Some thoughts on PD about agency

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

It was beautifully planned down the very last detail:

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

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

But then I caught myself…

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

So I began to wonder…

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

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

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

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

Now my plan looks totally different:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Advertisements

Transdisciplinary Math – An epiphany and a plan!

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

Teaching math in a transdisciplinary way is hard. 

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

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

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

image

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

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

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

One million birds migrate over the Sahara each year.”

“Each chick weighs only 20 grams.”

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

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

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

So here is my plan for next year!

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

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

Step 2 – Revisit the text with a math focus

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

Step 3 – Follow where it takes you

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

Step 4 – Don’t stop at math! 

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

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

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

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

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

“For the Evaluation”

A while back I wrote a post about PYP bad words. I’d like to add a PYP bad phrase.

“For the evaluation”

My school is in the early stages of preparing our self-study for our upcoming multi-program IB visit next spring and I have become acutely aware of the danger in those three words.

We need to make sure that’s in place for the evaluation. 

We should update that for the evaluation. 

We need to work on  improving that for the evaluation

No.

We shouldn’t be doing things for the evaluation – our students deserve better than that. We should be doing all of these things for them. Sure, the evaluation helps us measure and assess how well we are serving our students and gives us  a framework for setting goals and creating a plan of action to improve…  but the evaluation in and of itself cannot be the end goal.

So the next time you catch yourself or a colleague (or me!) saying these three words try to recast the sentence to ensure that we understand that we are investing our time and energy for the betterment of students – not just for the evaluation. 

We need to conduct student self-study groups for the evaluation because it will help us better understand what our students need in order to serve them better. 

We need to update our policies for the evaluation to allow us to better translate our beliefs into practice in order to better serve our students. 

We need to reflect on what we’re doing well and what we can do better for the evaluation to better serve our students. 

The evaluation can’t be misunderstood as the end goal. It needs to be seen as a tool for helping us reach our end goal: doing what’s best for our students. 

If it works for teachers… why not students?

Last week I wrote about how my work with adults will change the way I interact with students with regards to issues of classroom management. The more I thought about it, the more I realized it will also change the way I approach planning for learning experiences. After two years working with adult learners I feel pretty confident with the structure I have used for professional development sessions.

Why can’t I use that same structure with children?

I had the sneaking suspicion that I could… and lucky for me the perfect opportunity presented itself! I was asked to facilitate a one hour “bridges” session to help our transitioning Grade 5 students learn about the MYP. So I decided to approach it the way I would approach a one hour PD session with adults.

Here is how it went:

I planned Guiding Slides based on Kath Murdoch’s inquiry cycle (just like I would for teachers)

I gathered materials – pencils, markers, post-its, scrap paper. (just like I would for teachers)

image

I built a Google Doc with a variety of resources. (just like I would for teachers)

MYP Google Doc

I set up groups with materials already on the tables. (just like I would for teachers)

image

We played a round of “stand-up if…” to help our learning community build connections before jumping into the learning. (just like I would with teachers)

I told them I would collect their attention by simply raising my hand and waiting patiently for them to wrap up their conversations. (just like I do with teachers)

Students tuned into what they already know-or think they know. (just like teachers would)

image

image

image image

Students tuned into what they wondered and wanted to find out. (just like teachers would) 

image

image

image image

Student chose how they would find out – watch a video, read a blog post, look at a diagram, browse a Twitter hashtag. (just like teachers would)

image

image

image

image

Students decided how best to record and organize the important information they found – write it down, type it out, take a picture of it. (just like teachers would)     

image

image

image

Students reflected on how their thinking changed. (Just like teachers would)

image

image image

My reflections on the session…

It was amazing to see that when given the opportunity, students were able to take ownership over their own learning. There was no “lesson” and I didn’t “teach” them anything… but there was learning. There was thinking, curiosity, self-differentiation, risk-taking, discussion, reflection and new understandings.

What worked:

  • playing a game to build connections before starting with the learning tasks
  • individually tuning in and collectively posting initial thoughts and questions
  • raising my hand to collect their attention
  • having a collection of resource links on a Google Doc for students with devices and paper copies for students without devices
  • providing choice of how, where and with who to learn
  • having post-its, scrap paper and writing utensils on each group
  • setting time expectations, not task expectations (ex. you have 5 minutes to write as many post-its about what you know about the MYP; you have 15 minutes to explore as many resources as time allows) 
  • using familiar Visible Thinking Routines like “I used to think, now I think” and “See, Think, Wonder”
  • reflecting at the end of the session about how their thinking has changed

What I would change if I did it again:

  • time it out differently and plan to do less in one hour
  • trim down the resources to one or two per type
  • support students more in accessing and using the Google Doc
  • stick with VTRs  they are familiar with and have used before

So, can I use the same structures to facilitate student learning that I use to facilitate teacher learning?

YES! 

…perhaps just with a little extra time and support!

Assessment – Caught between two worlds

I have been an educator for 8 years and throughout those years I have learned (and tried) to be more discerning and to question educational practices. My goal – common to many 21st C educators – is to move away from “doing school” and more towards facilitating true learning.

I started my career in the Ontario system of education which provided me with a great foundation. Then I became an IB educator which really pushed and challenged my thinking about teaching and learning. The more my understanding grew and changed, the more I realized that although some of the practices I picked up as a teacher in Ontario could be transposed into my new practice as a PYP teacher, other practices no longer seemed to fit.

And then there are the practices that I’m still not sure about. Sometimes I feel caught between both worlds and have trouble figuring out which “best practices” from non-IB systems support true learning and which merely help students get better at “doing school”.

Many of these conundrums for me center around assessment specifically….

Namely success criteria, exemplars and bump it up walls. 

When I started my teaching career in Ontario I used all three of these things. They helped my students “do well” on summatives. They increased “achievement” in my class. They provided students with a clear pathway to “success” on the rubric. But now I question – were they really helping my students learn? Or were they merely helping my students get better at “doing school”?

I’m not sure, but before I move back into the classroom I sure would like to figure it out!

Should these practices be packed in our “international educator suitcases” when we leave home to be brought with us and transposed into our PYP practice?

 Do these practices truly support learning, or do they just help students “do school” really, really well? 

I’d love to hear your thoughts… 

I left my heart in the classroom…

I have been a PYP Coordinator for two years – and I have truly loved the experience!

It has been amazing to be part of every grade and subject team’s collaborative planning sessions. It has been an exhilarating challenge to design programs of professional development that meet the needs of all of our staff. It has been a honour to be welcomed into so many classrooms to see the learning in action from Pre-K to Grade 5.

And I’ve learned so much! I’ve learned about curriculum development. I’ve learned about inquiry at every age and in every subject. I’ve learned about myself as a leader. I’ve learned about collaboration and teamwork dynamics.

And the most important thing I’ve learned is that I left my heart in the classroom. 

hand hearts

This year I realized how much I miss spending my day with students. This year I realized that my understanding of the PYP has leapfrogged my past attempt at implementing the PYP. This year I realized how much I still need to develop my own teaching craft. This year I realized that I was encouraging teachers to try things I have never tired myself. This year I realized I had unfinished business as a PYP teacher.

And for that reason, this August, I will be heading back into the classroom – and I couldn’t be happier about it! I don’t think I’m done with leadership forever and I don’t think I’m done with being a PYP Coordinator. I just think that I need to take some time to hone my own practice as a PYP teacher before I go back into a role that supports others’ development as PYP teachers.

I’m looking forward to a year of taking crazy risks and trying all the amazing things I have been learning about the past two years. I’m looking forward to a dose of reality and falling flat on my face as I re-discover how hard it is to put some of these shifts in thinking into practice. I’m looking forward to the humbling moment when  a colleague catches me photocopying something. I’m looking forward to year of trial and error.. of risks and reflections… and hopefully coming out the other side with a better balance of PYP knowledge, understanding and experience.

I will still blog here from time to time about inquiry, PYP and good teaching… but I will also be starting a second blog where I document my risks and reflections as I take my PYP journey back to the classroom!

Wish me luck!

A Model for a Year of Personalized Professional Learning – A Dream

During this past year I have blogged about our first attempt at a half day of Personalized Professional Learning, then I wrote about our second iteration of Personalized Professional Learning. Now the big question… what’s next?

I think the next step is turning this model of PPL into the basis for a year long PD plan.

This is the time of year that school teams are meeting to design professional development action plans for next year. If it were up to me, I would design the structures and systems to allow for a whole year of personalized professional learning. Usually, I blog about ideas I have tried and put into practice. This post will be the opposite. It will be about an idea – in the earliest phases of conception – that is purely hypothetical. At this stage, simply a vision. Nothing more. Yet.

So here is my vision. I’d love to know what you think!

The start of the year – tuning in:

Before a classroom teacher introduces a new unit on body systems, or fractions, or procedural writing, they (should) first tune into what their students already know and already can do. Why should planning for professional development be any different? Before any administrator or school leader even thinks about teaching/training/developing their staff in a specific area – inquiry, assessment, strategies for language development – they too should tune into what their teachers already know and can do. This is not only important diagnostic assessment data for leaders, but equally important to help teachers become explicitly aware of what they already know and can do. But how? I have a few ideas…

  1. A professional learning time capsule – Many teachers use the idea of time capsule to help students’ tune into what they already know. Why couldn’t the same diagnostic strategy be used for teachers? Administrators and leadership teams could take their school improvement plan goals and IB action plan goals and create an open-ended diagnostic assessment where teachers reflect on what they already know and can do as it relates to the prioritized topics of professional development for that year.
  2. A professional self-assessment  For each area of the time capsule, teachers could indicate on a spectrum (beginning, developing, competent, extended) where they think their professional knowledge and practice liesSlide1 Slide2
  3. Personalized professional learning objectives After completing the time capsule and assessing what they already know and can do, teachers can look for potential areas of growth in their own professional development within the context of school chosen areas of focus. These self-identified areas for growth could then be turned into personalized professional learning objectives – or what is commonly known in adult education as learning contracts.  If based on the time capsule and self-assessment, a teacher realized they have beginning understanding of inquiry-based teaching they would then create personalized professional learning objective about inquiry-based teaching.
  4. Personalized professional success criteria – Once teachers have systematically identified their own areas for professional growth – based on the areas of professional development the school has prioritized for that year – and have created a list of personalized professional learning objectives, they could then develop their own success criteria, to specifically describe what the successful attainment of each learning objective would look like.  Creation of success criteria would answer the question, “How will you know you have achieved your learning objective?”               Personalized Professional Learning Plan Template
  5. Personalized professional learning conference – If a teacher was asking a student to complete a self-assessment it would be followed up by a conference where the teacher reviews and reflects on the student’s assessment with the student. A teacher’s self-assessment should be no different. After teachers have self-assessed their learning time capsule, set their own learning objectives and developed their own success criteria they could meet with an administrator or a member of the leadership team to review their personalized professional learning plan. This is where leaders can review the time capsule and have conversations with teachers to uncover misconceptions and gaps in professional knowledge that teachers may not have identified for themselves.   For example, if a teacher has self-assessed that they have a competent understanding and skill set to support English Language Learners, but through reviewing the time capsule and having a conversation the leader thinks there is more room to grow, the leader can suggest the teacher adds it to their personalized professional learning plan.

If this seems like a long, time consuming process that’s because it is. Tuning in is not something to be rushed in order to get on with the learning. Like Kath Murdoch says, it IS the learning. Taking the time to build a diagnostic assessment tool around the school improvement plan goals and IB action plan goal, then allowing staff to self-assess against those areas and become aware of their own learning and then having teachers meet with a school leader to discuss their personalized professional learning plan are essential steps in setting the stage for the rest of the year of personalized professional learning.

Throughout the year – Finding out, Sorting out, Going further:

Once you have the personalized learning plans set, you can use those as the basis for ALL professional development times throughout the year – after school meetings, half days, full days… any time! How, you ask? I have a few ideas…

  1. Selecting a focus or two – Before a professional development day or afternoon, it would be important to help teachers select one or two areas of their professional learning that they would like to focus on. We have done this two different ways during our first iteration of PPL and our revised model of PPL and both proved to be effective. If teachers already had a list of personalized professional learning objectives, they would only need to refer to the list and choose the one or two areas they felt most passionate about.            PPL planner 1 ppl planner 2
  2. Planning in response to learning Once teachers have identified what they want to learn about it, leaders could collect data about how teachers want to learn. Personal inquiry? Collaborative inquiry? Workshops? Meeting with an instructional coach? Gathering data about how teachers want to learn can then be used to build a structure for a day or afternoon that supports personalized professional learning.                          ppl 4 image
  3. Let the learning happen – Once the day is planned and teachers know what they want to learn about and how they want to learn… get out of the way and let the learning happen!
  4. Assessing the learningOnce the day or afternoon is finished, teachers could refer back to their success criteria and reflect on whether they have met their targeted learning objectives of the day, or whether they need to continue to pursue further learning opportunities.
  5. Repeat The next time another scheduled PD day rolls around again, have teachers refer back to their personalized professional learning objectives select one or two objectives they would like to start working on (or continue working on), plan the structure of the day in response to the needs and preferences of the teachers, let the learning happen and then build in time for assessment of progress.

This process could be used every time there is the opportunity for professional development. Once the systems and structures are in place, there is minimal planning that needs to be done by the leadership team. Isn’t that the sweet spot of inquiry – low prep for “teachers”, high engagement, ownership and learning for “students”? There are also some great opportunities for formative assessment and feedback throughout the year. Bring out the time capsules half way through the year and have teachers add, change and remove things to better reflect what they know and can do now. Or have a mid-point conference with the same leader as the beginning of the year discuss progress and growth.

At the end of the year – Making conclusions:

By the end of the year, there should be so much growth and progress for each and every teacher to reflect on, celebrate and share! Wondering how? I have a few ideas…

  1. Revisit their professional learning time capsule – Provide all teachers with either a blank copy of the same time capsule you used at the beginning of the year, or the actual time capsule they filled in and let them update their time capsule to reflect all that they have learned over the year. This will be a great way to help make their learning visible.
  2. Self-assessment – For each area of the time capsule, teachers could indicate where they are now with regards to their professional knowledge and practice. Hopefully this would allow teachers to see that in certain areas they have moved themselves along the spectrum. Teachers could also reflect on their success criteria and evaluate whether or not they have met the success criteria for each of their personalized professional learning objectives. If there is criteria that is not met (yet), that could be a great starting point for the following year’s personalized professional learning plan!
  3. Share and celebrate – Provide teachers with time to consolidate their learning and decide what they want to share with their learning community. Using the RAFT format can be quite helpful to allow teachers to choose what they want to share and how they want to share it. Sounds like the potential for a mini teacher Exhibition!

I’m a firm believer that every single thing we expect from teachers in the work they do with their learners – assessment, inquiry, differentiation, personalization, learner voice and choice, reflection, ownership, action – should be purposefully modeled in the work leaders do with their learners. I think this model presents a way to allow for all of the aforementioned best practices, while at the same time working towards school-wide goals and objectives. Teachers are doing a great job helping their students reach standardized curricular goals and objectives in inquiry-based, differentiated ways. School leaders can and should be doing the same in their models of professional development.

I realize that I have referred to the learners as “teachers” throughout this blog post. I think this model could work for an entire school community. Every staff member – counselor, TA, coordinator, administrator, coach – could participate in all of these activities and develop themselves as professionals. In fact, the leadership of a school should be intentionally modelling this process for the staff and should be positioning themselves as the lead learners.

What am I missing?

Where are the gaps and weaknesses in this model of PD?

How could I refine this vision to further support teachers as learners while meeting school goals and objectives?