The Documenting Dilemma

This is a story of hypocrisy and empathy.

If there was a voice recorder in my classroom this year, more than anything else, you would hear me urging my students to document their learning.

At the beginning of the day…

“Don’t forget to document your learning!”

Throughout the day…

“Are you documenting your learning?”

“You should document that!”

“You’re missing it! Something awesome is happening… capture it!”

At the end of the day….

“Did you document your learning today?”

“Did you capture what you did? How you did it? How you felt about? What you learned? How you learned? How you felt about your learning?”

I had workshops about stronger documentation of process and growth

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We developed success criteria for strong documentation of learning

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I shared exemplars of strong documenting of learning

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I was obsessed with having them document their learning. And, I would bet that I am no different from any educator who is striving for more learner agency, yet still working in a fairly mainstream system. There seems to be some unwritten agreement that – yes, we will transfer ownership of learning back into the hands of the students… but only as long as they document it all to prove that it is happening. 

And then it happened… hypocrite moment #1

We were all sitting around at a weekly team planning meeting at the beginning of March and realized that we had neglected to document our learning journey. The blog that was set-up with the specific purpose of allowing us to capture what we were doing, how it was going and what we were learning from it… was blank.

Even though we knew about it.

Even though we all saw value in it.

Even though we had weekly reminders to document and capture our journey.

Blank.

This really got me thinking! It wasn’t that learning hadn’t happened. We had all experienced so much personal and professional growth. And it wasn’t that nothing worth capturing had happened. The previous 7 months were full of risk-taking, new initiatives, testing out new ideas, reflective conversations, multiple iterations….

It just wasn’t “documented”.

And there were perfectly acceptable reasons as to why:

We were busy.

It wasn’t the top of the priority list. 

We we’re so “in the thick of it” it was hard to step back from it to document it.

And here comes empathy moment #1. As I reflected on the reasons we were identifying for our lack of documenting, I realized these were likely some of the same reasons my students had for their lack of documenting.

Then came hypocrite moment #2

At the beginning of the year we were sent out a Google Slides template with 12 slides based on specific professional criteria. We were told to document our professional learning and growth throughout the year, by populating the slides with artifacts and explanations.

We were reminded to continuously update it.

We were reminded to “capture” our growth and progress.

And 3 days before my end of the year appraisal meeting with my administrators…. guess what? Completely blank.

Again, it wasn’t that I hadn’t experienced any professional growth. It wasn’t even that I hadn’t documented it somewhere. It was just that I hadn’t documented it there.

And there were perfectly acceptable reasons as to why:

I already had ways that I captured and documented things that were meaningful and relevant to me.

I was already comfortable with certain platforms (my blog and Twitter) that I updated on an ongoing, organic basis

I was more internally motivated to document and capture my journey for my own reflective purposes, rather than for an external source of accountability. 

Again, all perfectly acceptable reasons. Again, likely the same reasons my students hadn’t been documenting either.

(I got it done, of course. I did what I’m sure my students do when their documenting is “due” for review. I went back through and filled it in retrospectively.)

These two moments, connected to my own practice of documenting learning – when I document, how I document, why I document, how often I document – really gave me some food for thought about how I was approaching documenting with my students.

Everyone knows the philosophical conundrum:

If a tree falls in the woods and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?

I wonder if a similar question holds true for documenting:

If learning happens and it is not documented, did it happen? Does it count?

The more I got thinking about this, the more I was reminded of a tweet that I saw a while ago from @AnneVanDam1996

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So, before we ask (force?) our students to document their learning, I think we first need to ask ourselves:

What is the purpose of documenting learning?

Who is it really for? Who should it be for?

Does everything learned need to be documented?

How often and in-depth am I documenting my own learning?

How different does it feel to document for my own purpose versus when it is mandated by someone else?

… and what might this all have to do with what we are asking of our students?

I have no answers. Just lots of questions. And lots of empathy….

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Student-Planned UOIs: An Update

A few months ago I shared with you our crazy idea to have student-planned UOIs and I left off at the part of the process where students either decided to “pivot” or “persevere”.

So here is what has happened since then…

The “Pivot-ers”

Right after some students decided to “pivot” I pulled them all together to help them reflect on their purpose, motivation and success from their first student-planned UOI. I used the continuum of purpose and the continuum of motivation to help ground their reflections and think about what they might do differently next time.

Then I had a whole guided activity planned to help them go back to step 1 (brainstorming potential purpopses) using our “purpose planner” and thank goodness I thought to ask if any of them happened to have a new purpose in mind… because every single one of them did! None of them needed me to walk them through the process of tuning into a new purpose – a process that had taken most students weeks the first time around! But now they were all much more intune with their own interests and curiosities that they could skip right over that part and jump right into designing their unit! Not to mention that they advocated for the opportunity to try to plan their unit independantly, before sitting down with me for some feedback, instead of planning their unit with me, like they had done before.

It was great to see that students were supporting one another to design their UOIs – pointing our transdisciplinary connections, suggesting possible resources, consulting on strong success criteria.

Once their new UOI planner was complete there were lots of other visible changes with regards to the motivation and success for this group of “pivot-ers”:

When they arrived to school it was the first thing they worked on

Two friends making scoobidou key chains

Walls were broken down about what kind of learning is school-worthy

Learning new card tricks

Developing cutting skills

It was clear they were in their flow

Sketching multiple perspectives of a car

They spent time on their purpose at home

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Ordering a sticker making machine

They were more confident to break away from their friends

Independanlty working on a page for the yearbook

They chose to take their purpose public

Selling his hand-made sushi to the class

Selling his hand-made sushi to the entire school community

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Sending out an order form for personalized stickers to teachers and students

Overall, the “pivot-ers” knew themselves better, felt more confident, understood “learning” in a broader, deeper way and took more risks.

The “Persever-ers”

Just as their was undeniable growth and progress with the “pivot-ers”, there was just as much with the “persever-ers”.

They challenged themselves and took themselves to the next level 

Increasing the complexity of a first design

Moving on from drawing by hand to digital drawing

Working on a bigger, more complex model

Assinged herself a 30-day drawing challenge

They took more action

3-D printed, personalized designs

Hand-made board game

They moved themselves along the continuum of purpose towards more service to others 

Student-led afterschool activity 

Student-led assemblies for younger grades

Teaching KG students how to use new and improved rock climbing wall 

Changing original purose to be more sustainable and environmentally friendly

Producing and selling personalized bamboo straws

Using a love of drawing realistic animals to inspire discussion about endangerment 

Providing photography services for Grade 4 poetry exhibition 

They chose to venture out of their comfort zone

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Student-planned field trip to a shoe factory

Preparing music set to be played at monthly school market

They developed mastery 

More sophisticated cooking supplies and set-up

Greater attention to detail and craftmanship of dollhouse

Professional quality water colour materials 

Using a laser-cutter to personalize bamboo straws

Focus on accuracy and percision of measurements

Increased curation of learning resources and materials

TInkercad playlist to support with 3-D shoe design

Specific wood needed to make a cubby organizer

And although there were some noticable differences between the groups, there were also lots of similarities regardless of whether they had pivoted or persevered.

What we noticed about all students

They wanted to teach others and share their learning

Photoshop “Master Class”

K-Pop workshop

Helping a friend with Ukulele skills

Many organic collaborations formed

Botanists and entomologist working together in the school garden

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A sushi business owner hires an artist to design his logo

Two friends build a bath bomb business together

Organic mentor relationships developed

Grade 3 teacher shares her love and talent for sketch noting 

Working with our permaculture consultant to develop our school’s composting system

Studio 5 advisor shares his passion for photography

Learning with our IT integration coordinator to film experiments 

A budding artists connects with a TA who also loves to draw

They actively sought out feedback to improve

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A feedback document designed to collect and organize feedback from multiple sources

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Request for feedback on part of her advertising campaign

They had stronger documentation of their journey

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Some have digital process journals

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Some have Weebly blogs

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Some have WordPress blogs

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Some use SeeSaw

 

Some sketchnote

 

They continued to show interest and curiosity for one another’s purpose

They improved their ability to evaluate and articulate their learning 

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So where does that leave us?

Overall, we’re surrounded by happy, free children, comfortable to be themselves and follow their own journey – but together.

We still have a long way to go in refining this process… but we’re enjoying the journey along the way.

(Photo credits – @puglifevn@PhuHua, @makingoodhumans)

Upping the Agency in SLCs

A staple of any PYP school is the student-led conference. And although there are many different approaches to planning for student-led conferences, generally all iterations of SLCs have some element of student voice, choice and owership.

However that spectrum of voice, choice and ownership can vary greatly school to school, class to class.

This year our team decided to turn a critical eye towards SLCs to see where we as teachers tend to hold onto control over the process and the content, in order to then be able to transfer that control to where it should be… in the hands of the students.

The WHY

Instead of giving students our why for SLCs we supported them to come up with their own personalized why.

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Once they were aware of their own why, they were able to communicate to their parents what they wanted from them during their time together.

The WHAT

So often, the “what” of SLCs is pseudo-chosen by the teacher. “You must show something form math, literacy, UOI, art, music, PE etc…” So the student is technically able to choose what they show, but decisions about what-what is already made for them. This approach also often places learning into subject-specific confines, keeping that silo-mentality alive and well in the institution of school.

We decided that we wanted to move away from both of those typical pitfals of planning for SLCs. So instead, we put the decision of “what” entirely in the hands of the students and instead of guiding them to choose the what based on subject, we guided them to choose the “what” based on what they wanted to share about themselves as learners.

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We also decided to leave the number of “whats” up to them. So we purposefully did not make the template with a certain number of boxes or bullets, but rather let them drive the decision making based on whatever worked best for them.

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During their planning, we supported them to think about themselves as learners in different ways – using the IB Learner profile, PYP attitudes, ATL skills and a variety of sentence starters.

The HOW

Once students knew what they wanted to share about themselves as learners with their parents, we supported them in planning how they could best share that.

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We encouraged them to think about places, people, artifacts and resources that could help them express what they were trying to say about themselves as learners.

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Students really took ownership over this part of the planning and began to use their own systems of numbering, colour coding and organizing to help themselves feel most prepared.

The WHERE

The day before the conference students decided where they would be most comfortable conferencing with their parents and set-up their own conference location.

Overall, it was a very successful process. Students truly “led” the conference. Not just the conversation the day of the conference, but all the thinking, planning and decision making that happened in preparation before hand.

How you ensure students are in control of planning for SLCs?

How do you “up the agency” in Student-Led Conferences in your class?

Agency PD – A First Attempt

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

Here is how it went…

The Before:

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

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

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

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

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

For example, sending out links via email:

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

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The During:

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

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

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

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The “Choose” Portion of the day…

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who the Skype experts were:

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

I previewed the resource document that I built for them.

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

The “Act” Portion of the day…

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Optional Workshops:

1. The “Why” Behind Student Agency

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

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

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

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2. Transferring Decision into the Hands of Learners

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

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

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

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

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3. Self-Reflection and Planning for Action

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

I used a sketchnote from @terSonya

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and a questionnaire that I developed

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

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Optional Guided Groups or Conferences:

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

Skypes with experts:

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

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

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

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

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

Collaborative Conversations:

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

Independant Inquiry:

There was also lots of personal inquiry into the resource document

The “Reflect” Portion of the day…

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

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

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

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

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How fears are normal…

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

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

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The After:

When I got home, I read through the feedback:

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

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

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

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

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

My reflections….

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

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

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

APPENDIX (added to the original post)

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

workshop action for twitter

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

Read like a rebel

Last weekend at an IB conference in Singapore, I shared my personal journey from being a robot (a compliant student/teacher) to becoming a rebel (a thinker/questioner/challenger).

And a huge part of that journey for me was what I read. So often as educators we read amazing books… but they are usually books that help us do a better job within the system. Books about doing school well, or doing school better, or some even about doing school differently… but often just a little differently.

For me, the biggest shifts in thinking that I had came from books outside the system. From de-schoolers, un-schoolers, home-schoolers and even anti-schoolers. Books that made me critically look at the nature of the institution of school and begin to question some of the things we often assume to be “natural” or “essential” or “untouchable” elements of the education system.

So here are some of the things I read that helped poke and provoke my thinking about teaching, learning, schooling and the rights of the child:

It can be books…

Turning Points

How Children Learn

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Summerhill

Dumbing us Down

De-Schooling Society

It can be blogs:

Alfie Kohn blog

It can be Tweeters:

Bruce L Smith

It’s any reading material that gets you thinking, makes you question, gets you angry. The type of reading material that fires you up and gives you the confidence to look at school and say “that’s not okay”. The type of reading material that doesn’t shy away from challenging those “untouchable” elements of the school system.

The type of reading material that makes you feel unafraid to fail, be different or get in trouble.

What are your favourite “rebel reads” that I should add to the list?

Some thoughts on PD about agency

Recently I’ve been invited to visit a school in China to help poke and provoke their staff’s thinking about student agency. So being the keener that I am, I started putting together my workshop for them!

It was beautifully planned down the very last detail:

First I will provoke their thinking with a range of quotes, videos, and tweets. Then I will tune them into what they already know, or think they know about the concept of agency using a Frayer model and a Growing Definition. The I will get them to create their own questions using the Question Formulation Technique. Then I will give them a resource doc and have them inquire into the different resources and capture their thinking using a Connect-Extend-Challenge. Then I will get them to complete an agency self-reflection tool and put together a personalized action plan. Then to finish it off, I will have them complete a reflection activity called “I used to think… Now I think…”.

At first I was quite pleased with myself – inquiry-based, interactive, hands-on, lots of choice, full of Visible Thinking Routines and other best practices. Done and done!

But then I caught myself…

I couldn’t help but notice a pattern: “I will…, I will… I will… I will…” whether it was, “give them, get them to, or have them complete…” I was definitely the one engineering the learning.

So I began to wonder…

If the medium is the message, am I respecting and supporting their agency as learners?

Am I modelling for them what I’d hope to see them do in their classroom with their own learners?

Does the structure I have planned help them learn about agency, or through agency?

So I scrapped everything I had and went back to the drawing board, keeping those guiding questions in mind.

Now my plan looks totally different:

First, I will be transparent about the structure of the workshop. Explaining why the medium needs to be the message and what that has to do with my vision of them as capable, competent learners who know themselves and know what they need and how they learn best.

Next, they will construct their own personalized success criteria that shows what they hope to know, understand and/or be able to do by the end of our time together.

Then, I will present some systems and structures that provide a plethora of potential ways to learn about agency: a variety of optional sessions led by me, a structure for workshops any of them want to offer for each other, a resource Google document with many resources about agency that is editable so they can add new resources they find/create, an expert wall where teachers can sign up for aspects of agency they feel confident helping one another with, a conversation wall where they can add topics related to agency they want to discuss with one another, some possible time slots for one-on-one or small group conferences with me, opportunities to Skype with other educators experimenting with agency etc.

Next, I will provide them with blank schedules where they will fill in what they want to learn, how they plan to learn, where they will learn and with whom they will learn over the course of our two days together. Also blocking out potential breaks and time for lunch as they see fit.

Also, we will discuss planning for documentation. We will discuss all the different ways to document learning – Evernote, Google doc, Google slides, Twitter, notebook, bubble catcher, personal blog etc. – and then they will choose how best to capture and record their own learning.

Then the majority of our time together will be them learning – hopefully, with some conducting personal inquiries, others learning collaboratively, some choosing to attend my sessions, others attending peer-led sessions, lots of conversation – one-on-one, small group, and large group – with me and with each other. Not to mention taking breaks, eating, drinking, time for play and fun.

Towards the end, they will self-assess using their personalized success criteria to evaluate their own learning and ascertain their next steps in their learning journey towards understanding and implementing agentic models of learning.

Finally, to wrap up our time together we will collectively brainstorm why we reflect, how we can reflect and what specifically we can reflect about. My hope is that this generates a menu of “how” options ranging from conversation, to painting, to vlogging, to writing, to sketchnoting and “what” options ranging from what they learned about, to how they learned, to how they felt about their learning. Then they will reflect in a way that is most comfortable and purposeful for them as learners.

Obviously I won’t know how it goes until it actually happens… but I can say that I feel much more comfortable (and less hypocritical) with my second plan, compared to my first.

I know there are many of us in the education community charged with supporting teachers to learn about agency and shift their practice towards a more agentic model of learning. I think if we want to do so successfully then we need to be very purposeful in crafting professional learning experiences where the medium is the message – where teachers experience agency as learners, in order to be able to then go back into the classroom and respect and support their students’ agency as learners.

What are your approaches to helping teachers understand and implement more agentic models of learning?

*I’m also very open to feedback and suggestions about how I can make my plan even more agentic for the teachers I will be working with, so please feel free to leave constructive comments below!*