Goal Setting and the S&Ps

At our school we are really trying to amplify the role of the new IB Standards and Practices across our whole school community – with leadership, with parents, with the Board of Directors and with faculty. We are trying to have the S&Ps be our lighthouse, our beacon, our goal post to create a shared direction and have that beautiful ‘sunflower effect’ where everyone in an organization is pulling in the same direction.

So one of the actions we have taken to try and work toward this vision, is to use the new IB Standards and Practices as the reference point for goal setting.

This year especially, we know that everyone is stretched so thin and working harder then they have ever likely worked before! So we wanted something simple and straightforward, but still impactful in helping our faculty along their ongoing journey as PYP practitioners.

Here is what we did and how it went:

First we explained the why, how and what to our faculty

Then we explained each of the three parts: self-assessment, reflection, and goal setting

Self-Assessment

For the self-assessment part, we used the proficiency indicators we use to measure student learning and applied them to ourselves as learners

We pulled as many Standards & Practices as we could that are relevant to the role of a faculty member at an IB school

Reflection

We used a simple framework to synthesize trends from their self-assessment

Goal Setting

We used a simple framework to commit to one goal, advocate for the support they desire as a learner and articulate what success will look like for them

And, as always, we emphasized that we are looking for progress, never perfection!

And the result was some beautifully honest, vulnerable and genuine reflections…

Which led to personalized goals that link their own individual improvement as a PYP practioner with our school’s collective improvement as an IB school.

From there, I was able to collate all their individual self-assessment data to see trends across the school. This was helpful in my role as PYP Coordinator because it not only allowed me a deeper understanding of where each individual PYP educators thinks they are in their journey; but I could also see commonalities in strengths and areas for growth within teams, subject areas, and across the whole staff. This provides me with great guidance in terms of how to individually support each faculty member with their goal, but also the bigger projects and initiatives I can work on with the whole staff in specific areas.

I was also able to collate goal areas and types of support, which again, not only allowed me to get a good handle on what each individual faculty member is striving towards and what they need from me, but also where there are common goal areas to help those individuals connect with one another over the course of the year to learn together and support one another in their shared purpose.

*Note – This is hot off the press! We just started it two days ago… so there is still some data rolling in!

So what are my next steps?

  • share this data with my partner – the PYP Principal – so we can have a shared understanding of where our staff is and how best we can help them grow
  • begin to reach out to individuals for calibration conversations, offers of support, and follow-up probing questions
  • look for individuals who have common goals and work on helping them make connections with one another

We are just at the early stages of this journey, but it feels like we are off to a good start! As always, I welcome your thoughts, feedback, suggestions, ideas and stories from your own practice and experience with using the IB Standards and Practices as the common reference point for professional growth and development.

Reimagining the POI

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

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

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

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

So here’s what I’m thinking…

Living POI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Learner-Centered POI

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is an example of what I’m envisioning:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Supporting Teacher Agency – Take 1

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

New-ish goal might be more accurate.

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

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

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

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

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

Town Halls

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

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

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

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Then we coded and analyzed ALL that data!

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

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

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Think Tanks

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

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

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We invited PRO and CON analyses…

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We asked for votes on potential models…

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

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

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

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Agency Supportive O-Week

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

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

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

In-House Experts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Space for Voice

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

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

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Respect for Summer

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Re-Opening Voices

I think by now, all us educators are acutely aware of the small crack in the door that has presented itself for truly re-imagining education when we re-open our school campuses.

It’s an exciting opportunity, but can also feel like a one-shot chance for pushing the envelope and shifting the paradigm.

“The Quest stands upon the edge of knife. Stray but a little, and it will fail.”

Although we’re not setting out with Gandalf to save Middle Earth, Galadrial’s words help us remember how important, and likely, fragile this opportunity is.

So how can we make sure we don’t waste this chance? How can we make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past? How can we make sure true change is brought about?

I think our answer comes from the second half of that quote:

“Hope remains while the company is true.”

But reflecting on who gets to be part of the “company” on this quest is essential.

What voices are included in making decisions about re-opening? What voices are neglected or excluded?

At our school, we want our re-opening plans to include the reflections, suggestions and ideas of our entire learning community. So before the school year ended and everyone began their holiday, we made sure to ask.

We made sure to ask what lessons we learned from Distance Learning that we could apply to future attempts at Distance Learning. And more importantly, what lessons we learned from Distance Learning that we could apply to to face-to-face school.

 

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We asked our entire staff:

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We asked every single one of  our learners:

(In written form for the older learners)

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(And with videos and voice option for the younger learners)

We asked our whole parent community:

Our next steps are to code that qualitative data from the surveys, draw conclusions from the trends and use those conclusions to inform the work we do over the coming months to get ready to re-open school in the fall.

So now, hopefully, our re-opening plans are not merely the reflection of what a handful of leaders think, but rather the leaders are able to make decisions and create something representative of what our entire community thinks.

What else could we be doing to ensure we don’t waste this chance to push the boundaries of what school could be?

What else could be doing to ensure our planning process is inclusive of all voices?

Something Special…

This year I was new to my role and new to my school.

Well, I should say “new-ish” because before working at this school, I was actually lucky enough to have visited this school the year before; as a consultant.

And when I was there last year as a visitor – I kept thinking to myself, “This staff is something special” Even when I got back to my school at the time, anytime anyone asked me about how my workshop went and what they school was like, I just kept saying “The staff was really special.”

And although I could identify the special-ness… I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what it was that made them so, well, special.

Lucky for me, I joined that school, so I had the whole year to try and figure it out!

Now the school year has come to an end, and I think I have discovered just what is so special about this collection of educators.

They are learners.

All of them. Every single one. Despite their role – teacher, teaching assistant, counsellor, integrationist, pedagogical coach, principal – each and every person that makes up the Primary staff has the heart and soul of a true PYP learner.

All year I was seeing glimpses of this. Enthusiasm for growing, an insatiable desire for support, constant questions. Anytime I would offer optional professional learning sessions or courses – there they would be! Ready to learn.

But it wasn’t until our end of year reflections, that I saw the true extent of this.

Our whole staff participated in 3 end of year reflections that looked through the following  lenses.

How have I grown as an educator?

We asked each staff member to reflect upon and notice and name the ways in which they have grown in their specific role. And either choose an artifact that already exists, or create something to synthesize, summarize and share that growth with the rest of the community. We used a Padlet as a central place to post these reflections.

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How have I grown as a learner?

Then we asked each staff member to reflect upon how they have grown as a learner this year. Specifically by choosing 1 skill in each of the 5 ATL categories that they feel they have strengthened or honed. We used Flipgrid as a central place to post these reflections.

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How have I grown as a person?

Next we asked each staff member to reflect upon how they have grown as a person. We encouraged them to reflect on what attributes of the Learner Profile they have developed over the past year. Since, this one was a little more personal, we used PearDeck to collect everyone’s reflections more privately.

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No convincing needed. No pulling teeth. Everyone just jumped right in!

I was blown away, not only by the willingness to be open and vulnerable to publicly share these reflection with one another. But the actual reflections themselves, revealed practitioners who see themselves as learners, understand themselves as learners, and who approach their own personal and professional growth as a life-long, on-going process. A process in which they have ownership over and see as within their control.

In my role as PYP Coordinator and Assistant Principal, this is treasure!

Trying to help a teacher, become a better teacher, can be challenging.

Trying to help a learner, help themself become a better teacher, is a true pleasure.

Many PYP schools strive to be a community of learners. This year, I had the privilege of living and breathing what that is actually like on a daily basis.

And it was pretty, freakin’ special. ❤️

Learners or Students?

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

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

Or how to be taught?

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

How has the experience of distance learning differed for:

Children whose time at school has helped them to know:

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

Compared to…

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

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

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

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

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

  1. Unpack the difference between learning and school:

 

2. Spend more time, learning about learning:

What does learning look like?

What does learning feel like?

What do you believe about learning?

How is learning unleashed?

Understanding learning

Work or Learning?

An inquiry into learning

 

3. Ask this simple, powerful question of ourselves:

decisions

Credit John Spencer

 

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

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Link to resource

 

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

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Credit – Orenjibuta

 

6. Help learners take back ownership over their learning.

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Credit – Barbara Bray and Sylvia Duckworth 

7. Be careful not to confuse compliance and engagement.

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Credit – Barbara Bray and Sylvia Duckworth 

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

directions

 

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

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

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

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

pole.

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

 

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

How do you prioritize learning how to learn?

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

 

A Chance to Liberate Learning from Schooling

I haven’t blogged all year.

And I’m not quite sure why.

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

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

Then Distance Learning hit.

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

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

To sit down. For 15 minutes. And write.

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is learning?

How does learning happen?

What is truly worth learning? Who decides?

How do we know learning has happened?

What’s the point of grades?

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

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

How do we help learners, learn how to learn?

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

How do we best meet individual and family needs?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Starting the Year with the PYP Enhancements in Mind

Our PYP community is in a unique situation. We welcomed in the PYP Enhancements last school year – but for many of us, it was mid-way through the year. Which means this is the first time lots of us are planning our first weeks with the enhancements in mind.

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I’m sure many of these considerations were already present in our previous approaches to back to school planning. But now we have a solid, common, intentional framework from which to plan our first day, our first week, and even the days leading up to the first day.

So as we plan our start to the year we need to be sure to ask ourselves and each other:

Are we thinking about The Learners?

Are we thinking about Learning and Teaching?

Are we thinking about the Learning Community? 

To help us all in this collective goal I’ve shared some ‘start of the year’ blog posts organized around those 3 categories:

The Learner

Relationship Building 

Why We Must Invest in Relationship Building First

An Inquiry Into My Students

Connecting with Students 

Learning and Teaching

Sowing the Seeds for a Great Year – 10 Tips for an Inquiry-Based First Week 

What Does an Inquiry-Based First Week of School Look Like?

What Could an Agency-Supportive First Week of School look like?

Best First Week of School Ever!

Best First Month of School Ever!

My Plan For  a More Fair and Free Place to Learn

Starting the year off slowly

The Learning Community 

Reaching Out to Families

Getting Parents On-board 

How are you ensuring the PYP Enhancements are guiding your back to school planning?

What other resources would you add to this list to help strengthen our focus on The Learner, Learning and Teaching and The Learning Community?

First, Seek to Understand

In a few days I will be stepping into a new job, at a new school, on a new continent. And although I’ve had some leadership experience before, this will be my first time stepping into administration.

We’ve all had that new administrator arrive to our school with their ‘suitcase’ of how things were at their old school, within their old board/system or in their old country. And their first year is spent trying to turn this place into that place.

As a staff member not new to the school, this can be quite frustrating…

So as I prepare for this change, I am very aware of that dynamic.

I’ve decided to try my best to follow the guidance of this quote and live by the philosophy:

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I will seek to understand each student. Learn their name, discover their interests, their strengths, their struggles.

I will seek to understand each family. Learn who they are and what brought them here. How they see the world. Their views on the purpose of education. Their dreams for their children.

I will seek to understand the local cultures. The customs, traditions, values and beliefs.

I will seek to understand each staff member. Who they are, what they believe in, what helps them feel successful. The areas in which they feel they need support.

I will seek to understand the history of the school. Where they have been in the past and what has made them who they are today.

I will seek to understand the culture of the school. What makes them who they are as an organization, and how things work there.

I will seek to understand where they are, as a school,  in their journey. Acknowledging all the time, thought and energy already spent on getting them to where they are. Seeing where they see their strengths and what they see as their next steps and areas for growth. Understanding the projects and initiatives that are currently in progress and being developed.

And then… 

I will seek to understand where I fit in. How I can help and what I have to offer them.

How do I plan on doing this?

I will try my best to listen in meetings. I will ask a lot of questions. I will observe and take notes. I will read through documents. I will go outside for recess and play with the students. I will stand at the gate at the start and end of the day and greet the families. I will roam the halls after school and ask how people’s day went. I will shadow students from different grades to experience things through their eyes. I will constantly ask for feedback, advice and help.

Most importantly, I will strive to fight the temptation to transplant what I’ve done at other schools. And instead I will focus on what they are trying to grow for their unique context and how best I can help.

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The Problem With a POI

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

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

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

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

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

Challenge #1 – Personalization

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

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

Challenge #2 – Constant Change

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

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

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

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

What if…

A POI was personalized to each student.

A POI followed the students through their PYP journey.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What about new students?

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

What about specialist-subjects?

Could specialist teachers not also add to this centralized document?

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What about “repeats”?

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

What about concepts, skills, etc.?

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

What about PYP evaluations?

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

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

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

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

What challenges do you see with horizontal and vertical articulation?

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