Managing the tipping point (part 2) without losing sight of what’s important…


It gives me great pleasure to support our curriculum leaders and teachers to achieve our goal of “Using data to inform teaching and enhance learning”. Our latest PD looked at ways to gather data using the “now literacies” of twitter, back channeling and blogs, to name a few. Our curriculum leaders are big ideas people and know other big ideas people so our PD was of exceptional quality. Thanks, @whatedsaid and @langwitches. Each teacher will have got something out of the sessions- depending on their entry point. And based on their responses over the week, I feel they will be able to take the next steps through the sharing and collaboration process that has started to happen from this PD. But more so if leaders in our school manage the tipping point by looking out for and recognising the signs. Even better would be to avoid going over the tipping point altogether by giving the time needed.

I feel that teachers now need time to process and practice what they have learned in this recent PD where for some a big shift in their thinking has started. In our various leadership roles we now need to give teachers the time, space and support to do so without tipping the scales to the point where they feel overwhelmed and stressed and stretched too thin. Sam Sherrat (and others) have stressed the practise of giving time to the things we value. We have got much better at this at our school, but sometimes we can get so enthusiastically caught up in what’s happening that we lose sight of the what else is happening for our teachers. The last two weeks of term are going to be super busy with annual school events in addition to the regular meaningful stuff that needs to get done.

Looking ahead what does our time budget need to allow for?:
*Next term there are Parent Teacher Conference nights at the start of term.
*We are also introducing a new report format to all and this needs some facilitation.
*And we are in the final step of shifting to creating digital portfolios for and of student learning, which for some teachers means big changes.
*Every unit in maths and units of inquiry is new to our new teachers and our inquiry pedagogy is brand new to some.
*Each year level team has at least one new staff member and so are still adjusting to the new dynamics that come with that.
*In addition, teachers are supporting the social and emotional well-being of their students and needing to communicate with parents and do the usual daily essentials.
*In their efforts to lead balanced lives we encourage our teachers to look after their own well-being and our Learning Team Leaders to also look out for their teams’ well-being.

This week I felt it was timely to remind our leaders that if we create the time for ongoing discussions and sharing, more people will be more inclined to take action and embed great practise as a result.

How can we create time to maintain the momentum started in our PD?
*Maybe LTLs can set aside 10 minutes regularly for reading and maybe leaving a comment on our shared teachers “Pictures of Practice” blog or or or any other blog teachers have found relevant and engaging.
*I could set aside times in a morning briefing for teachers to briefly share the next step in their journey or a blogpost they have read which has influenced their practice.
*The “now literacies” and the skills needed for embedding them in our teaching and learning practise could be revisited in future PD sessions.
*I welcome more suggestions.

Our teachers want to be the best they can be but we need to set them up for success. By the end of last week some felt close to their tipping point. Excited but also pressured. Tension is good but too much and it can become counter productive.

What ways do you have for managing the tipping point and creating time for your teachers?

Asking the right kinds of questions…

I love inquiry. I truly believe that inquiry pedagogy (along with other vital ingredients) promotes learning and have embraced it.

I came across an interesting blog post “Do you have the personality to be an inquiry teacher?” and it got me thinking about what I do well and what I still find challenging.

This year I have been noticing, reflecting and acting particularly on ownership of learning. I am trying to become conscious at all times of who owns the learning and shift the ownershift onto my students as much as possible. I sabotage myself sometimes because one of the things I don’t always do so well is respond to some student questions in a way that will encourage students to want to own their learning.

I need to be more encouraging as sometimes I can be a bit dismissive of the “simple” questions – but I am realising more and more that students ask simple questions for different reasons:
– they genuinely want to know the answer
– they don’t know how to articulate their thinking and it comes out as a simple question
– they are unsure what to think
– they don’t have a question and go with the first one that comes to mind
– they need more time
– they need more provocation
– reasons yet to be discovered.

Next year I want to respond more openly to the simple questions and become more encouraging by developing my questioning skills. By this I mean that I want to learn to ask the right kinds of questions to scaffold student thinking and help them to grow their simple questions that have a yes/no/ amount/ name answer to ones that involve more conceptual thinking and build a deeper understanding. Most importantly, I want to ask questions that helps them to articluate what it is that they are really curious about.

I could ask questions like:
What did you see/ read/ hear that made you wonder this?
Once you find this information – is there more to your question that you are curious about?
Does your wondering connect to other wonderings that you may have?
What are you passionate about – is there a connection between your passion and this wondering? Or this unit? How could we make a connection between your passion and our learning in the classroom?

I need to do more reading and thinking. I need to observe others who are skilled at this.
Feel free to give suggestions for questions, blog posts, etc.

The impact of choosing the right images for a provocation!

I, see, think, feel and wonder...

I, see, think, feel and wonder…

provocation 3

My thinking…
When looking for images for our opening provocation for our unit, it occurred to me that the images we had used in our previous unit’s opening provocation were not as successful in provoking deep thinking. This time round I suggested to my team that we purposefully include images and info-graphics that showed contrasting situations and that would be challenging and require analysis. This time round we had about 50 images.

I was excited to see how our students would respond. We asked them to use the thinking routine ” I see, think, feel and wonder…” and record these on an index card. We gave them 10 minutes to study the images which were spread out on a long strip of paper stretching across the room. We expected them to work independently and in silence to give each student the time and space for thinking.

What happened?Students were so engaged by the images that they didn’t talk (apart from a few who occasionally were wondering allowed about the images). Students were so engaged that they needed an extra couple of minutes. Students didn’t just see the obvious, they made connections and comparisons. There was a depth to their thinking and wonderings they demonstrated that a deeper conceptual understanding had happened for most students. Their responses indicated that our choice of images were spot on for provoking thinking and wonderings directly related to our unit’s central idea and transdisciplinary theme.

What I learned …
Choosing the right images empowers students to become engaged and challenged grapple with ideas, make connections, make comparisons, connect personally and respond emotionally, build conceptual understanding and go beyond the obvious when wondering.

When the other two teachers repeated this provocation with their students, they had the same response from their group of students. Jina came to me excited about the impact the images had had on their students and we chatted excitedly about all we had learned from this experience.

I used to be the kind of teacher who…

Over the last two years I have changed and grown professionally…

I used to be the kind of teacher who…

knew exactly where my lesson was going from start to finish, from introduction to plenary, from activity to activity, did most of the talking, was the conduit for student talking, controlled who sat where and who spoke when, made all the decisions, expected students to respond to the engagements in the same way, controlled the time and space for learning, made a lot of assumptions about student learning and owned the learning.

Fortunately, I am also reflective and have always wanted to do what’s best for my students’ learning. I just didn’t always fully understand how to teach so kids can learn. My understanding has grown exponentially and I have undergone a substantial paradigm shift.

Now, when I’m at my best, I’m the kind of teacher who…

knows where I want us to focus conceptually, plans thoughtful and purposeful engagements to this end, notices and listens to my students’ thinking and follows their lead, caters for differences in learning styles and abilities, values and is mindful of making the time and space for learning, talks less and listens more, encourages students to make their own decisions, focuses on developing skills and attitudes to enable student decision making and independence, looks for evidence, makes student thinking explicit, actively encourages collaboration and student ownership of learning.

I have some way to go and I’m excited to go there. I look forward to who I will be in a year’s time…

Big understandings realised in my own learning…

Since the last time I posted, which was nearly two months ago, I have been tuned into my own learning like never before. My learning during this time can be compared to being on a roll when building a puzzle and several pieces fall into place in a short space of time and a bigger picture emerges. 

What has caused this avalanche of learning? A combination of things: my own intrinsic motivation driving me to get better at noticing and naming what was happening, reflecting on and refining my teaching pedagogy, professional learning with Sam and Chad, positive responses from both my students and Charlie’s students to our team teaching efforts, positive responses from my own students to the changes I have implemented in my teaching, talking to colleagues, professional reading and probably other things I haven’t yet identified.

So much has happened…

Essentially I have been trying to live the following quote as I realised the importance of doing so more than a year a go but it’s taken me this long to understand what that looks like and how that feels – and I’m still learning… “Stand aside for a while and leave room for learning, observe carefully what children do, and then, if you understand well, perhaps teaching will be different from before. “ Lori Malaguzzi

Some of the things I have learned from the changes I am implementing in my teaching practice…

  • team teaching opens up opportunities for me to notice things about my students’ learning while they are learning and allows me to meet individual needs more effectively
  • creating purposeful engagements and asking pertinent questions saves me time as I can support my students to make connections to knowledge and skills they have acquired which they can transfer and use in that context
  • creating simple learning engagements that tap into the essence of the learning and doing so in a way that students can connect to the concepts on a personal level, sets students up for powerful learning
  • taking the time to set the mood for learning saves time as students begin the task with the right intentions (sustaining the mood is not always easy though 🙂 )
  • knowing my students interests, strengths and insecurities enables me to takes the steps necessary to engage them in their learning
  • creating space for other options and possibilities that I may not have considered opens up learning for my students and for me
  • only teach students what they don’t know and can’t teach themselves
  • investing time in reflection empowers students to understand themselves as learners

Some of these understandings I have known and lived for a while, but in the last two months they have all  come together and as a result I have gained a different kind of clarity and my understanding of the familiar has grown.

On Friday we held a mini exhibition in Year 4 for the first time. To me it seemed like a logical culmination to our latest unit which falls under the transdisciplinary theme “How We Express Ourselves” (PYP).  Fortunately for me, my colleagues were open to the idea and prepared to go with the flow. Even more fortunately, our students loved the idea.

In the creative process leading up to this day, and in every opportunity that presented itself in other curriculum areas, I tried and tested (not always intentionally)  the changes I shared above.  I learned so much (as much from my mistakes as my successes) and have been so excited.

I felt it was time to write this post so that I could clarify my learning and capture the big understandings for my own benefit.









When students own the learning they are motivated…

Skills and attitudes demonstrating ownership of learning.

Skills and attitudes demonstrating ownership of learning.

“When can we do our mapping learning, Ms J?”
Various students have asked me this question since our mapping inquiry time on Friday and Monday. I love how excited many of them are.

During Monday’s mapping session, my students demonstrated ownership of learning throughout. They were totally engaged and noticed and named behaviours, skills and attitudes that relate to ownership of learning. I heard students saying things like, “We talked about it and now we’re back on track”; “I need to make that decision”; “I need to ask myself that question before going to ask Ms J”; ” We’re ready to move on to part 2 – we’ve thought about it and made a plan so we are ready.”

Some students worked independently and collaborated as needed. Others worked in groups and made an effort to compromised fairly when making decisions.

When we reflected using What Went Well? and What challenges did you face? Many groups responded that they faced no challenges on Monday – things went smoothly because they communicated and cooperated with each other.

I noticed how students used their strengths and knew who to go to for support with a skill they lacked or for feedback,etc. I noticed some students being mindful and reflective.

I can’t wait for our next mapping session on Friday either.

How did letting go, go?

Letting go…

For background to this momentous step forward please refer to my post: Ownership of learning: a big step forward.

I apologise for a lack of visuals in this post, but I was so engrossed in the process of noticing and naming; and consciously engaging and interacting with my students in a way so as to promote ownership of learning, that I forgot to take photos!! I am still on a high from the awesomeness of it all!

Who has used a map?
This was my opening question to my students who responded with enthusiasm.

I then asked them to consider and record their response to this question: What are the criteria for making a good map?

I then asked them if there are criteria that a good map should include that they may not have considered – they agreed. To which I responded, “Let’s find out.”

I put the question on the smart-board: What are the criteria for making a good map? Show your understanding in any way you like.

I followed this with an brief explanation of my intention, “I want to hand over the learning to you rather than control it. Before you approach me with a question, please ask yourself: Who owns the learning?” I then wrote this question on another board as a reminder to them and to myself.

We then discussed the skills and attitudes they could need for the task.
I scribed their responses on the board:
problem solving,
decision making.
As they inquired and problem solved, I made a point of naming the skills they were using so we added these to our list as time went by.

Next I asked them to consider the attitudes they could need to demonstrate? They responded:
risk taking,

Part of letting go included allowing time for reflection. We used a familiar structure for doing this:
1. What went well?
2. What challenges did you face?
3. How did you solve these?
4. What attitude do you still need to work on?
5. What skills do you still need to work on?

Here is a collection of responses…
1. Finding information and organising it; we showed persistence; cooperated; finding pictures; confidence; helping each other; organising ourselves by dividing up the responsibilities.
2. When I got stuck I didn’t know what to do; no patience; no risk taking; concentration at times; technology and making decisions; at first we didn’t know what we were doing; cooperation; time limit; team work; when we all wanted to present in different ways.
3. Asked friends; worked with the teacher; tried a different way; we stuck to our agreement; asked the teacher; compromised.
4. Patience and risk taking; creativity; commitment; cooperation; respect; positive attitude; reflective; openminded.
5. Decision making; cooperation and communication; thinking; research; problem solving; computer skills.

What did I notice and what did I learn today?

* handing ownership to the students naturally differentiates according to needs and learning styles;
* my learners are engaged in their own learning and so stay on task
* they collaborate as they need;
* they find ways to solve their problems;
* asking a question to answer their question is more effective than giving them the answer;
* pointing to the question: “Who owns the learning?” was enough of a reminder for them to make the decision for themselves;
* I am more available for the kids who need more support.

Will I do this again?

For sure!


Ownership of learning promotes learning! Duh!

Sent from my iPad