Growing a School-Wide Innovation

On Friday, our amazing Primary School faculty supported learners from Grade 1 through Grade 5 to plan their own full, rich and balanced day of learning as part of something we have come to call “PIE”.

“PIE” is a home-grown innovation that stands for “Personalization, Intervention and Extension” and has been implemented school-wide, from Grade 1 through Grade 12. The implementation looks and feels different in the PYP, MYP and DP to allow for consideration such as of age of learners, divisional structures and programmatic differences. However we all share a common goal: empowering learners to understand themselves in order to make choices and take action within a supportive community as a way to continuously to grow and improve.

PIE is an initiative that grows out of our unique context. It is unlike other eduction innovations I have been part of at the other PYP schools at which I have worked – which is a good thing. One of the messages I try to give when I am consulting with PYP schools around the world is that innovations should be grown and not transplanted. And that is exactly what has happened with PIE.

PIE has grown out of:

  • our understanding of the new IB Standards and Practices
  • our school’s unique Mission and Core Values
  • our community’s philosophy and understanding of curriculum
  • our commitment to being a Professional Learning Community
  • our working towards using the Response to Intervention approach

Considering these different ingredients – the different dimensions to our identity as a school – has led to an initiative that allows us to bring all of these elements together in divisionally-appropriate ways.

The Middle School and High School have been implementing this structure for a few years, and the Primary School was excited to roll it out to our younger learners as well. In the past, the Primary learners and faculty have engaged with the concepts of voice, choice, ownership, needs and wants as a learners as well as personalization in different ways, but we were excited this year to approach those concepts through a shared, school-wide structure.

We had a little bit of a curve-ball thrown at us when we found out school was starting online, but the teachers quickly pivoted the face-to-face implementation plan to allow for a soft-start while learners were still at home. As educators, we know there are specific skills, approaches and pedagogical moves needed to support learners to make choices for themselves that can be difficult to expect from parents or caregivers supporting their child with online learning. However, we still wanted to build the momentum of learners making choices for themselves, but in a way that we felt was more manageable while they were at home.

But once we had learners back on campus with us – we were ready to launch the full implementation plan!

Here is how it went:

PREPARING

Working with Faculty

Starting the year, we were ready with a fully developed implementation guide that was built the year prior and collaboratively fine tuned with the input of teachers across different grades and subject areas. Once we heard that campuses were closed, we adapted the implementation guide to a fully online context and from the start of the year were supporting teachers with this modified, online implementation plan.

Once we heard the government decree that campuses were allowed to be re-opened, we were ready to switch over to the face-to-face implementation guide and continue to take the next steps with the faculty of how this would work on campus. We prepared all the background documents into one Google Classroom post, and allocated a faculty meeting to go through all the systems, structures, tools and routines specific to being face-to-face.

We also made sure to create additional support opportunities for the teams and teachers who needed it.

Many teachers and teams took us up on these additional support offerings. During my weekly collaborative planning times with teams I was able to support them in small groups to figure out what made the most sense for the age and specific needs of their learners. Together we worked on developing ideas, tools, references materials and procedures to help our first “on campus PIE” be a success.

Keeping Parents in the Loop

Another ‘piece of the PIE’ was to ensure we were keeping our parent community in the loop. Up until this point we had shared a video overview of PIE with them close to the start of the year to help them understand the purpose of PIE.

But now that we were coming back to campus it was a perfect opportunity to offer a live session to go into more detail. So myself, the Secondary School VP and our Director of Learning collaborated to put together an optional evening session for the parents.

We started all together with our Director of Learning sharing the “why” behind PIE – explicitly showing the connection to the IB Standards and Practices, our Mission statement and Core Values as a school, and the links with being a PLC and RTI school. He also offered some broad strokes to help illustrate for parents how PIE works.

Then we split up into breakout rooms to dive a little deeper into how it works in each division. I was able to work with a small group of Primary School parents and share more details about how PIE works and what it might look like for their child.

It was a small group, but an engaged and passionate one, who asked lots of great questions to deepen their understanding of PIE.

When it comes to supporting parents, we also worked with the faculty to help them understand how their communication with parents is essential in order to bring them onboard. We shared some professional resources to give them some ideas how to do this, and will continue to work with them to help them see the power of not only keeping parents in the loop, but also empowering them to understand the role they can play at home.

Then it was time to launch with the kids! ūüéČ

THE LAUNCH

The structural backbone of our PIE initiative is the PYP action cycle – CHOOSE, ACT, REFLECT. We not only wanted to harness this model, but also explore it with learners. We want to be very intentional to not tell learners to choose, act and reflect, but instead to teach them how to choose, act and reflect.

Choosing

Teams worked collaboratively to plan systems, structures, tools and supports that were age appropriate for their learners. Many teams explored the concepts of ‘needs’, ‘wants, ‘balance’ and ‘prioritization’ as teaching-points in preparation for the choices their students were going to make.

We had an all-hands-on-deck approach, which allowed us to present the learners with lots of adult-led learning experiences throughout the day, that were supported by:

  • homeroom teachers and TAs
  • single-subject teachers and TAs
  • integrationists for ICT, library and PSPE
  • Support services team – EAL and Learning Support teachers

This flexible and creative use of time, space and faculty allowed us to harness 33 educators to support 138 learners!!!

Teachers also created different tools, based on the ages and skills of their learners to help them document the choices they made.

We saw lots of drawing and labeling in the younger grades.

And the integration of digital tools in the older grades.

When it came to support for learners during the ‘choose’ block there was whole-group instruction, guided groups and one-on-one support to help them understand how to make the best choices for themselves.

And, of course, lots and lots and LOTS of conferencing! Both peer-to-peer, and teacher-to-learner.

Questions I heard during these conferences:

  • What did you choose? Why did you choose it?
  • How did you know those choices were right for you?
  • Do you feel your day is balanced? How do you know?
  • Which of your choices are ‘needs’ and which are ‘wants’?
  • Are you sure your choices address your priorities? How do you know?

The conferences really provided an opportunity for partnership. A chance for the teachers to understand the perspectives of the learners, but also a chance to share their professional expertise with the learners about needs and priorities. This shared decision-making is an essential part of ensuring learners are making informed choices about their learning.

After learners made their initial choices, conferenced with peers and teachers, refined and improved their choices, they were ready to sign-up for any of the adult-led learning opportunities.

Many of the grade-levels also displayed the sign-ups within their learning environments.

Once the plans were finalized… it was time to act!

Acting

As soon as the clock struck nine there was buzz across the Primary campus! Learners were literally running to their first block! As learners were acting on their choices it was amazing to see all the different learning opportunities made available for learners, from all the different educators within the Primary Faculty.

There was support for learners with their Units of Inquiry for catching up, going further and taking action connected to all three Lines of Inquiry:

Inquiry into our learning environments

Inquiry into our learning communities

Inquiry into myself as a learner

As well as support for ATL skills, like research and self-management

There was support for math, in the forms of:

Additional instruction

Guided groups

One on one support

Opportunities for extension and challenge

There were opportunities to grow language and literacy skills, in the forms of:

First language and additional language support

Support with phonics, spelling, letter formation, rhyming, fine motor skills and vocabulary

Read alouds

Author Studies

Storytelling

Independent Reading and Writing

Reading and Writing Conferences

There were also opportunities for interventions and extensions with our specialist subjects like Visual Arts, Performing Arts and PE

There were opportunities for personalization:

Support with starting a personal inquiry

Time to pursue personal interests like coding or building

Throughout the day, there was lots of support with how to act on your choices. Teachers helped learners build the skills of referencing schedules, referring to plans, and keeping track of what they’d done so far

Reflecting

Teams also worked collaboratively to plan how best to teach learners to reflect on their day. Similar to the ‘choose’ block, teachers made informed choices based on the age and skills of learners to create tools and routines for the reflection block as well.

Learners expressed themselves through writing, drawing and speaking to reflect on prompts provided by teachers. These prompts helped them to think deeply about the choices they made and the impact those choices had on their learning.

The educators supported learners with mini-lessons about the skill of reflecting as well as lots and lots and LOTS of conferences!

Questions I heard during these conferences:

  • How did your choices go? Which ones made the biggest impact on your learning?
  • How did you do following your choices? What makes you say that?
  • What did you learn about yourself as a learner?
  • What might you do differently next PIE?

There were also some cool opportunities for learners to participate in reflecting on PIE as a whole, beyond their own individual learning. One team used a ‘plus/delta’ protocol to invite the learners to offer feedback about what worked and what needs to be changed and improved for next time.

Another team also took this opportunity to create a “PIE Learning Story” to share with families. They documented and explained how the day worked to help parents better understand how their child experienced ‘personalization, interventions and extensions’. They posted it on their bulletin board and shared it with their families via Seesaw.

NEXT STEPS

Teachers Next Steps

As we are learners first and foremost ourselves, it is essential that we build the habits on ongoing reflection. Teachers were given some reflective questions to help them analyze what was revealed throughout the day, and how they can use those observations and evidence next week to respond to learners.

My Next Steps

Just as the teachers analyze and respond to evidence from their learners… I also must analyze and respond to the evidence from my learners, aka the faculty! I will take some time to sift through my observations and reflections from the day and strategically support individuals and teams with suggestions, scaffolds, tools and coaching to help them continue to grow in their implementation of PIE.

I was also provoked by our Grade 1 team creating a ‘Learning Story’ about PIE for their grade-level parents community and I would love to do the same for our Primary-wide parent community. I think the ‘show and tell’ aspect of a learning story can contribute to parents’ ongoing understanding and of our PIE initiative.

Our Collective Next Steps

Together, we will reflect and work towards identifying and ‘de-bugging’ any logistical or structural glitches that impeded student learning.

At the moment we have collectively identified a handful of issues and are already working collaboratively to address them before next week.

Overall, it was an AMAZING day of learning. There was a buzz in the air. Learners were energized, engaged and empowered. The conversations with learners about their choices were rich, reflective and grounded in a strong sense of who they are as learners – aware of what they need and want and are interested in. At the end of the day there was a palpable sense of pride, confidence, accomplishment and celebration – from the learners and the faculty!

I look forward to continuing to partner with this amazing faculty over the course of the year, through multiple cycles of action research, as we continually choose-act-reflect towards our shared goal of: empowering learners to understand themselves in order to make choices and take action within a supportive community as a way to continuously to grow and improve. .

10 Tips for Moving from Professional Development to Professional Learning ‚Äď Choose  Act Reflect

Reimagining the POI

This is not my first time sharing my two cents about the PYP POI.

At the time I wrote that post, I was teaching grade 5 so although I could reimagine our approach to our grade-level POI, thinking bigger – whole school – wasn’t really in my purview at the time.

But now that I am in the role of PYP Coordinator, these wonderings have begun to swirl around in my mind once more.

There are two potential ideas I have been chewing on lately that I am considering taking a risk and giving a try for next year. They are by no means fully cooked ideas yet; merely seedlings that I’ve been incubating for a while. Not only does getting them down in writing help me clarify and develop my own thinking, but getting potential feedback from my fellow PYP peeps around the world could be just what I need to get a few steps closer to being ready to launch!

So here’s what I’m thinking…

Living POI

One of the issues we have been bumping up against is trying to balance a more emergent, organic, learner-centered approach to unit planning with having some sort of central POI that is transparent, visible and accessible to the whole community. The traditional approach to POI planning – more or less – is to do it in advance, ‘lock it in’ or ‘freeze it’, throw it on the website, print it out, frame it, hang it on the wall… and then more or less follow it for the course of the year.

That approach is difficult for us, because our first two questions we ask ourselves anytime we are planning a new unit are:

  1. What are we noticing about our learners? (interests, strengths, curiosities, needs, misconceptions etc)
  2. What is going on in the world? (locally, globally, virally, seasonally etc.)

Then we consult our learning outcomes… and well, you know the rest!

Starting the unit planning process with these two questions have helped us get a little closer to building significant, relevant, engaging and challenging units that reflect that specific group of learners at that specific point in time. But has made it tricky to document the POI in the same neat and tidy way!

So I’ve been thinking about how we might adopt an approach for a “living POI”. One that can be organically, emergently, responsively built – unit by unit.

With the magic of Google Slides, I think I might have a way to do that!

I’d build a central Google Slide as the comprehensive, whole-school, PYP POI.

This would display the “big bones” of each unit for each grade-level – as it is built – whether transdisciplinary or stand alone.

Even though this will be the centralized place where everything is displayed, it wouldn’t be the place where everything is updated. To make it easier for teams, I would build each grade-level and subject team their own Google Slide deck for the units they are responsible for.

Each of these individual slides from every grade and subject team would be linked back to the master document.

That way, as they responsively, organically and emergently build units, they can simply document the “big bones” here. Then, thanks to the magic of Google, all I will need to do is hit the “update” button and it will appear in the central, whole-school “living POI”

This would allow each team to be the keeper of their grade-level or subject POI, while I can be the keeper of the whole-school “living POI”. Every time a unit is built, it can be easily updated and therefore accessible and visible to the whole school community.

This would also allow each team to have a smaller, more manageable set of slides to take ownership over and add to as they build units, throughout the year. While at the same time having easy access to the central POI to see all units happening through all grades throughout the whole school.

By the end of the year, we would have our POI documented, but we wouldn’t need to sacrifice our responsive, emergent, learner-centered approach to unit planning in order to make that happen.

Learner-Centered POI

One of the potential criticisms of a more emergent and organic approach to unit planning in the PYP is the loss of articulation over time.

However, I’m not sure the current traditional approach to POI articulation actually accomplishes what it is trying to accomplished anyway…

Most schools, at the end of every year, or on a pre-set cycle every few years, step back and analyze horizontal and vertical articulation of their POI to ensure balance across things like concepts, ATL skills, Learner Profile attributes etc.

But this ‘point in time’ articulation approach seems flawed to me. Sure, if a school builds a balanced POI and freezes it for 7-8 years then it accomplishes it’s goal of balance for the learners who go through those 7 or 8 years of the Primary Years Program at that school. But currently, I would bet that most schools are venturing more towards refining, updating and improving units on a more regular basis – many each and every year. So what good is a perfectly balanced POI at ‘one point in time’ if by the time those learners in Early Years make it to Grade 5 the units have grown and shifted and changed (as they should in an agency-supportive, learner-centered approach!) So if I am a Grade 5 teacher interested in balance and articulation and I look at a the current POI … it is very unlikely that my current Grade 5 learners explored the units documented in that POI when they were in younger grades. Meaning I am judging articulation by looking at units my group of learners may have never encountered!

What I think we need to be articulating is POI balance ‘across time’. Enter my idea for a “learner-centered” POI.

What if, instead of articulating the POI at a given time, we spent our time and effort articulating the POI each learner experiences across their years in the Primary Years Program?

My thinking is that we could set-up learner-centered POIs for each grade-level and then year after year capture the units they have explored and continuously update the elements of articulation we want to track to therefore inform future planning for that cohort.

Here is an example of what I’m envisioning:

If I think of the learners who will complete the PYP at our school next year at the “PYP Class of 2021/2022” I can create that cohort’s POI.

I can then go back through the archives and capture the different units they have explored so far in their PYP journey.

At the end of this academic year, we can update the units they explored in Grade 4

Then next year’s Grade 5 teachers can easily see what units their incoming learners have explored over time, to help inform the planning and decisions they make for their written curriculum throughout the year.

I am also considering an “over time” articulation slide, where the Grade 5 teachers – for example – can easily tally things like key concepts, ATL skills, attributes of the Learner Profile for that specific cohort, which again can inform their planning for this group of learners.

Perhaps even a colour-coded running record of parts of each TD theme descriptor…

As a I mentioned, these ideas are half-baked at best! But I’m definitely itching to take some risks and reimagine our school’s approach to building, capturing and balancing our PYP Program of Inquiry.

I would love to hear your thoughts and feedback to help me further reflect upon, refine and fertilize these idea seedlings.

Supporting Teacher Agency – Take 1

Last year, when I was new to my school and new to my role, my biggest focus was to ‘seek to understand‘. Now that I have had that first year (and what a year it was!) to learn about the school, experience the context and build relationships, I feel I am ready to move on to a new professional goal – supporting teacher agency.

New-ish goal might be more accurate.

Last time I was out of the classroom I was experimenting with Ed Camps and other models of Personalized Professional Learning and I was having some major shifts in thinking from working with adult learners. But it wasn’t until I found myself called back into the classroom that I began to find my identity as an agency-supportive educator. That’s when I was able to ‘risk and reflect‘ when working with my Grade 4s and then embarking on the collaborative adventure that was Studio 5. That’s also when I began to dabble with Agency PD to support schools around the world with their journey.

But now it’s time to ground that passion and that goal in this context with this staff. And boy, am I lucky with this staff! ‚̧ԳŹ

I am a firm believer that the medium is the message. And learning through agency can be just as (if not more!) powerful than learning about agency.  Therefor I believe that putting my eggs in the basket of supporting teacher agency will have the biggest impact on teachers supporting the agency of their child-learners.

So as I work with my principal and the rest of our school’s Academic Leadership Team to get ready for a new (and unprecedented) school year, there have been some specific agency-supportive ‘moves’ I have tried to attempt to begin the year respecting and supporting the agency of the wonderful teachers at my school.

Here’s what I’ve been experimenting with so far:

Town Halls

No doubt this year there is lots of new and lots of unknown. Lots of differences and lots of change. So as my principal and I have been thinking through approaches to this unique year, we have intentionally attempted to make decisions with our staff, instead of for our staff.

We hosted a ‘Town Hall’ ¬†and shared our current thinking with our whole Primary staff on things like the structure of the day, scheduling, first UOI of the year, Family-Led conferences and the public planner.

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Then we invited them into an adapted, asynchronous Tuning Protocol where they could share their questions and feedback with us.

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Then we coded and analyzed ALL that data!

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Then we organized the trends in the data to be able to feedback to staff and respond.

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I then recorded and shared videos responding to the major questions and feedback and created a pathway for further questions and feedback.

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Think Tanks

There are some things we are trying to build and decide as leaders that we have less experience with than teachers. The last few months of the school year, teachers were on the ground with distance learning and therefor the ones with experience and expertise! So we have been trying to capitalize on this, by including their voice and opinions in not just the decisions, but the thinking as well.

One of the ways we have done this is through an asynchronous “think tank”. Where we have used Nearpod to invite teachers to think through some of the nuances of how we are approaching asynchronous learning this year.

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We invited PRO and CON analyses…

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We asked for votes on potential models…

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We invited them not only to connect with our thinking, but also to contribute models and designs based on their thinking….

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And because our staff are ROCK STARS, we not only got some mock-ups, but they initiated a critical-friends conversation in the comments sections offering feedback on one another’s ideas!

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We were then able to export all this data from Nearpod and bring it with us to leadership meetings to ensure that teachers’ voices and ideas were part of the thinking process.

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Agency Supportive O-Week

Planning for orientation is a normal part of any leader’s back to school process. This year is unique though. We will have teachers on campus, teacher in the same time zone but unable to be on campus, and some teachers spread around the world in very different time zones! So it challenged us to re-think some of our traditional approaches to planning staff orientation.

Myself and a colleague of mine Рwho are both passionate about supporting  agency of both child and adult learners Рpitched a collection of ideas to our Academic Leadership Team to hopefully inform the course of our orientation week planning.

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Hopefully with an orientation week that respects and supports teacher agency, we can not only personalize the professional learning to each unique individual’s needs and interests, but also maximize everyone’s time to ensure that every minute is purposefully… while at the same time modeling some of the philosophies and practices we hope to see teachers use with their learners!

In-House Experts

Leaders know some stuff. Leaders do not know everything. And that’s okay. Now more than ever leaders must look to the teachers who were on the ground during remote emergency learning last spring to harness their experience and expertise as we prepare for another unprecedented year.

Myself and my principal have tried to keep this in mind as much as possible, as we build our orientation week.

We’ve invited teachers to help curate resources that can be used in orientation and through the year.

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We’ve invited teachers to lead workshops during orientation in the area of their expertise.

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We’ve invited teachers to contribute to criteria on diagnostic tools.

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We hope to invite and make space for teachers to share their learning and passions during orientation week.

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Space for Voice

We know this is a challenging time for all. Lots of questions, uncertainty, nerves, fears and excitement for starting the year. So we’ve tried to carve our space for teachers’ voice.

One of the ways we are doing that is offering drop-in office hours for them to pop by and have a space for whatever it is they need space for.

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Respect for Summer

Did I mention we are all still on summer holiday!? So we’ve been very careful to ensure all of our approaches are invitations, but not expectations. We know for some teachers August is still a protected time for rest and relaxation – great. We also know for other educators, in August a switch gets flicked and there is a burst of energy and interest in thinking about and working on the year ahead – great. And for some educators… it’s somewhere in-between – great.

So as much as possible, we are trying to be mindful of all those different perspectives and create structures that allow individuals to choose how much they participate based on what they feel is best for them at this moment in time.

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I’m sure there is MUCH more we could be doing, and hopefully we will continue to challenge ourselves and one another on the leadership team to keep finding and making space for inclusive practices that flatten hierarchical structures, harness expertise regardless of position and see the humanness of each individual within an organization.

 

How are you respecting and supporting the agency of your teachers?

How are you building and protecting space for teacher’s voice choice and ownership?

How are you modeling with teachers, what you expect in the classroom?

Learners or Students?

Lately I’ve been wondering if in our attempt to create life-long learners, we are accidentally creating life-long students.

Does what we do each day at school help learners, learn how to learn?

Or how to be taught?

The unexpected and unfortunate circumstances of Distance Learning has presented an interesting litmus test for answering this question.

How has the experience of distance learning differed for:

Children whose time at school has helped them to know:

  • what their own interests, passions, purposes, curiosities and needs are
  • how to set their own intentions, criteria for success, goals and finish lines
  • how to find, curate and judge resources that are most helpful for them as learners
  • when, where and with whom they learn best
  • how to make decisions about the best way to capture, document, and collect what they learn along the way
  • how, when and from who to ask for feedback, support, help and guidance
  • how to self-assess and triangulate perspectives on how they are doing and what their next steps are
  • how to take their learning public – the different tools, approaches, and forums for doing so
  • how to self-manage: to organize their time, tasks, and materials

Compared to…

Children who show up to school each day and are used to being told:

  • what to learn
  • why to learn it
  • when to learn it
  • how to learn it
  • where to learn it
  • with whom to learn it
  • what resources to use
  • how to capture and document
  • how they are doing and what their next steps are
  • when, how, with whom to share it with

Obviously, the goal is not to prepare children for Distance Learning. But Distance Learning gives us a unique snapshot into learning without school, learning beyond school and how learners approach learning when we’re not there with them.

What we do as educators each day can either contribute to an internal or external locus of control for the children we work with. Learning can either be seen as something done by them or something done to them.¬†If children leave their years at school, thinking learning is only the by-product of teaching, then what happens when all of the sudden they no longer have ‘teachers’? Then there’s no more learning? Let’s hope not!

So what can we do, as educators, to be sure we are creating life-long learners?

  1. Unpack the difference between learning and school:

 

2. Spend more time, learning about learning:

What does learning look like?

What does learning feel like?

What do you believe about learning?

How is learning unleashed?

Understanding learning

Work or Learning?

An inquiry into learning

 

3. Ask this simple, powerful question of ourselves:

decisions

Credit John Spencer

 

4. . Take small steps sharing, and eventually shifting over, planning for learning

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Link to resource

 

5. Elevate the importance and role of ATL skills in everything we do

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Credit – Orenjibuta

 

6. Help learners take back ownership over their learning.

ownership

Credit РBarbara Bray and Sylvia Duckworth 

7. Be careful not to confuse compliance and engagement.

engagement

Credit РBarbara Bray and Sylvia Duckworth 

8. Be careful not to conceptualize “independent learners” as students who follow our directions by themselves without reminders

directions

 

9. Take lessons learned from Distance Learning back with us, to keep pushing the envelop and breaking the mould of what school could be

forward_to_school

 

10. Pull wisdom from the famous adage: Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. 

“Give a child their learning, and they’ll learn for a day.

Teach a child¬†how¬†to learn, and they’ll learn for a lifetime”

pole.

So whether you are still in Distance Learning, heading back to IRL school, or already back in the normal swing of things, now is a chance for all of us to reflect and take stock of whether our intentions and actions truly create the life-long learners we hope for.

 

How do you ensure you are supporting the growth of life-long learners?

How do you prioritize learning how to learn?

How do you help learners discover who they are as learners and how best they learn?

 

A Chance to Liberate Learning from Schooling

I haven’t blogged all year.

And I’m not quite sure why.

Likely because I was finding my footing at a new school, in a new country, doing a new job. Trying to understand a new organization; what are its values, beliefs, challenges, obstacles, strengths, perspectives, philosophies? While figuring out how my own individual values, beliefs, challenges, obstacles, strengths, perspectives and philosophies fit – or don’t fit – within that organization.

Whatever the reason, my last published post was August 3rd!

Then Distance Learning hit.

And once that whirlwind began (as I am sure all of you have experienced), it was a sprinted marathon. So although I had many thoughts and ideas bouncing around my head, I was too swept up in it all to sit down and write.

Until I was given an assignment from my Director of Learning….

To sit down. For 15 minutes. And write.

So here I am – sitting down. For 15 minutes. And writing.

Our assignment was about pausing to notice and reflect upon success within our Distance Learning experience so far.¬†And there are SO many tangible moments of success that I could point to – the tireless efforts and mind-blowing creativity of the staff; the resilience and commitment of the learners; the seemingly never ending patience, support and empathy from leaders and coaches;¬†structures, systems and approaches that had positive impacts… and the list goes on!

But my mind usually has a way of zooming out, to the intangible and abstract – especially when it comes to school. So instead, I find myself reflecting upon how Distance Learning may unexpectedly be helping an entire generation (of learners, educators and parents) brake some of the shackles and constraints of the traditional paradigm of school that have been hard to shake free from in the past.

I’m not sure about your experience with Distance Learning so far, but for me, the experience seems to have begun to separate and elevate the concept of learning¬†from the current, collective, notion of schooling.

Not by choice or intention. But by having to start over. Having to start from scratch.¬†Having to come up with totally new things. Having to look at old things, in completely new ways. Questioning the purpose, place and impact of things that we may have never needed to question before. Rendering the phrase, “that’s the way we’ve always done things” powerless.

There have always have been small pockets of educators and parents critically examining the current paradigm of education and asking questions like:

What is learning?

How does learning happen?

What is truly worth learning? Who decides?

How do we know learning has happened?

What’s the point of grades?

Do schools create life-long learners or life-long students?

Does everyone have to learn the same things? At the same time? In the same way? At the same pace?

How do we help learners, learn how to learn?

How do we raise the profile of approaches to learning skills and attributes? 

How do we best meet individual and family needs?

But now those conversations seemed to have migrated from small pockets in certain schools and Twitter circles, to general discussion, happening on a much wider scale.

It seems that we have stumbled into a situation that forces us to focus on how to plan for learning and support learners without:

  • compliance
  • rewards
  • punishments
  • extrinsic motivation
  • timetables
  • grades
  • seat-time
  • standardization

But instead, to focus on how to plan for learning and support learners through:

  • curiosity
  • relevance
  • motivation
  • interest
  • significance
  • personalization
  • choice
  • ownership
  • feedback
  • relationships
  • family partnership

It seems that for so long the system of school has muddled the concept of learning with self-imposed structures that seemed natural, invisible, ingrained and unchangeable. But now, these awful and unfortunate circumstances have engendered a global, collaborative inquiry into learning. Which has allowed us all to see through those structures and peel back those limitations, to gain a clearer, more accurate picture of LEARNING itself.

Obviously the necessity of distance learning, and the circumstances surrounding it, is something nobody wanted or planned for. And all of us are counting down the days to when life gets back to normal, when people are healthy, happy and safe and we’re back on campus, surrounded by learners, colleagues and families. But while we find ourselves in this unique situation, what lessons might we learn along the way that we can bring back with us?

How might this unwanted disruption to all of our lives, springboard our collective disruption of what school could be?

How do we take what we’ve been wondering and discovering about¬†learning during these extraordinary¬†circumstances, to help us shake-up and re-define what school looks like when we all go back to our ordinary circumstance?

How might this collective experience leave the door open a crack for bold moves and innovations when we return?

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‚Äôve shared some ‚Äėstart of the year‚Äô 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 Р10 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?

The Problem With a POI

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

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

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

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

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

Challenge #1 – Personalization

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

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

Challenge #2 – Constant Change

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

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

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

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

What if…

A POI was personalized to each student.

A POI followed the students through their PYP journey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about new students?

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

What about specialist-subjects?

Could specialist teachers not also add to this centralized document?

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What about “repeats”?

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

What about concepts, skills, etc.?

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

What about PYP evaluations?

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

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

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

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

What challenges do you see with horizontal and vertical articulation?

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

Bringing Parents into the Conversation

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

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

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

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Then as a team, we analyzed their responses.

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

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

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

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

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

Section 1: Provocations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which helped us usher in AJ Juliani’s quote:

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Section 2: The “Why”

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

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

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

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

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Section 3: The “Hows”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Section 4: The “Whats”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Part 5: Next Steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A week in the life…

A few weeks ago I was leading a workshop and one of the participants asked what a ‚Äúnormal day‚ÄĚ is like for me. Although the easy answer is – there is never a normal day – the truth is, at this point of the year, we have settled into somewhat of a routine. However, just sharing one day wouldn‚Äôt make sense, because so much of what we do is part of a bigger system or routine. So I‚Äôve instead decided to share what a ‚Äúnormal week‚ÄĚ is like for me.

Friday Afternoon

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

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

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

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

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Or feedback from a three-way conference…

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For a literacy goal, it may be assessment data…

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Or something from a personal learning plan…

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For math it may be feedback from a math conference…

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Or an online assessment tool…

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For UOI it may be from a unit plan….

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Or a backwards plan…

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

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

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

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Monday Period 1

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

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

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Then we look at the ‚ÄúMOSCOW‚ÄĚ for the day. Typically the ‚Äúmusts‚ÄĚ are always the same – achieve your weekly goals – but the shoulds, coulds, and wants depend on what‚Äôs happening that week or something specific we are focusing on.

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

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

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

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Monday Period 8

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

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

Green = completely stuck to the learning I planned for myself

Yellow = Mostly stuck to the learning I planned for myself

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

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

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

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

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

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Others use Portfolios (using Google Slides)

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Some prefer to blog

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

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

Monday after school

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday

Rinse and repeat.

Wednesday Morning

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

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

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

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

Red = not progress made YET

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

Thursday

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

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

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

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

Friday period 1

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

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Friday afternoon

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

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

Friday After school

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

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

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

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Monday Morning 

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

TWO MASSIVE DISCLAIMERS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?