Innovators are not necessarily change-makers…but they can be.

When change is introduced as an idea, early adopters are happy to dive in and run with it.

Not everyone is an early adopter.
Some people prefer to have more time to think it over and preempt problems and find possible solutions.
Some people fear change and resist.
Some people can’t decide and can sit on the fence for ages until pushed.
Some people jump on board once it’s up and running successfully.

Sometimes the people driving the change are not the people implementing the change. The danger here is that drivers can get so caught up in their idea and believe so passionately in it’s success that they can be pushy about implementing it ASAP. Let’s remember to hear the the voices of the people involved and trust them to let us know when they are ready.

Change has more chance of being implemented successfully when the people doing it feel a degree of confidence and set up for success.

We are fortunate to work in a truly inspirational learning environment and we value our learning principles. Everything we consider is for the benefit of learning. Teachers feeling like they have not been set up for success when introducing a change can therefore be counter productive and increase resistance to future changes. If innovators want change to happen, we need to listen to the people who make the change happen in the classroom. The people involved also need to genuinely feel safe to voice their reservations and their decisions respected. Then change can happen more readily.

Giving teacher’s a voice without overloading them – how do leaders do this?

Teachers want to and should be heard – how do leaders do this without overloading teachers with priorities to address? On Thursday morning three people on the Report Committee facilitated a report review session. Reporting is a hot topic that generates many opinions and stress for many teachers and leaders. Reports take a lot of time to write for not so much reward some feel. No format is perfect, parents don’t always appreciate the truth, capturing the essence of a learner in writing is not easy are other observations.At our school we have wanted to improve reporting for a long time and have heard great ideas. But it turns out that our options are limited. At our school, we have got much better at collaborating – so why didn’t we collaborate sooner with teachers? Due to the following, we decided not to hold discussions with all staff to gather input in an organised way (we did get input from a few):

  • The technical system we use to generate reports limits the changes we can make;
  • Our aim is to not make the report writing process even more complicated and time consuming for teachers than it already is;
  • We had already put into practice shifting the focus from work to learning and the learner;
  • Everything we say/write about a student has to be evidence based not opinion;
  • The requirements to use a 5 point A to E scale and include comparative reports are not negotiable.

Furthermore, Term 1 was 8 weeks long and priorities and PD left insufficient time for collaborating about reports. Creating the time and space to give teachers a voice becomes a choice between collaboration and preserving sanity.
With all of the above valid points in mind, we realised as a leadership group, there was not much wriggle room for change and the kinds of changes teachers and leaders were desiring (evidenced from informal discussions with some teachers who feel strongly about reporting), would not be possible to make or would not be practical to implement.

Questions I have been pondering:

  • As a leader, does one try one’s best to avoid pushing teachers over the tipping point by looking out for teachers’ workload and well being or do you consult on everything to ensure everyone has a voice?
  • Realising only minor changes can be made to reports, should leaders do the best job they can under the circumstances without whole school collaboration?
  • Does one consult with a few or all when the timing doesn’t allow further consultation without risking burn out by holding another before school meeting to give teachers a voice, only to tell them their suggestions can’t be taken into consideration?
  • Even with attempting to consciously limit priorities, teachers and leaders feel pressured as there is never enough time to do these justice, so do you add to the priorities so that all stakeholders can have a say?

I remember clearly the feeling of frustration at not being consulted on decisions that directly impacted me as a classroom teacher. I also remember at times realizing afterwards that being included although it would have felt fair, was not going to change the outcome in those instances.

Sometimes it’s not feasible to give everyone a voice. Knowing when to and knowing how to, makes all the difference to the outcome.

Additional questions i have been pondering on include: With our reports it turns out that a total of three changes were made to the report format. Only one of these is a completely new addition. Did this make it worth it to hold a discussion with all staff in Term 1? We thought not. Did we do the right thing in not formally including enough teacher voices in our discussion earlier on? Probably not. Should we have added this to the agenda for year level teams to discuss in their meetings when they already had enough to discuss and decide upon? Definitely but when? Is it too late for teachers to have a voice? No.

Following our report review session with teachers, the three facilitators of the Report Review session met and debriefed. We analysed concerns teachers raised and figured out what our next steps could be.

A summary of all the points teachers made was sent to Learning Team Leaders to review and add to in preparation for their weekly meeting with the Director of Teaching and Learning. At the meeting potential issues were debated, team leaders were given a voice and next steps were decided. They felt they should have been consulted sooner. Certain aspects of the report will be taken back to their team. They will then be the voice for their team at the next LTL meeting and be a part of the decision to include or exclude the proposed new addition.

The second biggest issue to come out of the review session was teachers feel that the changes (introduced three years ago but implemented across the school at the end of last year) makes some comments feel generic and that their writers voice has been lost. We have heard you and as a moderator/ editor I make a commitment to you to do my best to preserve your writers’ voice should I suggest any changes to your comments.

One solution we have tried to ensure teachers voices are heard is to collaborate with Learning Team Leaders on what our priorities should be for the term and year ahead. Somehow reports were left off the list of priorities.
We robbed teachers of their voices – this brings me back to my original question: how else could one ensure teachers have a voice when there are already enough priorities on the agenda and PD schedule?

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.









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

Ownership of learning – a big step forward!

The Inquiry Cycle  by Stephen Kemmis The Inquiry Cycle
by Stephen Kemmis.

I am participating in an action research project with a few other enthusiastic colleagues. The idea behind it is to inquire deeply through the cycle of noticing, reflecting and acting.

We are connecting our inquiry to our school’s learning principles. Thus far we have unpacked some of the learning principles, identified the area which really interests us, created our action research questions (these are refined on an ongoing basis), watched engaging youtube videos, referred to relevant blog posts and been highly engaged in thinking, questioning and discussion.

On Thursday it was my turn to share my process thus far. The protocol for sharing is: the speaker shares their process without being interrupted. Next, the members of the group respond through directing questions to the speaker and they are only allowed to ask questions. Following this kind of protocol puts all the focus on that individual’s inquiry and for me it was deeply satisfying and hugely encouraging. I left our session with an even stronger sense of clarity, purpose, motivation and was on high for the rest of the day.

This is the first time I have experienced a discussion taking place in this way and I found it to be an incredibly powerful tool for deepening thinking and eliciting possible areas for further investigation. I didn’t feel anxious or defensive and admired my colleagues’ restraint and commitment to the protocol as it is our tendency to have messy discussions (which are also great for promoting thinking and developing understanding).

What next…

1. I am refining my question for now as the original version incorporated several parts and the essence of my inquiry is clearly ownership of learning. Thus my question has been refined to:
How can I promote ownership of learning in my learners?

2. I realised the need for mindfulness on my part and planning with this intention in mind so I will be asking myself the question: “Who owns the learning?” all the time. I will also be using the Gradual release of responsibility continuum as a means to clarify who really is owning the learning in the learning engagements when planning.

3. I am going to notice and name the behaviour and highlight to my students and myself when ownership of learning is happening .

4. I am going to hand over control of the learning at the beginning of the lesson and set aside time at time at the end of the lesson for reflecting on what happened.

What happened later in the day…

I found myself consciously noticing and naming behaviours that demonstrated ownership of learning. As I was doing this I realised this is happening more than I initially thought. I also realised, once the students had gone home and I was reflecting on the day, that I had missed a few opportunities for naming ownership of learning and I can’t wait to start the day by celebrating those behaviours with my students.

What happened during the night…

I thought about the location lesson I had in mind for today and put it to the litmus test: “Who owns the learning?” Not my students.

What to do?…

As this is the start of a new numeracy unit I grappled with my concern that some of my students might not know enough to manage their learning and my genuine desire to hand over control. I thought back to Jocelyn’s observation that messy learning is learning and her reassurance that students find their way through the mess. I decided that this was a golden opportunity to believe in my students.

So, I have decided to re-schedule our guided reading session and give my students a big block of time (4 lessons today and more next week) so they can work at their pace to construct meaning according to their learning style.

I am trying to use the “flipped classroom” model as a guide for letting go.I came across this graphic on twitter last night and thought I would use it as a visual for my students when introducing the task.

The flipped classroom model.

What do I plan to do:

Ask an open question and set an open task:
What makes a map great? Show your thinking in any way you like.

Use what you have learned about maps to create your own map for visitors to our school to use to find their way from our reception to the kitchen garden.

I will let them decide if and when they want to collaborate. And, of course, I will let them decide everything else.

As I write this my excitement is growing exponentially and I can’t wait to hand over control.

Why have I changed?

Last week a collague asked me, “Why do you think you have changed?” She was inquiring into the reasons for my change in my attitude and approach to learning, not doubting that I had changed 🙂

In my last post I reflected on how I had changed (in my teaching practice) and how my students had changed and the connections between the two. But my colleague’s question really got me thinking about how and why I have changed/ grown. I have thought about this for nearly a week…

I no longer feel I have to be in control or be the expert, instead I have taken ownership of my learning…

This may seem like a contradiction but, simply put, I am owning my learning – I consciously take on board the new learning and I consciously decide how I will manage that new learning. I realise I have changed significantly in the way I approach new learning and this change has impacted on my attitude to trying new ways of learning with my students. Up until about a year ago, when I was presented with a new resource or new program or new web tool we were going to learn to use in our teaching, my default setting most of the time was to panic about the time required to become knowledgeable and the time required to implement it properly. I would then feel frustrated that I was being forced to learn something new when I was still trying to embed recently acquired knowledge or skills.

I don’t panic anymore. I am comfortable with just exploring and seeing what I learn, see what others learn. I am comfortable with not having to do something exactly as presented. I am comfortable with adapting it to meet the needs of my students or my own. I am comfortable with letting things percolate until I’m ready.

Guiding questions for my learning…

Another factor contributing to my change, I think, is because I am now approaching new learning using the key questions, “What am I doing?” and “Why am I doing it?” I learned to think this way because of the explicit discussions my class and I have around these two questions this year.

I have always asked these questions but because I have let go of the need to be in control or be the expert, I approach new learning with a curious attitude and an open mind. I try and enjoy it for what it is.

What this has made me realise about my learners…
I’m not sure that I’ve been articulating my thoughts well, but the point of this reflection is this: I have been trying to encourage my students to become authentic, reflective learners who want to take ownership of their learning. (I have written a few posts about my attempts). BUT it’s just hit me that they may be resisting learning sometimes because…

*they feel the panic I used to feel because they feel pressured by a lack of time,
*or they may not be ready, or interested in what I am presenting them with at the time.
* or I haven’t given them control of their learning – (I’m not 100% comfortable with doing this yet because I’m still learning how to)
* or they may feel frustrated because I am limiting them with my expectations
* or I am not appealing to their learning style.

If I want my students to take ownership of their learning then I need to be mindful of how they may be feeling about their learning. I also need to question whether what we are doing and how we are doing it is setting them up to take ownership of their learning.

Which brings me to the other stuff…

Last term my class and I regularly considered our learning. One discussion really stands out for me. I had asked them, “When you are learning about something, what else are you learning?” I then gave them a few examples to make my question clearer. For example, when you are learning how to draw a graph, or learning how to do something with a group, what else are you learning?

After a few hits and misses, they got what I was referring to. One student suggested we refer to the two types of learning as formal and informal learning.

This is what they thought…

Formal learning is: the content or the task, what the teacher is trying to teach, what the students are working on.
Informal learning is: the other stuff, learning to work collaboratively, learning to solve a problem, learning to use technology, getting better at making decisions, learning to take turns, learning to communicate, learning to take risks, being on task and most importantly, who owns the learning.

As a result of days of reflecting about why I had changed, I have realised that I need to ensure that the “other stuff” my students are learning, doesn’t contradict or undermine our goal for them to take ownership of their learning!!!