Examples of Student Voice

Last week I was in a virtual PD session with educators from around the world and in one of the breakout rooms the conversation turned to student voice. Many of the educators were sharing some of the issues and challenges their school was experiencing shifting the educational paradigm to one in which adults see and value the power, purpose and place of student voice within a school context. Listening to where they were in their journey, had me reflect where we are in our journey. And I was really proud to think of all the amazing ways student voice is honored, respected, encouraged and invited at the school I currently work at.

I thought perhaps sharing some of our examples could help schools early on in their journey get some inspiration. And, perhaps other schools farther along in their journey could provide us some feedback to help us continue to grow and improve.

So here it is… some examples of where I can notice and name student voice having space and playing a role within and beyond the classroom.

INPUT INTO PLANNING

These past few years we have been on journey to find ways to invite learners in as co-designers and co-planners of the learning.

Teachers have made the curriculum transparent to students and invited their thoughts, opinions and preferences about which outcomes to explore in upcoming units.

Teachers have invited learners in on identifying Learner Profile Attributes and ATL skills within Units of Inquiry.

Teachers have invited learners in on selecting key concepts and planning lines of inqiury

Teachers have invited learners in on coming up with the central idea.

Teachers have invited learners in on finding resources for the unit and planning next steps.

Teachers have invited learners in on deciding how, when and where to share their learning and ‘take it public’.

Teachers have invited learners into the planning of Exhibition; including the pre-planning as well as the planning of the gala event

INPUT INTO ASSESSMENT

This co-designing and co-planning has also included an intentional focus on how to invite and involve learners into documenting, monitoring, measuring and reporting on their learning in order to build their assessment-capability.

Teachers have partnered with learners to co-construct rubrics and other assessment tools.

Teachers have partnered with learners to monitor their progress throughout a unit.

Teachers have partnered with learners to have input into measuring learning upon completion of a unit.

Teachers have partnered with learners to report on their learning.

REFLECTIONS

Co-designing and co-planning units also means that learners are invited in on the final reflections about the units.

Teachers have noticed opportunities for reflections about initiatives or innovations, such as P.I.E.

FEEDBACK

Another important way we strive to respect and support student voice is by always looking ways for to collect and act upon their feedback.

As a school we have collected learners’ experiences, perspectives and suggestions on school wide-innovations like P.I.E.

This has included gathering data from learners…

Analyzing the data in macro and micro senses…

Sharing the findings with the community…

Currently, this also includes holding focus groups for learners who would like to sit down and talk about our PIE initiative. (Which has been AMAZING… blog post on this coming soon!)

Sample soundbite from the Grade 3 focus group:

This focus on feedback also extends to our school PYP Exhibition experience, where our Grade 5 teams collects data each week to understand how learners are feeling and what they need. This data allows the team to responsively plan next steps based on the data they collect.

EXPRESSION

Another important layer of creating space for student voice is to intentionally find avenues for student expression.

We are using RULER tools to help us make space for students to express their feelings.

Opportunities within and beyond the classroom for students to express themselves via the arts.

And opportunities for students to express themselves via play.

STUDENT LEADERSHIP

Another way student voice has a place at our school is with our Primary Student leadership team. Each year representatives from each grade are elected by their peers, and these representatives form what we call our “Learner Voice Board”.

The Learner Voice Boards gets together each week to deal with student concerns that have been brought to them from their peers.

They also collaborate with other groups, such as the PTA (Parent Teacher Association) and the Secondary School Student Leaders to co-plan and organize school events.

They are also given space to update the community on what they are working on. A great example of this is when our school director invited them to speak at the parent association meeting.

The Learner Voice Board will also play a big role in getting student feedback, and participating in decisions about next year planning; including the schedule, break times and structures, logistics of eating and planning, and refinement of PIE structures.

We are also very proud that our Learner Voice Board has been able to inspire and support other schools and students wanting to create more opportunities for student voice at their school.

INVITATIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES

These habits and practices of seeing and treating children as partners in decision making and problem solving extend beyond certain grade-levels and the Primary division, and are seeped into the culture of our school. Which means that opportunities are created and communicated to learners about how they can get involved in things that the adults are currently tackling.

A great example of this is the Sustainability Committee at our school, which has reached out for student representation to participate in the committee. And has invited them into the current problem them are tackling of setting up a school-wide recycling program.

Another example would be inviting learners to solve problems as they arise. One example of that is getting learners to help us solve the logistical puzzle of sharing play spaces this year.

STUDENT-INITIATED ACTION

One of the amazing bi-products of being at a school that intentionally tries to cultivate and grow students’ voices, is that we start to see more and more student-initiated action because learners come to understand that their voice, their ideas and their perspectives matter and have a place at school.

An example of this is six Grade 3 students coming to me to request a meeting to go through their business proposal for cactus-related products and their needs for space and supervision to have their business meetings, product production and storage.

Another example would be when a group of Grade 2 learners approached our school principal to sit down and talk about what could be done at school to support those impacted by the war in Europe.

Another example would be the group of learners who initiated and pitches a grade wide book club.

I am proud to be a PYP Coordinator who works at a school where student voice is respected and supported. Like all PYP schools, we are on a journey and we know we still of lots of room to grow and improve in this area. However, I also feel we have lots to celebrate and share in this area!

How do you invite and involve student voice into planning, decision-making and problem solving at your school?

What feedback do you have for us about how we are trying to invite and involve student voice at our school?

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

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!*

Transdisciplinary Math – An epiphany and a plan!

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

Teaching math in a transdisciplinary way is hard. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

One million birds migrate over the Sahara each year.”

“Each chick weighs only 20 grams.”

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

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

Every few minutes there was some piece of information about an animal or a landscape or a natural phenomenon where you needed to understand the math concept being referenced in order to fully understand what was being said. And that is when it hit me! All of the movies, books, articles, graphics etc. we use in our Units of Inquiry probably already contain opportunities for math Рwe 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 Рnot 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 Рpencils, markers, post-its, scrap paper. (just like I would for teachers)

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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)

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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)

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

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

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

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

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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.¬†

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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 Рin the earliest phases of conception Рthat 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 Рor 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 РProvide 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 РProvide 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? 

 

Personalized Professional Learning – Take Two!

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

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

Here is how we went about it:

Step 1 – Rethinking and reorganizing topics of learning interests

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

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

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Step 2 РReflecting on our last afternoon of PPL 

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

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

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

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

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

PPL 2

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

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Step 4 -Planning in response to learning

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

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

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Step 5 – Let the learning happen

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

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

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

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

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Step 6 – Track the learning

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

We collected data on what staff learned:

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We collected data on how staff learned:

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

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

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

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

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

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