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! 

 

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My Magic Answer

As PYP Coordinator, I am honoured to be considered a resource for teachers when they have questions about teaching, learning and everything in between. The questions I am asked cover a wide range of curiosities:

“How should I set up my classroom?”

“How can I welcome a new student coming part way through the year?”

“How can I have my students show what they’ve learned about ______ ?”

“How can I get my students attention?”

“What should the timeline be for this project?”

“How can I be a better teacher?”

Even though I get asked a wide range of questions, I noticed something interesting. Something very interesting! I can answer all of the questions above – and most of the questions I get asked throughout the day – with the same answer:

“Ask your students.”

Go ahead, try it. Go back through the list and see if that answer doesn’t work for any of those questions…

Teacher: “How should I set up my classroom?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I welcome a new student coming part way through the year?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I have my students show what they’ve learned about ______ ?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I get my students attention?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “What should the timeline be for this project?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I be a better teacher?”

Me: “Ask your students.”

See! It is magic! It works for every question! Let’s try some more…

Teacher: “How can I build a classroom community?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I use Twitter in the classroom?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “What should I put up on my inquiry cycle?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I have my students reflect on their learning?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “What resources will help my students inquire into ________ ?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher: “How can I tune in to what my students already know about ________ ?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Teacher:“Why are my students not engaged?”

Magic Answer: “Ask your students.”

Oftentimes teachers are so busy and bogged down… now I know why! They are doing the thinking on behalf of all of their students. Why not share the load? They say two heads are better than one, so surely 20+ heads are way better than one!

Why not invite student voice into your decision making?

Why not share problems of teaching, learning and everything in between with your students?

Why not turn the questions we have as teachers into collaborative inquiries with your class?

Why not trust your students to have creative, brilliant solutions that you maybe haven’t thought of?

Why not get rid of “secret teacher business” altogether?

Why not trust students to tackle the problems we grapple with as adults?

So next time you have a question why not try turning it over to your class first, because you know what my (magic) answer will be anyway…

Ask your students. 

 

Goodbye clip charts. Hello individualized behaviour plans.

The term ‘behaviour management‘ has always bothered me. It gives the impression, that as teachers, all we are trying to do is ‘manage‘ behaviours in hopes of getting by and surviving the day. If our focus is only on managing behaviours are we missing an amazing opportunity to help develop good humans? I think so.

In my opinion one of the biggest culprits of ‘managing‘ behaviour is the good ol’ whole class behaviour plan.

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You know the one. Maybe you’ve seen it. Maybe you’ve used it. Maybe you’ve experienced it as a child. It comes in many shapes and sizes. Sometimes it is shaped like a guitar. Sometimes it looks like a stoplight. Sometimes it uses IB language. Sometimes there are stickers involved. Other times, clothespins. Lately it has made its way online in the form of  Class Dojo. No matter how you slice it, it is what it is. A whole class behaviour plan. Very public. Very one-size-fits-no-one. Google image search “Whole Class Behaviour Plan” to see the full spectrum of options!

I’m not the first blogger to launch an attack on the whole class behaviour plan…

So What’s My Problem with Public Behaviour Charts?

Why I Will Never Use a Behaviour Chart Again

6 Reasons to Reject Class Dojo 

But I do want to take a different approach when re-thinking the whole class behaviour plan. I have decided to interview the most child-centered educator I have ever worked with. You may know her as the Globally Minded Counsellor or follow her on Twitter @h_sopierce. I know her as Heidi, my colleague, sounding board and friend. I have decided to interview her in order to explore the debate about whole class behaviour plans from a counselling lens – with the student’s best interest at the heart of it all.

Press play on the podcast below to listen to what Heidi had to say about whole class behaviour plans versus individualized behaviour success plans:

Here is a summary of the major points from Heidi’s podcast:

From a counselling lens, what do you think about whole class behaviour plans with regards to classroom management?

  • only manages behaviours at a surface level, but unless we look at what each individual students needs they will only be management tools to help the teacher succeed, but not necessarily impact the students’ behaviour
  • more about keeping a classroom in control, than changing students’  behaviours
  • sets the tone that the teacher believes that students will fail in their behaviour somehow
  • shaming and calling students out in public are harmful to the student in the long run

Is there ever a time when a whole-class behaviour plan is needed?

  • need to reflect on strategies teachers are using and perhaps gaps in systems, routines, consistency, boundaries that might make it seem like a whole-class behaviour plan is needed
  • might need to identify behaviours that 2 or 3 students need to change, not usually all 20 students need to change

What can teachers do who want to move away from the use of whole-class behaviour plans?

  • build authentic, genuine relationships with students (greet each student at the door – make eye contact, shake their hand use their names; get to know them as individuals – what motivates them, what’s happening at home, what are their interests)
  • reach out to other teachers and counsellors and see what works, what they suggest, and what resources are available

How do you know when an individualized behaviour success plan is needed?

  • after you have tried a variety of differentiated strategies for behaviour supports for your students and they still aren’t working that might indicate that a student would benefit from an individualized behaviour success plan
  • the 1 or 2 students who need to be “taught” about their behaviour and not just “told” or “reminded” about their behaviour

What advice to do you have for teachers who want to create an individualized behaviour success plan?

  • sit with a counsellor or administrator and consult about wanting to set this up
  • create it with the student – sit with student and discuss behaviour; pick one or two specific behaviours to focus on;
  • ensure it is goal oriented – make it specific, not general and vague
  • make it developmentally appropriate
  • ensure the plan allows for the student to celebrate success
  • have a ‘celebration’- high five, chat with the teacher, playing with teacher etc.
  • build in time to re-set
  • praise, praise, praise, praise – share the good stuff with their family!
  • keep it simple
  • make it a working document that is revisited
  • needs to be consistent
  • be okay with trial and error
  • involve student in tracking and self-reflection in an age-appropriate way

(To read more about Heidi’s perspective on the impact whole class behaviour plans can have on students, check out her blog post: How your classroom management practices led to counselling.)

To sum it all up, I will use a famous “Heidi question” that I hear Heidi ask all day, every day (it’s what makes her such an amazing, truly student-centred educator)…

What’s best for students?

If we use this question to re-think our use of whole class behaviour plans and drive our process when building individualized behaviour success plans, we can rest assured the we too are keeping our student’s wellbeing at the heart of everything we do.

What are your thoughts on whole-class behaviour plans?

What are your thoughts on individualized behaviour success plans?

How do you ensure you practices align with what is best for students?

 

What does an inquiry-based, first week of school look like?

During this year’s staff orientation, we used inspiration from two blog posts (sowing the seeds of inquiry & 10 things to do on the first day of school) to move towards a more inquiry-based, first week with students.

Here is a glimpse into what it looked like in classrooms from KG to Grade 5…

Students helped set up their learning environment:

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Students helped choose what to do for the first week:

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Students explored the school:

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Students’ questions were honoured:

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Students and teachers learned about and connected with one another:

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Students and teachers discussed what it means to be ‘students’ and ‘teachers’:

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Students shared what they want to learn about in the coming year:

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Students thought about and shared their learning preferences:

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Students explored the learner profile, PYP attitudes, key concepts and action:

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Student constructed essential agreements:

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Students reflected:

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Students played:

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The week was a success! The feedback from teachers and students was overwhelmingly positive. Students loved being included in the planning and set-up for a new school year and teachers felt the more ownership they handed over to students the more positive and enjoyable the learning community became.

There is a definite buzz around our elementary school. Enthusiasm… fresh ideas… confidence… inquiry… I can’t wait to see where all this amazing energy takes us this year!

What does your inquiry-based first week of school look like?

 

 

Inquiry-Based Staff Orientation

Warning: This is a long post! My partner and I wanted to be risk-takers and, as much as possible, run an inquiry-based orientation for our new and returning PYP staff. Here is a sneak peak into how it went.

Our leadership team had four main goals to guide our staff orientation this year:

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So first we set-up our inquiry-based professional learning environment…

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  • collaborative, flexible groupings
  • learning materials on each table (blank paper, markers, recipe cards, post-its etc.)
  • blank walls to display learners’ questions and thinking
  • resource wall to post strategies and visible thinking routines we use
  • wonder wall for questions

Day 1: An inquiry into learning spaces…

We did a Think, Write, Sort to open up a discussion around classroom set-up.

Think: What are the usual tasks of setting up a classroom?

Write: Write each classroom set-up task on a separate post-it note and place it in the middle of your group.

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Sort: Organize all post-it notes into 3 categories. 1 – Tasks to do with students, 2 – Tasks to do before students arrive, 3 – Tasks that don’t belong in a PYP classroom. (Get rid of duplicates!)

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Walk: Walk around and see what other groups think.

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Post: Display teachers’ thinking in the learning space.

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Day 2: An inquiry into learning communities…

We brainstormed the ways we, as staff, demonstrate the attributes of the learner profile in our professional learning community.

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Then we took a break to play together. We played rock, paper, scissor entourage and it was AWESOME!

Everyone faces off against a colleague for a one-stop shot of rock, paper, scissor.

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The winner goes on to face another winner, and the loser becomes the winner’s entourage who then cheers on the winner!

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Then the loser and his or her entourage join the entourage of the winner, as the winner faces off with another winner. And do the pattern continues until there are only 2 winners left with HUGE entourages, cheering loudly!

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Then we got back to work learning, using a Growing Definition to draft our staff essential agreements.

First in partners,

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Then in groups,

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Finally, as a whole staff (or in our case with a staff of 120, with a collection of representatives from each group!)

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Now, we are ready to post our essential agreements. We plan to “live ’em, not laminate ’em” and continually reflect on them throughout the year as needed.

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Last but not least, a reflection! Not about what we learned, but instead about how we learned.

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Day 3: An inquiry into inquiry…

We mixed and mingled our PYP, MYP and DP teachers to learn and share about inquiry across the continuum. Inspired by this post by What Ed Said.

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We used the Kath Murdoch inquiry cycle and this prezi to structure our inquiry.

Provocation: What ideas about teacher and learning does this video portray?

Tuning In: What is your experience with inquiry?

Finding Out: Based on your current understanding, what are you questions about inquiry?

Sorting Out: Using the resources provided, self-select some blog posts, videos, twitter hashtags, pictures etc. that are relevant to your questions.

If you are beginning your understanding of inquiry:

 Blog Posts:

Strategies for Inquiry Based Learning

What do you notice? A first step down the path towards inquiry

Introduction to Inquiry Based Learning

Inquiry Cycle: Why, what and how

What does inquiry look like?

Planning and Inquiry Based Start to the Year

Videos:

An inquiry approach

Inquiry based learning – developing student questions

If you are developing your understanding of inquiry:

 Blog Posts:

Developing independence and inquiry

Inquiry, inquiry, inquiry… but how do I do it?

What does inquiry learning look like?

Said no true inquiry teacher ever

Different models of inquiry

Inquiry and the specialist teacher

Moving on from the KWL chart

Is inquiry a struggle for you?

If you are extending your understanding of inquiry:

Blog Posts:

Letting inquiry unravel naturally

What inquiry isn’t

Busting some myths about the inquiry cycle

Minding our language: teaching in the inquiry classroom

This is how inquiry teachers teach

Inquiry and the art of listening

Inquiry and the culture of permission

Effects of Inquiry-based Learning on Students’ Science Literacy Skills and Confidence

Classroom Set-up: How much should we be doing without students?

Twitter Hashtags:

#pypchat 

#mypchat

#dpchat

#inquiryteaching

#inquiryclassroom

#inquirylearning 

 

Going Further: Using what you’ve learned, create a Frayer model that demonstrates your current understanding of inquiry.

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Making Conclusions: Based on what you discovered, what are you new questions?

Taking Action: Now that you know what you know, what are you going to do about it?

Reflection: What was it like to learn through inquiry? What did you notice about yourself as a learner? How will that impact that work you do with your students?

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Day 4: An inquiry into the first week of school…

Provocation: We used this post from What Ed Said to disrupt our comfortable thinking about what should take place the first days of school.

Then we gave time to grade and subject teams to collaboratively plan their first week of school, using the following resources.

Examples of Inquiry-Based First Week Activities:

What do you want to do on your first day of school?

What do you believe about learning?

Essential Agreements

Students Creating their learning space

Photos of student’s designing the classroom set-up

 Blog Posts:

10 things to do on the first day of school

Essential Agreements

What’s Your Story?

Who Owns the Learning?

First Impressions and the Inquiry Classroom

Tips for Creating a Classroom Agreement

Beginning of the Year Student Questionnaire 

Re-Thinking the Start of the Year

First Day Back Fun 

10 Back to School Icebreaker Games

3 Non-Icebreaker Things to Do the First Week of School 

8 First Day of School Activities

Why the first week of school needs to be vigorous 

Day 5: Reflection and Feedback…

Using this visual, we encouraged teachers to think about what they learned this week, and more importantly what action they took based on their learning.

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Teachers then filled in post-its with their action and posted them on our action wall.

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Finally, we asked for their feedback. We referred back to the 4 goals we introduced on the first day of orientation week and asked for “stars and wishes”  about what we did to accomplish those goals and what may have hindered those goals. We will keep this valuable feedback to help improve our staff orientation week next year!

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After 5 days, our empty walls were filled with resources along with our teachers’ questions, thinking and action!

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Now we are ready to start an amazing new school year!

How have your teachers prepared for a new year in the PYP?

 

My Word

Inspired by a recent post by Kath Murdoch, this school year I have decided not to have a lengthy list of goals or resolutions, instead I will choose one word that will act to guide my professional and personal intentions and actions over the coming months.

And the word is…

Connect. 

I have written out this small, seven letter word and posted it on the wall by my computer to act as a daily reminder of what I hope to accomplish in my second year as PYP Coordinator. For me this one, small word encompasses so many different personal and professional goals:

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Connect more with students: This year I would like to spend more time out for recess getting to know our students. I strive to learn more of their names, what they’re interested in and who their brothers and sisters are. I want to spend more time in classrooms, interacting with students, talking to them about what they are learning and celebrating their achievements.

Connect more with parents: This year I would like to reach out to our parent community. In the past, we have had low response rates hosting on-campus academic information sessions. So this year I will try a different avenue. I plan on creating short, five minute videos on YouTube or podcasts about the PYP and sending them out to our parent community through classroom blogs.

Connect more with teachers: This year I aim to spend less time in my office and more time on the playground, wandering through the halls and popping in and out of classrooms. I hope to be more present around campus and accessible when teachers need me. I want to spend more time building relationships with teachers – talking about their families, their weekends, their travels.

Connect more with the online education community: This year I want to reach out and meet other educators around the globe. I strive to transform this blog from a forum where I share my thoughts with readers into an online community that evokes comments from readers and stimulates debates and discussions. I also have recently joined Twitter in hopes of further connecting with the online education community.

They say if you write down your intentions and share them with others you are more likely to follow through with them. So here it is. My word. My intentions. My hopes for the upcoming year.

As we embark on a new school year, what is your word going to be?

(I’m not just asking to ask…I’m actually interested in your answer! Please help me begin to work on my goal of connecting more with the online community by leaving a comment and sharing ‘your word’.)