Starting the Year with the PYP Enhancements in Mind

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

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

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

Are we thinking about The Learners?

Are we thinking about Learning and Teaching?

Are we thinking about the Learning Community? 

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

The Learner

Relationship Building 

Why We Must Invest in Relationship Building First

An Inquiry Into My Students

Connecting with Students 

Learning and Teaching

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

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

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

Best First Week of School Ever!

Best First Month of School Ever!

My Plan For  a More Fair and Free Place to Learn

Starting the year off slowly

The Learning Community 

Reaching Out to Families

Getting Parents On-board 

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

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

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First, Seek to Understand

In a few days I will be stepping into a new job, at a new school, on a new continent. And although I’ve had some leadership experience before, this will be my first time stepping into administration.

We’ve all had that new administrator arrive to our school with their ‘suitcase’ of how things were at their old school, within their old board/system or in their old country. And their first year is spent trying to turn this place into that place.

As a staff member not new to the school, this can be quite frustrating…

So as I prepare for this change, I am very aware of that dynamic.

I’ve decided to try my best to follow the guidance of this quote and live by the philosophy:

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I will seek to understand each student. Learn their name, discover their interests, their strengths, their struggles.

I will seek to understand each family. Learn who they are and what brought them here. How they see the world. Their views on the purpose of education. Their dreams for their children.

I will seek to understand the local cultures. The customs, traditions, values and beliefs.

I will seek to understand each staff member. Who they are, what they believe in, what helps them feel successful. The areas in which they feel they need support.

I will seek to understand the history of the school. Where they have been in the past and what has made them who they are today.

I will seek to understand the culture of the school. What makes them who they are as an organization, and how things work there.

I will seek to understand where they are, as a school,  in their journey. Acknowledging all the time, thought and energy already spent on getting them to where they are. Seeing where they see their strengths and what they see as their next steps and areas for growth. Understanding the projects and initiatives that are currently in progress and being developed.

And then… 

I will seek to understand where I fit in. How I can help and what I have to offer them.

How do I plan on doing this?

I will try my best to listen in meetings. I will ask a lot of questions. I will observe and take notes. I will read through documents. I will go outside for recess and play with the students. I will stand at the gate at the start and end of the day and greet the families. I will roam the halls after school and ask how people’s day went. I will shadow students from different grades to experience things through their eyes. I will constantly ask for feedback, advice and help.

Most importantly, I will strive to fight the temptation to transplant what I’ve done at other schools. And instead I will focus on what they are trying to grow for their unique context and how best I can help.

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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?

Agency Self-Reflection Tool

Recently, I’ve been trying my hand at leading workshops to help educators along their journey to respect and support student agency. One element of my workshop is providing educators with self reflection tools to help them identify parts of their practice that are already agency-supportive and also to illuminate areas in their practice where there is space for more student agency.

Here is a questionnaire I created with that purpose in mind:

(Click here for a printable copy)

Agency Self-Reflection Tool

Without judgement, honestly and critically reflect on the following questions.

Beginning of the Year

1. How involved were your students in setting up their learning space? (desks, shelves, bulletin boards, classroom libraries, manipulatives, resources etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Slightly involved
  • Very involved
  • Students had full ownership

2.How involved were your students in establishing class systems and routines at the beginning of the year? (attention getters, tidy-up routines, etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Slightly involved
  • Very involved
  • Students had full ownership

3. How involved were your students in establishing their rights and responsibilities (or essential agreements?)

  • Not at all
  • Slightly involved
  • Very involved
  • Students had full ownership

Day to Day Voice and Choice

4. How much voice and choice do your students have in where they learn? (desk, floor, cushion, hallway, library etc.)

  • None
  • Some
  • A lot
  • Full control

5. How much voice and choice do your students have in who they learn with? (partners, groups, etc.)

  • None
  • Some
  • A lot
  • Full control

6. How much voice and choice do your students have in how they learn? (lesson, video, reading, listening, experimenting, peer-to-peer, play etc.)

  • None
  • Some
  • A lot
  • Full control

7. How much voice and choice do your students have in when they learn? (Which day, which period, for how long, how often etc.)

  • None
  • Some
  • A lot
  • Full control

8. How much voice and choice do your students have in what they learn? (content, skills, concepts, topics, etc.)

  • None
  • Some
  • A lot
  • Full control

Planning, Assessing and Reporting Their Learning

9. How involved are your students in planning their units?

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

10. How involved are your students in choosing, gathering and sharing the resources they use to learn? (videos, books, podcasts, manipulatives, experts etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

11. How involved are your students in choosing how they organize their learning? (notebooks, Google Docs, Evernote ,Google Slides, notes, diagrams, sketches etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

12. How involved are your students in choosing how they share their learning? (presentation, story, podcast, blog, video, vlog, etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

13. How involved are your students in assessing their own learning? (pre-assessment, diagnostic, formative, summative etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

14. How involved are your students in the process of feedback (when, from whom, about what, how often etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

15. How involved are your students in evaluating their learning? (grades, spectrums, letters, numbers, etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

16. How involved are your students in formally reporting their learning? (report cards, evaluations of learning, progress reports etc.)

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

17. How involved are your students in conferences involving parents

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Complete ownership of this process

Other:

18. How comfortable would your students be to disagree with you?

  • Not at all
  • Somewhat
  • Very
  • Completely comfortable

19. How comfortable would your students be to make changes to the physical learning space?

  • They would not think they could make changes
  • They would ask permission to make a change
  • They would notify me they were going to make a change
  • They would just make the change

20. When your students need to take care of physical needs (going to the bathroom, eating, drinking, visiting the clinic etc.) they are most likely to:

  • Not do anything, the know they are not allowed during my class
  • Ask permission (May I please go to…)
  • Notify you (I am going to…)
  • Just do it

21. How often do you ask your students for their feedback (about you, your teaching, how they feel in your class, suggestions for improvement etc.)

  • Never
  • Once year
  • A few times a year
  • Regularly

 


 

Obviously, this questionnaire reflects my thoughts, opinions and beliefs about student agency – but with that also comes my biases, blind spots and misconceptions too. And posts like this demonstrate how much stronger we are when we share ideas, challenge each other and push one another’s thinking forward.

So, I’d like to know what you think…

What would you add, change or remove?

What’s missing, that’s essential to empowering students to be in the driver’s seat?

What’s included that’s redundant, misleading or unnecessary?

How could I make it more inclusive for all educators, regardless of the age or subject they teach and the system they work in?

How could I adapt it for leaders to reflect on how they respect and support the agency of the teachers they work with?

Looking forward to hearing your thoughts…

Venturing out of my comfort zone

This is an image I show my students on a daily basis. I am constantly urging, nudging and pushing them to step out of their comfort zone.

“Take risks”

“Leap in”

“Do something that scares you”

“Push yourself”

“Challenge yourself”

“Put yourself in a position where you will grow”

Such easy advice to give

Much harder advice to take when you find yourself faced with a situation where you have to make a decision about stepping out of your own comfort zone.

My comfort zone is Studio 5.

I love Studio 5. I am happy there. I love the students. I love my team. I love our days – shoes off, music blasting, always some sort of silliness and shenanigans afoot.

I am comfortable in Studio 5. I understand our vision, our mission, our challenges, our opportunities, our roadblocks. I know our history, our failures, our many iterations.

I know what I’m doing in Studio 5. Not to say that I’m doing it right, but I’ve grown confident supporting students to choose, act and reflect. I’ve learned how to help students write their own reports. I’ve figured out ways to guide students to tune into their motivation and uncover their passions and purpose.

So making the decision to leave Studio 5 has been a very difficult one.

But if I’ve been telling my students that stepping out of their comfort zone is where the magic happens, then I would be a hypocrite to not heed my own advice.

So… I’m stepping out of my comfort zone. Into a new position. At a new school. In a new country. On a new continent. To have a chance to impact change on a whole school level. To support an AMAZING staff of learners, critical thinkers and risk-takers. To grow myself as a leader.

Trusting, as the image promises, to find where the magic happens. A promise I’ve sold to my students over and over again.

Easy to sell to them.

Much, scarier when it’s about me.

So although I am sad to leave my lovely, comfortable Studio 5 family, I’m excited about what’s around the corner next year and the magic I hope to find in my next adventure.

Wish me luck!

The Magic of a Student Designed Studio

We have 120 Grade 5 students.

We have 10 learning spaces in our Grade 5 hallway.

And to start the year we believed that those 120 students should have the trust and ownership to collectively design and set-up those 10 learning spaces.

So they did. And it was pretty amazing.

Before Day 1

As usual, our team started with why. With the help of our PYPC and instructional coaches, we talked as a team to ensure we were all on the same page about why having students set-up their learning spaces was essential to starting a year full of respect and support for their agency. From there we were able to move onto possible hows and whats , but we knew that most of the planning would be in response to what actually happened each day, so we started small, with one first step – “unsetting up” the space.

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We knew that in order for students to be able to truly own the space, we would need to provide them with a blank canvas – essentially undoing any thinking, decisions or organization from us. We also knew it was important that students could easily see and access all the furniture, resources and materials that we had as a grade level, so we decided to collate it all into separate areas. We put all the tables in one area, all the couches in another area, all the shelves in another area, all the baskets/bins/organizers in another area, all the consumable materials in another area and all the learning resources and manipulative in another area. We also ensured every wall, shelf, cupboard, and bin was completely empty.

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We also knew that is was essential to keep parents informed and involved. So we sent them this email a few days before their child’s first day of school:

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Day 1

On day 1, we pretty much just said “Go! Set-up your studios!”. We wanted to prevent too much guidance and ensure our thinking wasn’t accidentally seeping into their thinking. We also wanted to use this as a cold diagnostic – to see who they are and what they currently think and understand about learning and school. Since there were lots of big, heavy pieces of furniture we did have a safety briefing to talk about how to lift and carry furniture and how to ask for help when needed.

Then they were off…

And it was incredible to see the action, initiative, thinking and teamwork right out of the gate!

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 Immediately we started to see creativity and great ideas:

A table for adults to drop of forgotten lunches….

An indoor handball court…

A welcome sign…

We also started to see different types of learning spaces emerge:

And by the end of day 1, students had successfully set-up 7…. classrooms.

Day 2

Although students did an AMAZING job with their first attempt of setting-up, it was clear that many of them were still in the mindset of “doing school” – a paradigm we knew we wanted to challenge immediately. So in small advisory groups we all facilitated a guided brainstorm activity to get them thinking about the concept of a studio.

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Once we helped students organize and unpack their own thinking about the concept of a studio, we asked them a challenging question.

“Yesterday we told you to go set-up your studios. Looking at the people, places, materials, and purposes from your brainstorms this morning…. did you actually set-up ‘studios’?” – Us

“No….” – Them

“Yesterday, what did you set-up?” – Us

“Classrooms” – Them

“Do you guys want some more time to try again?” – Us

“YAASSSSSS!!!!!” – Them

So they tried again. And it was just as – if not more – amazing! We started to see spaces emerge that would support authentic and purposeful pursuits and endeavours.

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But we noticed students weren’t really considering the purpose-built spaces. We have two small rooms with doors, one large room with doors, 4 medium rooms with 3 and 3/4 walls and two large open spaces. Yet students weren’t matching the purpose of the space to the unique features of the space. So we broke into small advisory groups again to push their thinking further. We analyzed the features of each space and debated what type of studio would be most appropriate in that space. Obviously there was no clear right or wrong answer, so we ended up with several, equally good options.

Day 3

We took the most popular options that arose from discussions within advisory groups and synthesized them into 3 main floor plans. Then students and advisors analyzed the floor plans and cast their vote.

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It was clear that “option B” had the majority of votes, so that is what we went with.

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Next, we had students commit to a team that they felt motivated to help with.

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Then we let them go again to bring “option B” to life in their new teams.

We started to see the space take shape, but noticed they were focused mostly on the big things and not yet thinking about the smaller details. So we pulled them together and provoked their thinking further with these 6 questions.

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Then we really started to see the spaces take shape.

We saw more thinking and action connected to organization…

We saw more attention to aesthetics…

We started to see signs and instructions…

We saw more thought into what was needed in each space and how to get it…

Day 4

Since all the spaces will be used be all 130 of us, it was important that the teams responsible for each space were considering and using the ideas and opinions of people who were not on their team. So we gave students the opportunity to “tour” each space and then leave feedback for the group responsible for designing that specific studio.

Then teams had time to analyze the feedback and decided how they were going to take action to honour the ideas and concerns of their peers.

Day 5

At this point spaces were starting to shape up, but we noticed that most students (with an exception of a few) weren’t looking beyond what they already had in their space. So we poked their thinking further into what else they might need, where they could get it and, of course, how we as adults could support them in that process.

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Day 6,7,8

At this point in the process, we noticed a plateau. It seems that students took themselves as far as they could and weren’t sure where to go next. So that was a big clue for us, that it was time to jump in and help them go beyond where they could take themselves. So we had one adult join each of the teams and act as a coach. Each person had their own style of how they supported their group, but we all shared the common theme of helping support students’ thinking and organization towards their next steps.

We noticed that this support helped students go further and begin to think about the smaller details within their space.

Even MORE cool ideas began to emerge!

Day 9

Then, finally, the spaces were “done” (knowing that there is always opportunities for reflections, refinements, new ideas and changes throughout the year!)

We ended up with a book nook…

An art and design studio…

A recording studio…

A science and maths lab…

A town hall space…

A drama studio…

A fitness studio…

A digital production studio…

And a “chillax” studio…

At this point it was important to take time to pause and reflect in order to look for learning. We challenged the students to think about the last 9 days and notice and name the attributes of the IB Learner Profile, PYP attitudes, ATL skills, strands of math and stands of language that have been embedded within their experience designing and setting-up their learning spaces – even if they didn’t realize it at the time.

We then displayed their reflections for the community – to help parents, other grade-levels and visitors to our school understand where the learning has been during the first two weeks of the year.

Day 10

Now that the studios were fully set-up it was time for all of us to explore and use the amazing spaces!

It was also time to show and share the spaces with their families. So during Back to School Night, students gave their families a tour of all the learning spaces in our hallway. We invited parents to leave their feedback so we could include their voice in the process.

Here is what they had to say:

Reflections

  • It was such an enjoyable first few weeks of school
  • It provided great diagnostic data about our students’ thinking, initiative, teamwork, problem solving and creativity
  • It established a really strong sense of community
  • It set the tone for a culture of initiative, not a culture of permission
  • It helped students understand the spaces, resources and materials they have available to them this year
  • It challenged us all to break down our “homeroom” mentality
  • It showed students we are serious about respecting and supporting their agency as learners and as a people

I feel extremely lucky to be part of a team of fellow risk-takers who were all on board to jump in with both feet. I also feel extremely lucky to be at a school with a parent community who trusted us and tried their best to understand our approach and how they could be part of it. I also also feel extremely fortunate to be at a school where our leadership, admin and even Head of School not only understood what we were trying to do, but supported us and even publically shared and celebrated our approach.

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If you want to involve your students in setting up their learning spaces, but happen to be at a school where your team, leadership, admin and/or Head of School are not on board (yet), take comfort in the fact that the Enhanced PYP has your back!

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How do you involve your students in setting up their learning spaces?