what I’m envisioning:

If I think of the learners who will complete the PYP at our school next year at the “PYP Class of 2021/2022” I can create that cohort’s POI.

I can then go back through the archives and capture the different units they have explored so far in their PYP journey.

At the end of this academic year, we can update the units they explored in Grade 4

Then next year’s Grade 5 teachers can easily see what units their incoming learners have explored over time, to help inform the planning and decisions they make for their written curriculum throughout the year.

I am also considering an “over time” articulation slide, where the Grade 5 teachers – for example – can easily tally things like key concepts, ATL skills, attributes of the Learner Profile for that specific cohort, which again can inform their planning for this group of learners.

Perhaps even a colour-coded running record of parts of each TD theme descriptor…

As a I mentioned, these ideas are half-baked at best! But I’m definitely itching to take some risks and reimagine our school’s approach to building, capturing and balancing our PYP Program of Inquiry.

I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback to help me further reflect upon, refine and fertilize these idea seedlings.

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?