What could an agency-supportive first week of school look like?

We’ve just finished our first week with students – and it was amazing! As a team, our goal was to start the year respecting and supporting student agency as much as possible.

Here is what we tried:

1. Invest time in the “why”

So often as educators we spend lots of time thinking about and preparing “what” we are going to do with students during the first week of school. This year as a team, we took a step back and invested most of our energy thinking about our “why”. We had many discussions, disagreements and debates, which was needed in order to ensure we were all on the same page about planning a week that encouraged as much student voice, choice and ownership as possible.

2. Plan in response, not advance

Once we were all solid in our “why” we were able to begin to move onto the “how”. We agreed that in order to respect and support student agency, we needed to take an approach of planning in response to learning, instead of in advance. So we decided not to plan beyond the first day, to allow for us to meet our learners, make observations, and collect their feedback. We also agreed that in order to make this approach work we would need to meet as a team at the end of each day to debrief, share notes and collectively analyze any student feedback in order to plan for next steps.

3. Involve students in planning the first day

Even as we were planning the first day, we knew that we wanted to set the tone for flat power structures and shared decision making. So we decided to involve students in the co-construction of their first day of school. Which meant, as usual, we spent our time planning for their planning. How could we structure and support systems to allow for their ideas and perspectives?

First we invited students to brainstorm any and all ideas about how we could get to know each other and how we could get to know our school.

Then, we had them sort which activities were structured, whole group activities that we would need to do together and which were more unstructured, small group or individual activities.

Next, we had them vote on which activities they were most interested in and used that data to create an agenda for the day that balanced structured and unstructured times in the day.

We also involved the students in collectively deciding how much time should be dedicated to each activity and what locations would be best for each activity. Students were also included in solving problems regarding the day’s agenda as they arose – like when another class was on the playground when we planned to go there, or when one activity ran longer than expected and there was not enough time for the next planned activity.

4. Teacher transparency

A huge theme that ran throughout the week (and we plan to continue throughout the year) is transparency – #nosecretteacherbusiness! Right from the get go we shared our “why” with them, involved them in decisions like how they want us to collect their attention in large groups and were honest with our reflections when things weren’t going according to plan.

5. Involve students in setting up the learning space

A big way we wanted to walk the walk of agency, was involving them in setting up their learning spaces. So we decided the spend our time the week before school “unsetting” up the learning spaces to make time and space for their ideas about the learning environments that best support them as learners.

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Since we also wanted to break the traditional mindset of “homerooms” we didn’t have the students set up just their classroom, we had all 120 students work together to set up the entire Grade 5 hallway – in total 10 learning spaces! (More about this in a blog post coming soon!)

6. Provide opportunities for student voice

It was also very important that from day 1, students knew their voices matter. So we aimed to have many opportunities for students to share their thoughts, ideas, concerns, worries and suggestions with us.

7. Act on student voice

Having a place for student voice, and actually acting on student voice are two different things. So we knew we wanted to make it clear to students that not only were we taking time to read and analyze what they shared with us, but we were also using that data to reflect on our own practices and decisions as well create the plan for the following day.

In order to make sure students knew their voices were being heard, we were transparent in each step of the process. Students knew that when they went home on the first day, we stayed and spent over an hour reading each and everything they wrote and using their feedback to create a plan for the second day. We compiled all the most common questions, ideas, worries etc. and visibly shared that data with the students the morning of the second day, then took the time to have small group discussions based around those topics.

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Their feedback not only impacted what we did, such as allocating more time for set-up, but also how we did things. For example, the first day we stayed in our smaller advisory groups for the co-constructed get to know you activities. But based on the feedback we got from students, we discovered they wanted a chance to do some of those activities in small mixed groups, with different students across the grade level. So based on that suggestion, we got together as a team, identified the activities that were most popular to all 6 advisory groups’ brainstorms and decided to have a sign-up based “get to know each other time”…. an idea we probably would not have ever thought of without them!

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Here are our reflections from the week:

It was SUCH an enjoyable first week. As a team, we couldn’t believe how energized and happy we all felt at the end of each day and how excited we were for the following day!

It planted the seeds for a strong sense of community. Both amongst the teachers, the students, the advisory groups and the grade-level as a whole, you couldn’t deny there was something special going on. Even after only a few days, you could feel that we were a crew, a team, a family.

There was lots of positive feedback from students and parents.  It was amazing to see students bringing their parents, siblings and friends through the grade-level for tours to show off what they had been up to the first few days of school. We also received emails and had pop in visits from parents to share how energized, empowered and engaged their children had felt when they came home each day.

The week leading up to school was a breeze. Usually teachers spend endless amounts of time (and often money) setting up their classroom and meticulously planning the first week of school. But because we planned do to the set-up and planning with our students once they arrived, we found ourselves with lots of spare time to hang out together, play games and ease into the school year.

It set the tone for a democratic community. Because we purposefully made all the decisions with the students from the moment they arrived, a culture of shared decision making and a flattened power structure has already started to emerge. For example, sometimes when all 130 of us get together in a townhall meeting, the students self-organize and collect each other’s attention without any input or intervention from the teacher.

It’s essential to differentiate support for students. That amount of voice, choice and ownership can look and feel quite different depending on the student. We tried to be cognizant,  empathetic and supportive to students coming from a more traditional school system, as well as students with specific learning, language, social or emotional needs.

Overall, it was THE BEST first week of school I have ever experienced. Of course, we have a lot of room to grow and improve, as this was the first time our team attempted anything like this. But we can feel good to know that how we approached the first week aligns with our belief that students have the right to have their agency respected and supported during their time at school.

However, we’re not experts and we don’t pretend to be – we’re just risk-takers, firm and passionate in our belief of what we think school should be.  That’s why I used the word “could” in the title of this post, instead of “does”. These are simply the ways we tried to respect and support the agency of our students during the first week of school – I’m sure there are many other ways out there.

How are YOU planning to start the year with a focus on student agency?

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Trying to break the “homeroom” mould

Last year we tried many things to help get us and the students to break away from the traditional notion of a homeroom.

  • We encouraged free flow and fluidity between spaces.
  • Teachers and students offered workshops open to anyone in the grade level.
  • Students collaborated with whomever they liked, regardless of whether they were in “their class” or not

But despite our best intentions and efforts, more often that not it was still “my room”, “my teacher”, “my class” (for both us and the students)

So this year we have to decided to keep trying to break that stubborn mould – which as we discovered – is a deeply entrenched concept in the collective current understanding of what school is.

Here are a few things we’ve decided to try this year to hopefully move further away from the mindset of the homeroom:

1. We’re not assigning rooms to teachers. Instead of having Miss Taryn’s room, Mr. Pug’s room, Miss Amanda’s room – where a specific set of students and teachers lay claim – we’ve decide to have all spaces shared and co-owned. It’s been a hard habit to change our language of “my room”, “your room”, but in trying to do so it has made us all more mindful of both the language we use and our own deep rooted habits of thinking and being. We’ve taken to referring to the rooms simply by numbers, but were hoping when students arrive they think of some more creative and purposeful room names!

2. We’re meeting as a grade level first. On the first day of school, after we collect our specifically assigned students from the basketball court, we’ve decided to meet altogether, as a grade level, in our town hall meeting space. We’re hoping that meeting together in a shared space first will help them identify with the larger community and space, instead of reinforcing that idea of “my room” if we take them into a specific, smaller, classroom-like space. From there we will breakout into smaller groups, but we’re planning on purposefully and arbitrarily picking a room and using general language, like “let’s go meet in that room”.

3. We’re purposefully rotating where we meet with students. Building on the ideas above, we’ve also decided to rotate the spaces we use whenever we pull the students into smaller groups. Again hoping to help all students see all spaces as available to them for the betterment of their learning.

4. Students can choose where to keep their things. This was a big discussion as a team. We wanted students to have a consistent homebase – somewhere to put their backpacks, lunch bags, swim clothes each day – but we were also aware that that typically means a cubby section in an assigned classroom. So we’ve decided to make all cubbies available to all students, but have students choose one cubby to make their “home base” for the rest of the year.

5. We’re having one Google Classroom. Another structure that kept us in the mindset of homerooms last year was having separate Google Classrooms. This year we’ve decided to have one centralized Google Classroom where all teachers and all students can connect and collaborate with one another.

6. Students will decide how best to use and set up the variety of learning spaces we have. Our biggest risk – and hopefully biggest crack to the mould of homeroom mentality- is having students set up their learning spaces. But instead of having them set up classrooms, we’ve decided to have the whole cohort take ownership over the whole grade-level area – hallways, quiet learning spaces, loud learning spaces, and regular learning spaces. To assist with this process we have “unsetup” all the spaces to create a blank canvas. We’ve emptied every shelf, bin and cupboard, stock piled every table, couch, pillow and collated all the learning supplies and resources. On the first day of school we’re going to ensure students know they are empowered and trusted to envision, create and take ownership over their learning spaces, resources and materials. After giving them a little bit of time to try, struggle, have tension, solve problems and persevere we’re planning on supporting their thinking as well as the process – having 120 students set up 9 learning spaces will be no small task!

I’m sure there are still many ways that our mindset and that of the students will be stuck within the confines of the “homeroom mould”, but hopefully these 6 steps propel us further down the path of true learning and further away from doing school.

As with any worthwhile risk, I’m feeling the perfect combination of excitement and fear. It’s either going to be amazing or a complete disaster!

The adventure begins tomorrow…

Wish us luck!

Do you want to go fast… or far?

I am not a natural collaborator.

Anyone I have ever been on a team with would be able to confirm this fact.

I am passionate. I am zealous. I am idealistic. I am stubborn.

I get a vision in my mind and I have to make it happen.

Even though I am not a natural collaborator, I’m slowing learning how to collaborate – and I must say, it’s been pretty great.

For me, my (slow) transformation can be summed up by this quote:

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Last year, I knew I believed in student agency and set off (mostly on my own) to turn that vision into a reality. That’s not to say I didn’t have an amazing team around me! I had six wonderful teachers who personally supported me and cheered me on, no matter how different or crazy my idea seemed. It’s just that none of them were professionally interested in going the same direction that I was, or to the extent that I was. So last year, I knew where I wanted to go, I went by myself and I got there fast.

This year, I have another amazing team around me. The difference being they are professionally interested in the same things that I am, so I am no longer alone in my pursuit to respect and support student agency – and that has helped me truly learn the power of collaboration. With them I have been able to go much farther than I ever made it last year on my own.

Here are a few examples that have helped me along my journey:

Going fast – last year I knew I wanted to have my students plan their own day…. so I had them plan their own day. Pretty much, right out of the gate! I gave them an empty day plan, and only really made a few slight adjustments to the template over the year.

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Going far – this year I shared my approach from last year. We tested it out, discussed it, revised it, tested it again, revised it again, tried something different, asked for feedback, revised it again. What was once a fairly basic day plan template and process, grew into a more sophisticated template and process of planning, which then transformed into an even more sophisticated template and process for weekly planning!

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Going fast – last year I knew I wanted students to set up their learning space… so I had them set-up their learning space.

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Going far – this year I proposed them same idea, which after many collective brainstorms, turned into a grade-wide learning space re-design. Students conducted research about learning spaces, collected data from their 84 community members, collaborated with students from a variety of homerooms, learned new technical skills (like 3D Floor Planner) put together video proposals and made informed choices about their learning space.

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Going fastlast year I knew I wanted all three voices to be heard equally at three-way conferences. So I made a very basic placemat and had parents, students and myself take turns deciding whether something was a “star” or a “wish”.

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Going far – this year I pitched the same idea to my team…then, the magic of collaboration happened… and we ended up with a Gradual Increase of Responsibility, where students, parents and teachers could share their perspective, in a colour-coded way, which then could be kept and used to set and track personal goals on a day to day basis.

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Starting to get the picture? 

I couldn’t have ever imagined the distance these initial ideas would come to reach. But that’s the point isn’t is? True collaboration is leaving a room with ideas that no one person could have come up with on their own.

… So to those of you educators out there who are like me, you may want to pause and ask yourself:

Do you want to go fast…. or do you want to go far?

Transdisciplinary Math – An epiphany and a plan!

For the past few weeks I have been helping my teams review their math scope and sequence and decide which math is transdisciplinary and fits within a Unit of Inquiry and what math is better taught in stand-alone units. This process always seems to lead to the same conclusion….

Teaching math in a transdisciplinary way is hard. 

Teachers seem to believe in the purpose and power of teaching math in a relevant and significant context and want to do it… but most seem not too sure about how to do it.

As I get ready to transition back into the classroom in the fall, this is something that has started to occupy my mind as well. How DO you do it? The last time I was a PYP teacher I can self-admit that teaching math within the context of my UOIs was not a strength of mine – in fact, I’m not sure if I did it at all. So naturally, this is an area I want to get much better at. But how? 

And then I had an idea! It hit me this weekend while I was watching BBC’s Africa series.

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Since teaching math in a transdisciplinary way was on my mind, I couldn’t help but notice that every vignette was OVERFLOWING with opportunities for math inquiries!

The average size of a giraffe’s tongue is half a meter.”

“Only one out of 1000 turtles make it to adult hood.”

One million birds migrate over the Sahara each year.”

“Each chick weighs only 20 grams.”

“The adult grows to be 5 times the size of the baby.”

“Silver ants can only survive in the sun for 1 hour.”

Every few minutes there was some piece of information about an animal or a landscape or a natural phenomenon where you needed to understand the math concept being referenced in order to fully understand what was being said. And that is when it hit me! All of the movies, books, articles, graphics etc. we use in our Units of Inquiry probably already contain opportunities for math – we just need to be looking for them and know what to do with them!

So here is my plan for next year!

Step 1- Introduce a text related to the central idea or the central concepts.

As usual, choose (or invite your students to help choose) a resources to explore the big idea in your current Unit of Inquiry. Introduce the text in an open-ended way. Allow the students to engage with the text in a natural and organic way. Read the book. Watch the movie. Listen to the song. Look at the info graphic. Allow the students to enjoy it and ask questions, make connections and offer thoughts. I’m thinking of using a back channel like Today’s Meet to allow students to communicate their thoughts, reactions and questions with their learning community while watching, listening or looking without interrupting one another. You could also provide post-its so students could record their thinking if a device is not available.

Step 2 – Revisit the text with a math focus

The next day, revisit the same text, but this time let students know that they will be looking at the text as mathematicians. Re-read the book. Re-watch the movie. Re-listen to the song. Re-look at the infographic. But this time, stop and pay specific attention to the “math moments”. If the video says “Giraffes’ tongues are half a meter long” pause the video and ask students, “What does that mean?” “How long is that?” “How can we find out?” “How can we show it?”. Any time a number, a measurement, a statistic, a pattern, or a concept is mentioned stop, point it out and explore it.

Step 3 – Follow where it takes you

When you stop to explore the math within a UOI text, be prepared to follow the inquiry. If it takes 10 minutes great. If it reveals other math concepts, skills and vocabulary that need to be explored first, back up and inquire into those. If your students need to bust out some manipulatives, look online, consult other mathematicians – do it! Allow what ever time is needed to explore and truly understand what the math means in that context.

Step 4 – Don’t stop at math! 

After the initial open-ended viewing and the math-specific viewing… keep going! You could apply the same strategy for many different purposes. Explore the same text a third time with a writer’s lens and hone in on the techniques the writer used. Explore the same text with a musician’s perspective and focus on how different segments of music contribute to the message. Explore the same text from an artist’s point of view to analyze colour, line and shape that was used. This would be a great opportunity to connect with single-subject teachers and share some of the texts with them to be looked at and deconstructed multiple times, in multiple ways, through multiple disciplinary-perspectives. Your whole week could be deconstructing one text in different ways for different purposes!

Eventually, I believe you will be able to get to the stage where instead of telling students “here is the math” when exploring a UOI text, you will be able to ask them “where is the math?”.  I also have the sneaking suspicion that if you allow students to document their thinking during the initial, unstructured exploration of the text there will be some math-related questions that are recorded about the quantities, measurements and statistics that are referenced. So you wouldn’t even need to point out the math, you could allow students’ own questions to be the driving force of the math inquiry.

So I challenge you… go back and look at some of your UOI books, videos, graphics etc and notice the opportunities for “math moments” and more!

How do you explore your UOIs through the discipline of math?

What are your best approaches to inquiring into math within the context of a UOI?

Personalized Professional Learning – Take Two!

A few months ago, my partner in crime and I had a crazy idea to design a model of Personalized  Professional Learning that would hopefully model for our staff, what we expect to see in their classrooms. Our first attempt at PPL went really well and we received awesome feedback from our staff – but we wanted to challenge ourselves to reflect, refine and improve the model further.

Our biggest area of self-identified growth was linking everyone’s personalized learning to our School Improvement Plan goals and our PYP Action plan goals. When reflecting on our first iteration of PPL, we realized we had modelled open-inquiry. We asked our staff “What do you want to learn about” and we structured an afternoon to support those goals. However,  open-inquiry is often a luxury teachers -and we’ve come to discover – administrators do not have. Teachers have curriculum goals that students need to meet and administrators have school improvement plan and IB program action plan goals that staff need to meet. Thus bringing to light our challenge when designing the second iteration of PPL – how can we design a half day of personalized professional learning that is inquiry-based, differentiated, built on learner voice and choice… but still guides our staff towards meeting our school and program goals?

Here is how we went about it:

Step 1 – Rethinking and reorganizing topics of learning interests

Last time, our staff collectively built a learning menu that listed many different topics 21st Century teachers are learning about – maker space, play, e-portfolios, etc.

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We realized that many of those topics ALREADY contribute to our School Improvement Plan (SIP) goals and IB Action Plan (IBAP) goals – we just needed to make the connections more explicit. So our 8 person leadership team sat down and re-organized the menus by SIP goals and IBAP goals. This resulted in new learning menus that had all the same staff-selected topics of interest, but organized in a more purposeful way.

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Step 2 – Reflecting on our last afternoon of PPL 

At our school, we advocate for “no secret teacher business”, which means we also need to model “no secret leadership business”. So we were honest, vulnerable and transparent with our staff. We openly reflected on both the strengths an areas of growth of our first attempt at PPL. We admitted that we had used a model of open inquiry, and we were clear that next time we wanted to implement a model that was more guided and informed by our SIP and IBAP. To get our staff to begin to think of PPL in this way, we did an activity where everyone reflected on what they learned about during our first attempt at PPL and tried to retroactively find a connection to our School Improvement Plan or PYP Action Plan. We posted goals from our SIP and IBAP around the room and gave stickers to all staff to post based on goals that connected to what they had learned about on our last half day.

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We shared with our staff, that even though it was great that so much of our learning accidentally contributed to our SIP and IBAP, this time we wanted to ensure that our PPL purposefully contributed to our school and program goals.

Step 3 – Purposefully planning for our upcoming half day of PPL

Similar to last time, we wanted to give our staff some time to think about what they would learn, how they would learn and how they would share their learning for our upcoming half day – the difference being this time, we wanted their “what” to be linked to either a School Improvement Plan goal or PYP Action Plan goal. In order to do this, we used an after school staff meeting to give staff time with our newly organized learning menus to think about how they might to spend  their upcoming half day. Each staff member took a few small colour squares and wrote down what they wanted to learn, how they wanted to learn and how they planned to share their learning with others.

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Then, they had to post their squares on bulletin boards that we had divided up based on our School Improvement Plan and PYP Action plan.

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This allowed everyone on staff to not only be purposeful about what they wanted to learn and how it contributes to school and program goals, but it was also a great way to allow everyone to see what everyone else was interested in learning about on the upcoming half day.

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Step 4 -Planning in response to learning

Similar to last time, our leadership team wanted to plan the structure of the half day based on the learning needs and interests of the staff. In order to do this, we looked at our bulletin boards and recorded how staff wanted to learn and what specifically they wanted to learn about.

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We analyzed the data, specifically paying attention to numbers and trends in order to figure out how best to structure our half day of personalized professional learning. This approach revealed that most of our staff was interested in personal inquiry and collaborative inquiry and some of our staff was interested in workshops, mainly about math, literacy and technology. This allowed us to build a structure for our half day that was representative of our learners’ needs and interests.

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Step 5 – Let the learning happen

On our half day, we gathered as a whole staff to review the structure of the day, review our essential agreements and set personal goals.

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Then we just stepped back and let the learning unfold. It was amazing to see some staff attend workshops, some staff inquiring collaboratively and other staff pursuing  areas of personal exploration.

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OF COURSE, we kept adult recess which proved to be one of the day’s highlights again!

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And we finished the day reflecting on what we learned and how we learned.

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Step 6 – Track the learning

Always, at the end of professional development, we collect feedback from our staff about what went well and what could be improved for next time. In addition to feedback, this time we wanted to collect some data about the learning that took place as well and specifically how it contributed to our School Improvement Plan and PYP Action Plan.

We collected data on what staff learned:

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We collected data on how staff learned:

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We collected data on how staff shared their learning with others:

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We collected data on how staff’s learning contributed to our School Improvement Plan goals:

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We collected data on how staff’s leaning contributed to our PYP Action Plan goals:

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Once all the data was collected and organized, we made a display to ensure that our whole learning community could see the stats about our half day of personalized professional learning.

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All in all, I think it was a success! It felt good to find the synergy between having all learners learning towards to a standard collection of goals, but allowing them to do it in a way that was relevant, significant, challenging and engaging for each them as individual learners. Again, we received an overwhelming positive response to our half day of PPL. When learners are thanking you for letting them learn and asking for more and longer opportunities to learn, hopefully that means we’re on the right track!

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We still have lots of room to grow, so we would love to hear your thoughts and feedback on our model of Personalized Professional Learning! 

 

Reflections from a new instructional coach

This is my second year as PYP Coordinator, and the first year I have tried my hand at instructional coaching. I completed an 8 week coaching course with Eduro and now I’m feeling ready to give it a try. So when a fabulous Grade 4 teacher at my school came to me looking for support, I thought this would be a great chance to put my learning about coaching into practice.

Here is how it went:

Pre-Meeting – Getting the ball rolling

First, we met and I listened to her concerns. Then I told her the premise of instructional coaching, specifically cognitive coaching, and asked if she would be interested in this kind of support. She said sure – let’s give it a try! So I blocked off an entire day to be able to be a fly on the wall and observe what was happening in her class.

Observations – An inquiry into this Grade 4 class

The first bell rang and I was ready to go. I had a pad of paper, a pencil, my coffee and an inquiring mind. I found a seat at the back of the class and simply asked my self “What do I notice?“. I jotted down everything and anything – judgement free, merely observations –  and made note of the time for each observation. I also collected tallies for things like “on-task”, “engaged” “finished” “disruptions” to help collect some quantitative data that we could later analyze together. At the same time I recorded some ideas for reflective questions to guide my post-meeting conversation with the teacher.

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I loved that so many of the students were curious about what I was doing! It was a great opportunity for transparency and vulnerability – no secret teacher coach business! I told them I was like a learning detective and that my job was to make sure the most learning possible was happening in all of our classrooms. One of the ways I do that is by going into classrooms and seeing when learning is happening and when learning is not happening so that the teacher and I can meet and try to figure out why. They thought it was pretty cool and they especially liked my tallies and graphs about their learning.

Post-Meeting – Debriefing, reflecting, analyzing, and inferring 

Once the day was finished, I sat down with the teacher and reminded her that our purpose was to pay attention to what was actually happening with the students, and to think deeply about why that might be happening. Next I asked her to compare the kind of day I witnessed to an average, typical day in her class. Was today an accurate representation of a typical day? Was today better than usual? Worse than usual? She said it was a much better than normal day. This gave me an insight into her thinking about what a “good day of school” looks and feels like.

Then we went through the day chunk by chunk following the same four steps each time:

  1. Her reflections – First, I wanted to give her a chance to reflect and share her perspective. How do you think (the start of the day, literacy, math, UOI, end of the day) went? Why do you think that was so? What do you think you did as the teacher to contribute to that?
  2. My anecdotal observations – Next, I offered to share the observations I recorded throughout that chunk of time by first asking, “do you want to know what I noticed?” Each time she said yes, so I shared my observations with her. I noticed you stood in the door way as they entered. I noticed you used a song for a transition. I noticed the students were able to self-manage that routine. I noticed there was lots of great conversation between partners. I noticed you wrote the steps on the board. 
  3. Reflective questions – Then, I wanted to ask purposefully crafted questions to help her think deeply about her choices and her practice and how they impact student learning. What do you think the impact would be if you greeted each student at the door by name? What could be the benefit of a morning meeting? What is the value to the learner of having a peer mark their mad minutes? What could you do to allow for more students to share their thinking when you ask a question? What opportunities could there be for the students to engage in their peer’s presentations without interrupting? 
  4. The data – After that, I wanted to share some quantitative data. During the class time I took tallies of certain things, and during recess I turned those tallies into rough (okay, very rough) graphs to allow us to visually analyze trends. What do you notice? Why do you think that is? What does this reveal to us? What questions do you have?

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Next steps – Once we had gone through each chunk of the day, I asked her where she wanted to go from here. She decided that she wanted to take some time to continue to reflect on her own and go through her notes (that she was taking throughout our post-meeting). I respected that and told her that when she feels ready for the next step she can let me know and we can decide how best to proceed based on our discoveries and reflections from today.

Since this was one of my first forays into instructional coaching I asked her to share some reflections with me about the process of instructional coaching – What was it like? What went well? What was helpful? What suggestions do you have to help me grow as a coach?

Her reflections from the day:

Having you visit my classroom was a pleasant experience. (If you recall I was very nervous about it.) I felt exactly like you were a fly on the wall. I felt that the observations made were made to help me look at my classroom, students and myself. Things that were included were things that were done well and things to look at to see if I liked the result or wanted to change to try to improve whether it was student involvement or how the activity went. I did not feel like I was being told this is what you are doing wrong at any point. I liked the questions you asked. Some made me uncomfortable, but a good uncomfortable, reflecting more on how things went, if I like how they went and realizing I didn’t have the answer to some of them. I liked finding out that my expectations were not always correct. It was a very beneficial experience. I felt like the point was to help me reflect and change as I want to. I greatly appreciate the offer to help me continue my reflection and ways to improve and will totally take you up on it.

My reflections from the day:

  • I loved spending the day in a classroom. It was such an honour to be welcome and trusted to be a fly on the wall and observe and record the happenings of someone else’s classroom
  • It felt great to be able to communicate my purpose for being there with students in a transparent way that felt safe and non-threatening to anyone
  • I was surprised at how much insight can be gained from collecting data about what is actually happening with students
  • There is so much power in asking purposeful questions – many times the teacher took her time to reflect and think deeply about what I was asking
  • There weren’t always clear answers. Many times throughout our debrief, questions and challenges appeared for which there was no quick fix. We decided to call them potential nuggets of opportunity that we could explore in depth later thoughtfully and systematically
  • Getting a chance to collaboratively reflect really helped me understand what she is interested in leaning more about and trying in her classroom. Since we met I have came across tons of resources that I know will be relevant to her learning, that I probably wouldn’t have known about without having the chance to sit down and chat with her one on one in such depth.

All in all, it was a day well spent. I am confident… hopeful … confident that the work we did today will positively impact student learning in her classroom!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and feedback about this process and any experience you have with instructional coaching. Please also feel free to share any constructive feedback about how I can improve as an instructional coach. 

A Half Day of Personalized Professional Learning

Last week I shared our journey towards a half day of personalized professional learning for our Elementary staff. This week it happened… and it was AMAZING!

Here is how it went:

Sunday we sent out an email with some expectations and information for the upcoming half day of professional development learning. The information included a schedule, a reminder to bring a device and a copy of the “learning menu” for the day. We built the menu based on the input we collected the week before from their learning preferences forms.

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We also attached brief descriptions for each of the options in the learning and action blocks, as well as options for sharing throughout the day. This gave everyone a few days to think about how they wanted to spend their afternoon of learning.

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Tuesday students were dismissed at 11:00 and we were gathered in our multipurpose room ready to go at 11:45.

Connections

We intentionally seated our very large staff in mixed groupings to help build our learning community and allow for some personal connections to be made before we jumped into the learning. We used the chocolate bar activity from this post, where everyone select a chocolate bar or piece of candy that they felt represents them and shared their reasoning with their colleagues at the table. This was a great ice breaker as the room immediately erupted into chatter and laughter!

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Today at a glance

Then we took some time to go over the schedule and format of the half day to ensure that we were all on the same page. We also took this time to ensure that everyone’s learning focus for the afternoon was tied together with the common thread of improving student learning.

Options for sharing

Our leadership team felt very strongly that we could trust our staff as professional to drive their own learning and there was no need for an external measure of accountability. We also felt that the true accountability was to one another and the learning community in general, so we wanted to build a variety of ways to allow and encourage everyone to share their learning with each other throughout the day. So we introduced three options for sharing; our shared blog, a back channel using Today’sMeet or through Twitter using our hashtag for the day #AISQ8PPL .

Essential Agreements

We wanted to ensure that all 125 Elementary staff members had a shared understanding of what was needed in order to make this day a truly successful day of learning. We wanted everyone’s voice in this process, so we used a modified ‘growing definition’ structure to help us build our essential agreements. First we had each group of 8 come up with their list of agreements, then we had each group add the one they felt most strongly about to this google doc, which we projected for all to see. After that, we gave an opportunity for the whole staff to review the essential agreements and offer any suggestions or changes they felt were needed. Once all 125 of us were in agreement, we each signed our names.
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Learning Block 1 & 2

Each staff member self-selected what they wanted to learn about and how they wanted to learn.

We had staff choose personal inquiry…

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Collaborative inquiry…

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Guided inquiry…

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EdCamp…

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School Walkabout…

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Workshops…

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Sharing throughout the day

It was great to see so many staff members sharing their learning journey throughout the day. We had 3 new posts on our blog, 126 entries on the back channel and 130 tweets on #AISQ8PPL. People were excitedly sharing discoveries, resources, a-ha moments and more!

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Adult recess

Then came time for adult recess – which was awesome! All 125 of us headed outside into the fresh air and sunshine to take a little body break and re-charge our minds. We had skipping, colouring, frisbee, soccer, basketball, music, Western dancing, Arab dancing and a lot of laughter.

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Action Block

If I’m being totally honest… our action block was much shorter than expected… because we extended adult recess by 10 minutes. (Totally worth it!) But after we managed to pry ourselves away from the fun and the sun, it was awesome to see groups of staff members sitting together sharing their learning, discussing their discoveries and helping one another log on to Twitter. We had 20 new people sign-up for Twitter throughout the course of the day! Talk about learner-initiated action!

Content Reflection

Now it was time to reflect. First, we used the Visible Thinking Routine “I used to think… Now I think” to encourage everyone to reflect on what they had learned and how their understanding of teaching and learning had changed. Staff was invited to either Tweet, back channel or write down their reflection.

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Process Reflection

We also  wanted everyone to think about how they learned, so we invited everyone to write, back channel or Tweet about how and when they modelled the traits of the IB Learner Profile.

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Application Reflection 

We also asked everyone to think about their experience as a learner today and how that might impact the work they do with their learners.

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Feedback 

Finally we asked for some feedback about the afternoon. We set up a google form with two boxes – one for stars and one for wishes. We wanted an honest assessment of how the day went, what worked, what didn’t and suggestions for next time. The responses were overwhelmingly positive! Here is a small representative sample of the 10 pages of feedback we received.

Stars:

  • loved the different options for learning
  • great to have time to put our learning into action
  • nice to have personal choice and freedom
  • loved being in charge of my own learning
  • adult recess was awesome!!!
  • interesting to see what other people were learning
  • nice to be trusted to be responsible for my own learning
  • differentiated with lots of choice and options
  • interacting with people I don’t usually interact with
  • range of choices for different learning preferences
  • I enjoyed having learning tailored to my needs and interests
  • allowed me to reflect on my practice
  • relaxed and teacher-centered
  • I learned so much!
  • the time flew by
  • staff were treated as professionals
  • great team building and time for collaboration
  • appreciated being able to learn at my own pace
  • learning options were various and rich
  • not having to listen to anyone talk at me
  • taking ownership over my learning
  • time for exploration, inquiry and reflection

We also received some great constructive feedback that we will use to improve our structure for next time!

Wishes:

  • more opportunity for this structure of professional learning
  • more time to think about and complete the reflections
  • longer sessions to dive deeper into the inquiries
  • set up Twitter and social media before the day so we are ready to go
  • longer adult recess
  • more time to collaborate and share our learning
  • a full day instead of only half
  • longer time to eat lunch before we start
  • bigger variety workshops to choose from, led by teachers
  • track the data of what and how everyone is learning
  • longer learning blocks
  • longer action blocks

How awesome is it that our biggest suggestion from our staff is MORE time for professional learning!?

Thinking back on the day, I have a few of my own personal reflections:

  • It was great to develop a structure that allowed for every member of our staff to be a learner and spend time learning things relevant to their position within the school- especially the people who are usually delivering PD on these types of days (admin, coaches, coordinators, etc.)
  • It was amazing to see the learner-led action that resulted from this day. Staff members joined Twitter, started blogs, made changes to their teaching practice, signed up for workshops and more
  • If you trust your staff and develop the structures to help them to take ownership for their own learning, they will not disappoint. Our staff not only met our expectations, but went above and beyond our hopes and dreams for the day!
  • This structure of professional learning did wonders for our sense of community and staff morale
  • Sometimes the best way to help someone learn about inquiry, differentiation, learner choice and voice, social media and technology integration is not to have that be the content of learning, but instead the conduit for learning
  • Adult recess if life changing

We started on this journey by being very vulnerable and transparent with our staff saying “If you hate PD, that’s a clue to our leadership team that we are doing something wrong.” If that’s true, then hopefully these Tweets and post-its are clues that we’re doing something right…

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Since this is the first time we’ve tried something like this, we would love to hear your feedback and suggestions to continue to help us grow and extend our model of personalized, professional learning for all!