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

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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 http://www.langwitches.org/blog or whatedsaid.wordpress.com 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?

Why do some teachers feel leaders have favourites?

It’s not just students who feel teachers have favourites – teachers can feel this too.

Rightly or wrongly, this is what some teachers conclude. I have been wondering why and think it could be because of:

* lack of transparency in decision making,
* teachers not being included in big picture thinking,
* lack of timely communication and education about new initiatives,
* lack of consultation between leaders and teachers,
* stronger connections between leaders and some teachers,
* a perception that leaders approve more of teaching styles / thinking that mirror their own,
* time is unfairly allocated for face to face discussions due to logistics and existing structures,
* some teachers feel “corporate memory” predetermines their chances of being seen in a new light,
* different needs and personalities of teachers make some seek leaders’ attention more than others,
* a lack of understanding amongst leaders of what is really happening in teams,
* a lack of understanding amongst teachers of what leaders really understand,
* leadership styles versus teacher needs,
* time poor leaders can mean hasty decision making,
* previous experience with a leader or leaders,
* assumptions about how one will be perceived,
* personal issues,
* perceived differences in expectations for different people.

As leaders we can spend more time with some teachers than others – this is partly due to the structures set up to facilitate communication between different levels.
As humans we tend to spend more time with people we have things in common with professionally- like a shared passion for encouraging student ownership of their learning- and personally.

Whose responsibility is it to fix this perception of favouritism?

The responsibility for addressing this perception of favouritism lies with both leaders and teachers, but more so with leaders as we are the ones who can be seen to be doing more about it.

What can I do?
* Build relationships with everyone – this is an important step in building a culture where people feel they are being treated equally.
* Push aside any preconceived ideas I may have – people experience changes in circumstances, shifts in their thinking and do change as a result.
* Listen to understand- everyone needs to feel they have a voice and it is being heard.
* Create a safe and welcoming environment to open the lines of communication in all directions.
* Create opportunities for differences of opinion to be aired and clarified.
* Invest the time to get to know every teacher and leader – at our school, we believe every teacher should make every effort to know their learners. Likewise, leaders should make every effort to KNOW their teachers – interests, aspirations, passions, dreams, goals, challenges, etc.
* I can aim for informed and considered decision making and this means including all stake holders.
* Ensure all teachers feel valued.
* Role model fairness.
* Reflect daily on how I treated all who came my way.

What do other leaders do?

What I learned from Nelson Mandela…

I vividly remember the day Nelson Mandela was set
free and the rejoicing throughout South Africa. I also vividly remember
participating with excitement in the first democratic elections and the sense
of awe and hope that filled the air as all South Africans queued side by side
to cast their vote for the first time.

Nelson Mandela has achieved so much with grace, humility, love and compassion.
He worked tirelessly and selflessly for the benefit of all. He embodied
tolerance and forgiveness. His humanity is a gift to us all.

His actions and words are an inspiration to millions of people including
myself. I will take consolation and inspiration from these words as I reflect
on my accomplishments and shortcomings for this year and look to the year ahead
and what I want to achieve.

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the
world.”

“It always seems impossible until it’s done.”

“The greatest glory in living lies not in never failing, but in rising
every time we fail.”

“There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life
that is less that the one you are capable of living.”

RIP Madiba

Letting go!

Shift control!

This year I have been doing my own inquiry into letting go of controlling students’ learning.

(By letting go I mean handing over ownership of the learning to the student – where it belongs. I have blogged about this a few times and you can get a sense of my efforts to do so by reading about them here, here, here and here, if you wish.)

A few weeks ago I had another epiphany about letting go. There are many reasons why I have been able to let go but what’s has made it easier to let go THIS year is that I moved into a new year level and so have had no prior ownership of our units of inquiry. Instead, I went on a journey with my students and was open to discovering things along the way. My head wasn’t already full of ideas for where I wanted to lead them and what I wanted them to do, etc. I was free to listen to where they wanted to go and how they wanted to get there. I was not attached to anything and so I followed their lead. This year, I have purposefully made the time and space for their thinking to take form. Because I had very little in the way of preconceived ideas, I have been more open to noticing my student’s thinking and wonderings. I have been getting better at listening very carefully to understand what my students were trying to tell me.

The more I let go, the better I am getting at letting go.

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.