A Hard Goodbye

For those of us who work at international schools, goodbyes are a normal part of the end of the school year, as students, families and colleagues pack up and move on to their next adventure.

This year, I am the one who is moving on to a new adventure and as such, have spent the past few weeks saying goodbyes.

This year, one goodbye in particular was especially difficult… the goodbye to my team.

I’ve written before about how I am not a natural collaborator, but these past two years I’ve experienced first hand the difference between going fast alone, or going far together. And it has changed me as an educator and a person. I can no longer remember what it feels like to be “in it” alone, nor do I want to.

So, to my very special team, I would like to say thank you…

Thank you for accepting me for who I am, flaws and all.

Thank you for leaving me alone on Monday mornings and not sitting with me at lunch on days when I have no preps.

Thank you for helping me see and understand my “blind self”.

Thank you for challenging me, disagreeing with me and making me think.

Thank you for seeing and treating my students as your students.

Thank you for picking me up when I was down; helping me fix my mistakes, solve my problems and not get stuck in my failures.

Thank you catching me up on what was on the morning memo, what time the assembly starts or what special event was coming up.

Thank you for keeping me balanced, fed and hydrated.

Thank you for showing me how much better life is without shoes.

Thank you for indulging all the selfies, chroming all the photos and agreeing to the flash mob.

Thank you for ALL the amazing renditions and remixes of “Baby Shark”.

Thank you for taking my phone hostage, making me get in the pool and all the unwanted (secretly wanted) hugs.

Thank you for teaching me what a true community feels like and how rich authentic collaboration can be. Lessons I will definitely take with me to my next post.

It’s been a slice 😉

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A far off dream…

For anyone who is a fan of the TV show How I Met Your Mother, you will be familiar with the scene where the bunch a friends is sitting around and gets struck with the amazing idea to open a bar.

”WE SHOULD TOTALLY OPEN A BAR!”

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Just as, for many of us educators disillusioned with the current paradigm of education, we will be familiar with scene of sitting around with like-minded colleagues and getting struck with the amazing idea to open a school.

”WE SHOULD TOTALLY OPEN A SCHOOL!”

I myself have been in this scene more than once, with more than one group of colleague-friends. Not that I have any idea how to open a school… or build a school… or a run a school… or where I’d even have a school…

But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t put some thought into what it would be like…

Concept: I’d love to borrow a page from the health care community and mirror their approach to holistic health centres. But instead of having one place where you can have access to a naturopath, a pharmacist, a chiropractor, a psychiatrist, you’d have a place where you’d have access to a learning coach, a counsellor, a nutritionist, a community liaison…. As many different parts and pieces that would be needed to provide a Holistic Education support community.

Location: Somewhere in a natural setting – a forest perhaps – where children could be immersed in nature and the local environment. Playing, exploring, getting dirty! Somewhere in the world where learning centres can exist without having to be “schools” and that aren’t stuck complying with mandated structures of the traditional paradigm.

Layout: I have a vision of a large circle, one long, never ending corridor. With many different spaces and places – kitchen, design lab, library, lots of nooks and crannies. All with direct, unimpeded access to the center of the circle, which would be a large, enclosed natural  space. With trees and picnic tables and large moving parts. Things to build and climb. Places to sit and talk and run and play. That is open, available and accessible to everyone, at all times.

Community: The community would be democratic. Where adults and children, staff and parents – anyone connected to the community – has a voice and a role in decision making.  The center would be a cooperative, co-owned by all stakeholders – staff and parents.

Curriculum: Would be entirely emergent, holistic and co-constructed. Starting first with the child – their strengths, their interests, their passions. Following the road map life has hidden inside them. There would be no clinging to the idea that everyone needs to know and learn exactly the same thing. There would be no pressure to standardize a natural, organic, non-linear process. Each individual would learn what he or she needed to in order to follow their own path. Academic skills would be learned when people wanted or needed them. 

Assessment: The emphasis would be on progress, not achievement. Meeting each individual where they are and helping them move along at their pace. Celebrating growth and development without constantly chasing some fixed notion of where someone of a certain age “should be”. Assessment, understood as a verb, something owned by the learner within the context of the process of learning, not as a noun, something done to someone by an external body.

Scheduling:  Timetabling would be non-existent. Pick-up and drop-off flexible, rolling starts and dismissals. People would eat when they are hungry, drink when they are thirsty, play when they choose and visit the bathroom as they need. All spaces would be open, active, supervised – with free flow of children and adults of all ages. Systems would be in place for advertising learning opportunities and signing up for small group and one-on-one support when needed.

Staff: All staff would see themselves as learners first and foremost; experts in learning secondly; and finally, as unique individuals with their own talents and passions to share with the community. All staff would wear multiple ‘hats’. Meeting with small groups of students to start and end the day as a social-emotional support and learning coach, and offering and participating in a range of learning opportunities throughout the day. People with expertise and interest in cooking, dance, literature, nature, photography, coding, business, environmentalism, writing, building, art, meditation etc willing to share their passion with others, as well as take risks and try new things being offered by other members of the community.

Vibe: A place where staff love coming to work and children love coming to learn and parents feel welcome and involved. A place where, when asked the question, “If your students didn’t have to go to school, would they?” The answer would be a resounding, indesputable “YES”. Where everyone not only feels comfortable to be themselves, but feels compelled and supported to work on becoming the best version of themselves.

Identity: We would know who we are and who we are not, and we would be comfortable with that. If someone was looking for a high-stakes, test-driven, finite-curriculum focused, competitive approach to education, we would be okay to say “sorry, that’s  not us – but we hope you find what you are looking for”

I know that at this moment in time I don’t have the means, skills or know-how to start my own school. I know there are a million ins and outs I haven’t thought of, or planned for, or even know about. I know there are probably a million and one reasons as to why this wouldn’t work….

But, what’s the harm in dreaming!?!?

The Problem With a POI

For those of us who work at PYP schools, we are all too familiar with the “POI Review”. Some schools conduct it yearly, others every few years, some only when an evaluation visit is looming. But we all do it.

A typical approach to a POI review usually involves an analysis of horizontal articulation (balance within a grade level) and vertical articulation (balance across the grade levels). This usually consists of identifying, tallying and cross-referencing concepts, skills, sections of the TD themes etc. all in order to guarantee that there is balance in what is being taught each year.

I think if you are at a PYP school that creates a POI based around teacher-planned Units of Inquiry and then never changes that POI… then this traditional approach to vertical articulation makes sense.

But if you are at a school that is constantly reflecting upon, changing and evolving your Units of Inquiry; planning in response to learning; building units after getting to know your students; co-planning UOIs with your students; and eventually supporting your students to plan their own personalized UOIs… then a traditional approach to vertical articulation presents a few significant challenges.

I work at school that is much more the latter, than the former. So when I sat down today with a team of colleagues to analyze our vertical articulation, we ran face-first into many of these challenges.

Challenge #1 – Personalization

We noticed that as our students move through their PYP journey at our school, they become more involved in the direction their learning takes within a Unit of Inquiry. So when we got to the grade-levels with purposefully open-ended central ideas, we found it difficult to tally the concepts, knowledge and skills because we knew that different groups of students had taken their learning in different directions. It became even more challenging when we got to the grade-levels where students are planning their own personalized Units of Inquiry, because that meant all 120 students had branched off in completely different directions, multiple times throughout the year. And although there have been efforts made within those grade-levels to track the balance of their learning, we realized it became difficult to bridge those systems of articulation with the other systems of articulation that made sense for ensuring balance across teacher-planned UOIs.

So how can we build one coherent system that can track balance regardless of whether a UOI is teacher planned, co-planned or student-planned?

Challenge #2 – Constant Change

We are a school of risk takers and reflectors, which means we are in a self-perpetuated, constant cycle of re-working our Units of Inquiry: to grow and change as we grow in our understanding of teaching and learning; to grow and change as the world grows; to grow and change to attempt to better suit the needs and interests of the current cohort. What we end up with it a constantly changing POI. Which is a GREAT thing! But definitely presents a challenge when it comes to vertical articulation analysis. Because even if you can show that the current POI is vertically balanced – that specific POI is not static, and not necessarily representative of the learning for that group of students from the year before, or the year before that. So what we’re doing is ensuring balance at one point in time for students in all different grade levels, but we’re not necessarily ensuring balance for one group of students over time.

And we have to be careful not to let the tail wag the dog and stop reflecting upon and changing UOIs, just to ensure that vertical balance that we were able to tally and track at that one moment in time. It’s not static and it shouldn’t be static.

So how can we ensure vertical balance in our students’ learning in a way that grows and changes as our UOIs grow and change from year to year?

If we are re-imagining ways to approach the planning of Units of Inquiry that make up our POI; then we should probably also  be re-imagining the ways we analyze and track balance within that POI.

What if…

A POI was personalized to each student.

A POI followed the students through their PYP journey.

A POI was more focused on what was learned, instead of what was taught.

A POI wasn’t impacted every time a UOI changed.

One idea my colleague and I had was a more adaptive, personalized and emergent approach to ensuring there is balance within a students’ PYP journey.

We had an idea that stemmed from a system we use within our grade-level to help students reflect upon balance within their learning over the course of the year. We have students pause and capture the different sections of each PYP Theme they have explored so far, to help them notice their own gaps in their balance. This data is then used to stimulate conversations of where they might take their next unit.

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We had the idea to take this approach and imagine what it could look like across ages and grade-levels, to create one synthesized, coherent, but personalized record of vertical articulation.

In grade-levels where teachers are planning the Units of Inquiry, teachers could hi-light the parts of the TD themes that the students explore.

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Then, that same document can move up to the next grade with the students and their new teachers can update their new learning, by hilighting new elements of the TD themes that have been explored over the course of that year. Then even if the grade below them changes the unit the following year, the learning from the unit that actually took place for their current students would be tracked and documented.

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Then for the grade-levels where students and teachers are co-planning Units of Inquiry, editing access could be shared with students – made simple by programs like Google Classroom that allow you to take one document that already exists and push it out to all individual students to modify.

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That way students can accurately reflect the learning that took place in their unit, even if it was different from other students in their class. It would also provide great data for students and teachers to be able to work together to notice gaps in balance to inform their co-planning.

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Finally, when students reach the stage of completely planning their own UOIs they would take over responsibility for tracking their balance  and using the data that represents their journey as a learner so far. Regardless of whether the learning came from a teacher-planned UOI, a co-planned UOI or a self-planned UOI. They would have ownership and access to a document that had a complete record of their learning over the full course of their PYP journey.

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Obviously, this idea is very new – and very raw and undeveloped. We realize there are many complexities and nuances that would need to be thought through before launching something like this.

What about new students?

Could new students not update the knowledge they gained from their previous schools on to this record?

What about specialist-subjects?

Could specialist teachers not also add to this centralized document?

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What about “repeats”?

Could we not think of a way to code parts of the TD theme that are revisited at different times in different ways?

What about concepts, skills, etc.?

Could a second slide be added for concepts? A third for skills?

What about PYP evaluations?

Could there be a way to display and explain this approach to articulation that still adheres to and satisfies their Standards and Practices?

There are also the difficult discussions about whether balance means “equal coverage” or whether pursuing a balanced POI trumps students following their own motivation… but these are important discussions for all schools and teams to be having, regardless of how they are ensuring articulation in their POI.

I’m not sure if this is the answer (I think it would be pretty interesting to try though!) but I think there must be ways for us as a PYP community to re-imagine our approaches to ensuring balance in a our students’ learning in a way that better reflects our emergent, organic, adaptive and co-constructed approaches to planning.

What are your “what ifs” for the POI review process?

What challenges do you see with horizontal and vertical articulation?

How else could we evolve our approaches to tracking and ensuring balance?

Bringing Parents into the Conversation

It’s no secret that the grade level I am involved in does things a little differently. Ok, “a little” might be an understatement. We are very different. And as a result, sometimes parents need support understanding and feeling comfortable having their children become part of our pilot program. With only a few months left in the school year -and next year right around the corner – this is one of those times.

Parents from the grade level below us started to share some worries and concerns with the school about next year, so we decided to get out ahead of things and offer an evening parent session for all of the parents in the grade level below us. Our PYP coordinator contacted the parents and invited them for an evening with us.

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It was important for us to collect their concerns, questions and worries to inform our planning for the session in response to their needs. So we asked them to fill out a short Google Form to help us gather that information.

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Then as a team, we analyzed their responses.

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After analyzing their responses, it was clear most of them were looking for specifics about how things work and what exactly happens on a day to day basis.

But jumping into hows and whats without investing first in the why is not really our style… and not something that we felt would help to build sustainable buy-in for the long run. We believed the overarching goal should be to bring parents into the conversation about education, to help them develop themselves as critical thinkers. To be able to look at the current paradigm and question it, challenge it – hopefully even criticize it! So we had to figure out a way to address what they wanted from the session with what we felt was important for the session.

We decided to frame the evening as “Starting the Conversation” with a heavy focus on the whys, followed by a brief overview of hows and whats – with transparency about our plan for continuing the conversation in order to ensure they felt their voices were heard.

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We had a great response! We had 40 families RSVP for the event.

And true to our collaborative approach, we had 10 representatives from our team there, each of whom took ownership over a small section of the presentation. It was important for us to show Who We Are in the way we work together in each and every thing that we do.

Section 1: Provocations

If our main goal was to bring parents into the conversation, it was essential to begin by poking and provoking their thinking about education. Both by ‘stepping in’ in order to connect with their own experience as a student and ‘stepping back’ to attempt to objectively look at the system of school from a distance.

We decided to use a chalk talk with a range of provoking questions to stimulate these types of thinking.

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Then we brought the whole group together to pull out the big ideas from each of the provocation chalk talks. At first the parents were hesitant to contribute, but once we got the ball rolling lots of great ‘noticings’ were shared.

We finished the discussion with what parents hoped for their childrens’ future, which acted as a great segueway to our next provocation about skills. Instead of telling parents what skills are currently valued, we wanted them to make those discoveries for themselves. So – in the vernacular of our students – we had them “search it up”!

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All the parents took out their phones and did a little research about what skills are currently valued in post-secondary and the workplace. After some inquiry time, we had parents shout their discoveries. Some began to make connections with responses from the chalk talk, which was an unexpected bonus!

Then we shared a provocation from the World Economic Forum to provoke their thinking about how rapidly the landscape of skills continue to change…

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Which walked them right into one of our main provocations….

If the nature of desired skills keep changing so rapidly, who amoung us knows exactly what will be needed by the time their child graduates in 2030?

Which helped us usher in AJ Juliani’s quote:

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Section 2: The “Why”

Investing a large chunk of time into provoking parents’ thinking, let us transition smoothly into talking about the “why”.

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We touched on that nature of the industrial model of education…

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We touched on the growing body of educators standing up to say that something is wrong with the traditional paradigm of school…

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And we ended with the need for a radically different approach.

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Section 3: The “Hows”

Even though our main focus was the “why” behind our approach, we also wanted to honour our parents and most of their worries and concerns were centered around “hows” and “whats”. So we made sure to briefly touch on some of the most important “hows” without going too deep into the details.

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We explained how our mission statement drives everything we do as well as the time, thought and energy that went into developing it.

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We explained how we have a broad view of “success” and how we make sure success in one area does not come at the expense of another area.

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We hilghted the importance of learning how to learning and how we use the PYP ATL skills to support that.

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We touched on how we use Dan Pink’s work on motivation as a driving force behind what we do.

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We explained how we work as a team with parents and students to ensure everyone’s voice is heard and perspective is valued.

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We shared how Learning Support, Challenge and Enrichment and EAL support works in our model.

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Section 4: The “Whats”

The one part of the presentation that the parents wanted the most, was the one part of the conversation that we chose to dedicate the least amount of time to.

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The majority of the worries and concerns that parents shared in the aforementioned Google Form were about ‘what’ exactly happens on a day to day basis. And although we wanted to honour their voices, we also wanted to be careful not to oversimplify this part or give off the idea that it is static and concrete. Because the truth is that the “whats” are constantly changing. So “what” a typical day looks like now, is not what a typical day looked like a month ago, and will not be what a typical day will like for their child next year. So we decided to acknowledge the whats, without committing to any specifics.

For example, we addressed the fact that our approach still includes transdisciplinary Units of Inquiry as well as stand-alone math and literacy…

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We explained that our approach includes many different pathways for learning…

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We acknowledged many of the nuts and bolts of our approach, but were transparent about the fact that even though the function of these elements stay the same, the specific form is constantly growing, changing and evolving.

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We were open about the role of our own reflections and action research as a vital part of what we do, and linked that back to our non-committal approach to explaining the “nuts and bolts”.

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Part 5: Next Steps

Before wrapping up the session, it was important for us to explicitly acknowledge the worries and concerns that came through the Google Form that we chose not to address in this first session. Again, we re-iterated that the session was just the “beginning of the conversation” and clearly explained our plan moving forward to ensure they knew that all of their needs would be addressed at later times.

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We also focused their attention on what specifically they could do now, in the interim, to prepare themselves for the experience of being a parent in our model next year. We hilighted the importance of having them join the current conversation about changes needed in education.

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In order to support them in this, we shared a resources document with them that included any source we referenced throughout the presentation, as well as other resources we felt might help them along in their journey to think critically about the education system.

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Overall, it was a really successful evening! The energy in the room was great – parents were engaged in the conversation, sharing stories, reflections, thoughts and discoveries. Of course there were a few parents that hung back to speak to us one on one about further worries and concerns – and we were glad they did! Our goal was to start the conversation, so we were happy to have parents engage further with it right away!

Sadly, I won’t be there next year to continue the conversation with this group of parents… but I hope one of my colleagues picks up the mantle and documents the rest of this journey!

How do you bring your parent community “into the conversation”?

How do you support and challenge your parent community to develop a critical thinking approach about the current educational paradigm?

A week in the life…

A few weeks ago I was leading a workshop and one of the participants asked what a “normal day” is like for me. Although the easy answer is – there is never a normal day – the truth is, at this point of the year, we have settled into somewhat of a routine. However, just sharing one day wouldn’t make sense, because so much of what we do is part of a bigger system or routine. So I’ve instead decided to share what a “normal week” is like for me.

Friday Afternoon

A huge part of supporting our students to take ownership over their learning is helping them set weekly goals. Goals that are personal, relevant and meaningful to them. We spent months and months teaching them how to set goals – focusing on how to know you need to focus on something (using data to inform goals) and also how to know you’ve achieved or accomplished what you set out to (defining success criteria).

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We started off small at the beginning of the year having students set one personal goal for the week. Then as the weeks went on and their goal setting skills improved, we began to roll in other goals.

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Always partnering the expectation of setting a new goal, with instruction and support for setting a goal of that kind. We spent a lot of time discussing how to know what you need to work on, and how different sources of data can be useful in that process.

For a personal goal it may be your screen time statistics…

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Or feedback from a three-way conference…

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For a literacy goal, it may be assessment data…

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Or something from a personal learning plan…

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For math it may be feedback from a math conference…

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Or an online assessment tool…

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For UOI it may be from a unit plan….

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Or a backwards plan…

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Now at this point of the year, students are fairly independent at analyzing different sources of data to know what they need to focus on and establishing what success might look like for them for all areas of their learning.

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As partners in their learning, we still play an important role in supporting students to set goals. Sometimes we are co-planning their goals with them. Sometimes they plan independently, then conference with us face-to-face for advice and consultation. Sometimes they plan and request digital feedback.

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Another essential element, is keeping the parents involved in this process. After students have drafted their goals and received some form of feedback from an advisor, they share their goals with their parents. Both as a way to keep parents in the loop about what their child is learning; but also as a source of feedback to help them further strengthen their goal setting.

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Monday Period 1

Each morning I start the day by previewing the schedule with students to ensure we all have a shared understanding of the day.

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Then I go through our “ads”. The ads show the array of adult-led and student-led learning opportunities and experiences for that day.

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Then we look at the “MOSCOW” for the day. Typically the “musts” are always the same – achieve your weekly goals – but the shoulds, coulds, and wants depend on what’s happening that week or something specific we are focusing on.

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Then students plan their day. Each week we push out a day plan template via Google Classroom for each student.

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We also share all the advisors’ timetables to allow any students to sign-up for one-on-one conferences, guided groups, supervision etc. with any of the available adults.

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Support for students planning their day ranges from planning with an advisor, to planning independently then getting feedback from an advisor to planning independently and seeking feedback from a peer.

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Monday Period 8

When we come back together as a community at the end of the day, we have two main focuses: analyzing and reflecting on our day plan and updating documentation of learning.

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The first thing students do is colour code their day plan. As a class, we came up with a  system that made sense for us:

Green = completely stuck to the learning I planned for myself

Yellow = Mostly stuck to the learning I planned for myself

Orange = Kind of stuck to the learning I planned for myself

Red = Totally did not stick to the learning I planned for myself

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As a community we worked very hard to build a culture of honesty, not fear, when it comes to colour-coding day plans. Students feel comfortable knowing that they can admit to the times when they got distracted or pulled off-course without fearing that they will get in trouble. This culture of honestly lets students get to know themselves better as learners, and allows us as advisors to have some powerful, open conversations with them about what got in their way of learning and what they are going to do differently in the future.

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Once students are finished colour-coding their day plans they jump into documenting the learning and curating evidence from their day. Similar to the goal setting, they are fairly independent in this process at this point in the year. But that is a result of intentional focus on helping students see the “why” behind documentation, encouraging their exploration of different “hows” and supporting their awareness of possible “what’s”.

At this point in the year, some students curate their evidence using Seesaw

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Others use Portfolios (using Google Slides)

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Some prefer to blog

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Some are quite creative – like my comic maker who uses his love of comics to capture his reflections and evidence of learning each day!

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While students are updating their documenting myself and my co-advisor have one-on-one meetings with students who benefit from additional support to reflect on their day plans or generate and analyze evidence to support their colour-coding.

Monday after school

After the students head home I sift through their colour coded day plans (which is made so easy by Google Classroom!) and make decisions about what type of support each student needs for the following morning based on how their day went.

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If a student seemed to have a difficult time carrying out their plans I might have them plan with me or another advisor so we can have long, uninterrupted conversations about their choices and what they plan to do differently. If the student had only one or two areas of difficulty then they will likely plan on their own, but pop by for a conference with an advisor where we could have a quick check in on that specific area of need. If a student had no difficulty sticking to their plan, and is on somewhat of a streak of “green days” then they are trusted to plan and seek feedback from a peer.

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After I’ve finished going through their day plans, I sift through their documentation for the day. To help myself stay organized, I have a document where I keep track of where they keep track of their evidence of learning. This allows me to easily find and browse through their documentation as another way to plan support for learning and conversations about learning for the following day.

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As I am going through their colour-coded day plans and their documentation of learning, I usually keep a list of talking points for students I am planning with or conferencing with the following day (just to help me stay organized, and maximize my time with each student).

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Tuesday

Rinse and repeat.

Wednesday Morning

Mostly rinse and repeat… but since Wednesday is the halfway point in our week, we use it as an opportunity to check in with progress on goals. At the end of the day students use a colour coding system that we created as a class to see which goals they are closest to achieving, and which goals are farthest away from completion.

Green = goal achieved; success criteria met; evidence of success complete

Yellow = goal achieved but need time for success criteria and evidence

Orange = progress made, but more time and support is needed to achieve success

Red = not progress made YET

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This routine gives them really strong data for making informed choices the following day about what areas of their learning need the most time, support and additional strategies.

Thursday

Mostly rinse and repeat… but during our planning meeting and conferences in the morning we use the colour-coded goal data to drive our conversations about the students’ day plans.

“I noticed your UOI goal is red, but you haven’t given any time to it today. Can you tell me about that?”

“I see that your math goal is green, but you’ve scheduled a block for math today. What was your thinking behind that decision?”

“I noticed your literacy goal is orange. What time, support and strategies do you need to get it to green by the end of the week?”

Friday period 1

Mostly rinse and repeat… but the focus during period 1 is on evidence and documentation, thus slightly changing the “musts” to really highlight that focus.

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Friday afternoon

Before students set new goals, we always build in time to reflect and analyze their goals from the current week. Students re-colour code their goals, based on the action they’ve taken since Wednesday and use that new data to decide which goals need to be carried over into the next week and in which areas of learning they are ready for a new goal.

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Then we repeat the goal setting procedure I explained at the beginning of this post.

Friday After school

Similar to the other days of the week, I spend my time after school browsing through their stuff to help me figure out how to move forward. I scroll through their finalized goal colour-coding, their day plans, and their documentation to make informed choices about what level of support might be best for each individual child the following week.

I also take this time to not only focus on the needs of specific students, but also trends that point to larger areas of need for groups of children and sometimes, the whole class. This could be anything from screen time, support with goal setting, taking math learning deeper, stronger documentation, choosing learning locations etc.

If I notice a larger need, I block out my time table to address those areas of need the following week with the specific groups of students struggling in that specific area.

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Monday Morning 

The whole thing starts all over again!!!!!

TWO MASSIVE DISCLAIMERS:

1. This blog post is a snapshot of what a ‘week in the life’ looks like for me right now. But it is such an organic, iterative, ever-evolving process, that this is not what a week would have looked like a month back, and will definitely not be what a week looks like one month hence. As a team, we are constantly reflecting, tweaking, analyzing, taking new risks, letting go of old risks.

(As an example of that, this is a current brainstorm from a recent team meeting of what we feel is currently “working” and “not working” at the moment.)

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2. This is what makes sense for me – based on my philosophies, my comfort level, my context, my constraints, my resources, my students and my team. So, as much as I am happy to share what I’m doing, it’s also important for me to urge you to figure out what makes sense for you– based on your philosophy, your comfort level, your context, your constraints, your resources, your students and your team. As tempting as it may be to transplant, my best advice is to grow your own innovation. 

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I’m still very much at the beginning of my journey. Constantly reflecting on my own why, rebuilding my repertoire of how’s and experimenting with many different what’s. This post is simply a snapshot of what a ‘week in the life’ is like for me right now. I have no idea what my “normal” will be in the future…

But I hope it continues to get me closer and closer to my goal of respecting and supporting student agency.

What is a “week in the life” like for you?

What are the nuts and bolts of attempting to support your students’ agency?

What are the routines, structures and systems that help you make the best use of time, people and resources your students have?

The Language of Agency

Arriving back to school today after a week off for the Tet holiday, I found myself in a professional development session about “choice words”. To kick off the session, our principal provided us with the following quote from the book How to Create a Culture of Achievement:

“Language creates realities and invites identities”

This provocation led me to start thinking about the language of agency.

What words are we using that create realities of student agency in our classrooms and schools?

What words are we using that invite identities of students as agents of their own learning?

And perhaps…

What words are we using… that don’t.

This reminded me of one of the sessions I attended at the 3E conference this past fall, where myself and a colleague spent our time thinking of all the words we use as educators that don’t reflect the ethos of agency.

Words we use when we talk about students:

  • Make them…
  • Force them…
  • Get them to…
  • Have them…
  • Let them…
  • Allow them to…

Words we use when we talk to students:

  • You must…
  • You will…
  • You have to…
  • You are going to…
  • You can…

If we look at many of the words we currently use when speaking about and to students, we might need to acknowledge the fact that our words may actually be creating realities and inviting identities of compliance, even though our intentions and actions are striving towards agency.

So what can we do about it?

Notice these words. Write down all the words that you think reflect an ethos of compliance, then try to catch yourself using them. Listen to the instructions you give to your students. Look at instructions on your slides, assignments and hand outs. Read the notes you take during PD.

Bring the words to the collective attention. Discuss these words with your teams and staff. Co-construct a list of words to watch out for. Tally and track when these words are used at collaborative planning meetings and staff meetings. See which words are used and how often. Turn it into a game. Help each other catch these words when they slip out.

Dig into what those words reveal. It’s one thing to acknowledge that we are using these words and phrases… it’s another thing to dig a little deeper into what they reveal about us, our beliefs, our philosophies of education, our biases. And not just on an individual level, what do these words reveal about the current paradigm of education, the system of schooling, the traditional power structures of teacher and student.

Strive for agency-supportive words. Brainstorm the words that create realities and invite identities of agency. What would those words be? How often are we using those words when we talk about students? How often are we using those words when we talk to students? How could we use those words more, and what impact might a change of language have on our practices in the classroom?

What comes first… the words or the behaviors?

How does one impact the other?

How can developing a language of agency help develop a culture of agency?

Taking It Public

Sometimes my team and I get crazy ideas. Like having 120 students share their 120 personalized Units of Inquiry, 8 different ways, 3 days after the winter holiday.

It always seems like a great at the time. We hold hands, jump in with both feet, happily submerge into new waters… then we pop back up to the surface, catch our breath and look around.

What is first excitement, soon becomes panic.

“What were we thinking!?”

“What have we done!?”

“How do we get out of this!?”

Then the realization hits us. The fact that we are constantly asking our students to:

– think big

– take risks

– leave their comfort zone

– do something that scares them

– embrace failure

So in order to avoid being the world’s biggest hypocrites, we commit to our crazy idea, get all hands on deck and continue full steam ahead.

Here is the story of how we muddled through our first attempt at supporting students to “Take Their Learning Public”

As always, the idea came from a long and heated chat. This time, about how to wrap up the students’ first personalized Units of Inquiry. We all agreed, there needed to be some way in which they shared their learning with parents and the school community, but we wanted to ensure it was as authentic and student-driven as possible. So we settled on the idea of having all students “take it public” but in a way that made sense for what their unit was.

As a team, we brainstormed all the possible ways student could take their learning public, and because we’re crazy, we thought… “Why not have them all happening on the same day!?”

And because we’re even crazier, we figured “Why not the Friday after they return from winter holiday”.

So then we introduced the idea to students, as usual starting with the “why”. We talked about how regardless of what someone is working on, learning about, or pursuing, there typically comes a point where that person takes their journey public. It may be when a fashion designer puts on a show. Or when a scientist publishes their findings. Or perhaps when an inventor showcases a prototype at a trade show. Or even when a musician performs a new song.

So since they’ve been working on pursuing a purpose for the past 6 weeks, it was time for them to take their learning public and share it with others.

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Then we shared our plan for “how” we were going to help students to make this happen.

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We shared our plan for support.

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We shared our plan for time.

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Then we shared our thinking about “what” ways they could take their learning public. For each option, we shared stories and photos from previous years to help students understand and visualize what that might look like for them – hopefully helping them more of an informed choice when it came time to commit to one of the options.

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Then we had all student complete a Google Form to give us the data we needed to plan our support for them.

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We analyzed the data in order to make decisions about groups and adult allocations. We looked for styles of taking it public that could be grouped together (like Ted Talks and live performances; gallery and showcase) and we also took into consideration our individual strengths and preferences for which group we felt we could best support.

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Then we shared this information with students…

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and had our first meetings with our “TIP” groups where we able to get to know the students (since they were made of mixed groupings) and begin to co-construct a vision for what success would look like.

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These “Take it Public” (or “TIP” as it came to be known) groups would continue to meet at the beginning of each day, so the adult responsible for the group could support the students to create to-do lists and day plans in order to prepare and meet again at the end of each day to support students in reflecting on progress, challenges and next steps. Many advisors also set up TIP Google Classrooms to help with the logistics, organization and communication.

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At this point, we also knew it was important to communicate with parents to let them know the “why, how, and whats” of Taking It Public, so they could make arrangement to hopefully come in and be part of it. We decided to be completely transparent with the parent community, and position ourselves as risk-takers, hence the name “A Friday of Firsts” – both for students and ourselves.

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Then, the next few days were full of:

Researching…

Building…

Rehearsing…

Designing…

Practicing…

Preparing…

Memorizing…

Organizing…

and lots and LOTS of conferencing!

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Many of us used a variety of approaches to track the students’ progress and find out what support they wanted from us. This helped us stay involved with what they needed and the amount and level of support that made sense for them.

Some of us collected this data with small check-in Google Forms at the end of each day:

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Others took anecdotal notes, or had one-on-one, regular check-ins with the members of their group.

Regardless of how we collected this data, we all made sure to use it in order to inform our planning for the following day.

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We also paid attention to planning the logistics for the actual day. Taking into consideration what is happening when, who is involved, who is supervising whom and who is available to come an observe/participate.

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The morning of the event, students did their final touches and preparations…

And then…. ready, set, GO!

Ted Talks

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A Marketplace

A showcase 

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A gallery

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A catered “Food Friday”

Workshops for younger students

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And read alouds

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Photo credits: @puglifevn @juouelle @hktans @ms_amandaromano 

Reflections:

  • All in all it was a successful day – there was a palpable energy amongst students, advisors and the parent community, as well as feelings of pride, success and accomplishment
  • There were a few difficult conversations between parents and students, but we welcome and encourage that as part of the learning process from students first attempt planning and directing their own Unit of Inquiry – it’s all about failing forward and learning from mistakes 
  • As a team, we were glad we took the plunge and tried something new and scary – we left our comfort zone, and magic really did happen!
  • It was SO great to work with a mixed group of students and continue to build relationships with students across the grade level
  • It was surprising how smooth the transition was from winter holiday, right back into TIP preparations – we were shocked and provoked at the idea not necessarily needing to wrap up one thing before a break, and the unexpected benefits of having something familiar to jump right back into

 Future Thoughts:

  • next time it would be great for us to acknowledge the students that “took it public” on their own accord at some point throughout their unit, as we had a few students point out that they had already hosted a workshop, catered an event, participated in a market at a more authentic time in their journey. Maybe this teacher-led “take it public” does not need to be for everyone, but could be more for those students who missed this part of the process on their own
  • it would be great if we could figure out how to break this “taking it public” out of school-land, beyond parents and students, and support students to share their learning and accomplishments with the wider community

 

How do you support your students to have ownership over taking their learning public?

How do you model and experience taking risks and facing failures alongside your students?