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:

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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

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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”

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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?

Bringing Parents into the Conversation

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

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

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

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Then as a team, we analyzed their responses.

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

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

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

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

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

Section 1: Provocations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which helped us usher in AJ Juliani’s quote:

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Section 2: The “Why”

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

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

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

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

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Section 3: The “Hows”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Section 4: The “Whats”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Part 5: Next Steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A week in the life…

A few weeks ago I was leading a workshop and one of the participants asked what a “normal day” is like for me. Although the easy answer is – there is never a normal day – the truth is, at this point of the year, we have settled into somewhat of a routine. However, just sharing one day wouldn’t make sense, because so much of what we do is part of a bigger system or routine. So I’ve instead decided to share what a “normal week” is like for me.

Friday Afternoon

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

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

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

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

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Or feedback from a three-way conference…

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For a literacy goal, it may be assessment data…

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Or something from a personal learning plan…

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For math it may be feedback from a math conference…

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Or an online assessment tool…

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For UOI it may be from a unit plan….

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Or a backwards plan…

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

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

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

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Monday Period 1

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

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

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Then we look at the “MOSCOW” for the day. Typically the “musts” are always the same – achieve your weekly goals – but the shoulds, coulds, and wants depend on what’s happening that week or something specific we are focusing on.

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

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

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

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Monday Period 8

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

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

Green = completely stuck to the learning I planned for myself

Yellow = Mostly stuck to the learning I planned for myself

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

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

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

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

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

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Others use Portfolios (using Google Slides)

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Some prefer to blog

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

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

Monday after school

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

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

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

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

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Tuesday

Rinse and repeat.

Wednesday Morning

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

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

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

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

Red = not progress made YET

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

Thursday

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

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

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

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

Friday period 1

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

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Friday afternoon

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

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

Friday After school

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

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

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

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Monday Morning 

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

TWO MASSIVE DISCLAIMERS:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Taking It Public

Sometimes my team and I get crazy ideas. Like having 120 students share their 120 personalized Units of Inquiry, 8 different ways, 3 days after the winter holiday.

It always seems like a great at the time. We hold hands, jump in with both feet, happily submerge into new waters… then we pop back up to the surface, catch our breath and look around.

What is first excitement, soon becomes panic.

“What were we thinking!?”

“What have we done!?”

“How do we get out of this!?”

Then the realization hits us. The fact that we are constantly asking our students to:

– think big

– take risks

– leave their comfort zone

– do something that scares them

– embrace failure

So in order to avoid being the world’s biggest hypocrites, we commit to our crazy idea, get all hands on deck and continue full steam ahead.

Here is the story of how we muddled through our first attempt at supporting students to “Take Their Learning Public”

As always, the idea came from a long and heated chat. This time, about how to wrap up the students’ first personalized Units of Inquiry. We all agreed, there needed to be some way in which they shared their learning with parents and the school community, but we wanted to ensure it was as authentic and student-driven as possible. So we settled on the idea of having all students “take it public” but in a way that made sense for what their unit was.

As a team, we brainstormed all the possible ways student could take their learning public, and because we’re crazy, we thought… “Why not have them all happening on the same day!?”

And because we’re even crazier, we figured “Why not the Friday after they return from winter holiday”.

So then we introduced the idea to students, as usual starting with the “why”. We talked about how regardless of what someone is working on, learning about, or pursuing, there typically comes a point where that person takes their journey public. It may be when a fashion designer puts on a show. Or when a scientist publishes their findings. Or perhaps when an inventor showcases a prototype at a trade show. Or even when a musician performs a new song.

So since they’ve been working on pursuing a purpose for the past 6 weeks, it was time for them to take their learning public and share it with others.

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Then we shared our plan for “how” we were going to help students to make this happen.

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We shared our plan for support.

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We shared our plan for time.

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Then we shared our thinking about “what” ways they could take their learning public. For each option, we shared stories and photos from previous years to help students understand and visualize what that might look like for them – hopefully helping them more of an informed choice when it came time to commit to one of the options.

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Then we had all student complete a Google Form to give us the data we needed to plan our support for them.

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We analyzed the data in order to make decisions about groups and adult allocations. We looked for styles of taking it public that could be grouped together (like Ted Talks and live performances; gallery and showcase) and we also took into consideration our individual strengths and preferences for which group we felt we could best support.

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Then we shared this information with students…

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and had our first meetings with our “TIP” groups where we able to get to know the students (since they were made of mixed groupings) and begin to co-construct a vision for what success would look like.

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These “Take it Public” (or “TIP” as it came to be known) groups would continue to meet at the beginning of each day, so the adult responsible for the group could support the students to create to-do lists and day plans in order to prepare and meet again at the end of each day to support students in reflecting on progress, challenges and next steps. Many advisors also set up TIP Google Classrooms to help with the logistics, organization and communication.

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At this point, we also knew it was important to communicate with parents to let them know the “why, how, and whats” of Taking It Public, so they could make arrangement to hopefully come in and be part of it. We decided to be completely transparent with the parent community, and position ourselves as risk-takers, hence the name “A Friday of Firsts” – both for students and ourselves.

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Then, the next few days were full of:

Researching…

Building…

Rehearsing…

Designing…

Practicing…

Preparing…

Memorizing…

Organizing…

and lots and LOTS of conferencing!

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Many of us used a variety of approaches to track the students’ progress and find out what support they wanted from us. This helped us stay involved with what they needed and the amount and level of support that made sense for them.

Some of us collected this data with small check-in Google Forms at the end of each day:

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Others took anecdotal notes, or had one-on-one, regular check-ins with the members of their group.

Regardless of how we collected this data, we all made sure to use it in order to inform our planning for the following day.

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We also paid attention to planning the logistics for the actual day. Taking into consideration what is happening when, who is involved, who is supervising whom and who is available to come an observe/participate.

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The morning of the event, students did their final touches and preparations…

And then…. ready, set, GO!

Ted Talks

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A Marketplace

A showcase 

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A gallery

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A catered “Food Friday”

Workshops for younger students

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And read alouds

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Photo credits: @puglifevn @juouelle @hktans @ms_amandaromano 

Reflections:

  • All in all it was a successful day – there was a palpable energy amongst students, advisors and the parent community, as well as feelings of pride, success and accomplishment
  • There were a few difficult conversations between parents and students, but we welcome and encourage that as part of the learning process from students first attempt planning and directing their own Unit of Inquiry – it’s all about failing forward and learning from mistakes 
  • As a team, we were glad we took the plunge and tried something new and scary – we left our comfort zone, and magic really did happen!
  • It was SO great to work with a mixed group of students and continue to build relationships with students across the grade level
  • It was surprising how smooth the transition was from winter holiday, right back into TIP preparations – we were shocked and provoked at the idea not necessarily needing to wrap up one thing before a break, and the unexpected benefits of having something familiar to jump right back into

 Future Thoughts:

  • next time it would be great for us to acknowledge the students that “took it public” on their own accord at some point throughout their unit, as we had a few students point out that they had already hosted a workshop, catered an event, participated in a market at a more authentic time in their journey. Maybe this teacher-led “take it public” does not need to be for everyone, but could be more for those students who missed this part of the process on their own
  • it would be great if we could figure out how to break this “taking it public” out of school-land, beyond parents and students, and support students to share their learning and accomplishments with the wider community

 

How do you support your students to have ownership over taking their learning public?

How do you model and experience taking risks and facing failures alongside your students?