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?

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:
research,
thinking,
mapping,
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:
patience,
persistence,
creativity,
cooperation,
risk taking,
tolerance,
independence,
confidence,
enthusiasm.

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!

Why?

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.

Leaders don’t always set their teachers up for success…

Today, after a week of intense planning meetings, teaching, reflection, late nights spent blogging, participating in professional PD via twitter chat, trying to support my team in my role as LTL, trying to support my students academic, social and emotional needs, make phone calls to parents, attending other meetings, I dropped the ball.

I fell into the trap of trying to finish an important piece of administration while my students were left to independently reflect on their week. Instead I should have been conferencing with those who find this a challenging task and encouraging those who were finding it hard to push through the obvious reflective statements so they could gain a deeper insight into themselves as learners.

I haven’t read their reflections yet and I’m proud of them for giving it a go, but I feel if I had been more present then our day would have ended on a better note as some lost focus and started to fool around. This distracted others and the reflective mood was lost and I tried valiantly to get them back on board but it was too late. I had not set them up for success as this was only the second time we were trying to reflect in this way.

This got me thinking again about teachers being set up for success by their leaders. Having different leaders each wearing their hat can be very challenging for the classroom teacher. Each leader has their agenda. And even though we are aiming to be transdisciplinary in our approach to teaching the curriculum, we still have to deal with the demands of the Australian curriculum. In addition we are trying to get to know our students, build a supportive, caring and engaging learning environment, take into account students’ learning needs and differentiate for that, get to know our students emotional needs and work out the best way we can support them. As it’s the start of the school year we are also dealing with a lot of assessment and all the hours of analysis that goes with that. Even with many years of teaching experience under my belt and a burning passion for teaching and learning, I feel overwhelmed and exhausted and its only week 4.

Everybody’s goals are relevant and important, but only one person can make these goals a reality – the general studies teacher. Leaders can forget how much the General Studies teacher is trying to accomplish- especially at the start of the year. This takes a lot of pleasure out of the start to a new school year and can create a lot of unnecessary tension.

Leaders don’t always set their teachers up for success.

We need to find a way to manage intense times of the school year better. We need to prioritise our goals for the first month and not let other things get in the way. They can wait. I believe the start of the year is about establishing a culture of learning with our students. The start of the year is for creating a wonderful learning environment.

How do other school leaders manage the first month of the school year? What are their priorities? Are their teachers feeling overwhelmed and exhausted too?