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?

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.

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

Creating authentic reflective learners who feel empowered to take ownership of their learning…

Every day I reflect on my efforts to support my students to take ownership of their learning. This is a dual process of me letting go and them taking ownership. Recently I decided that I also want to celebrate successes in their learning more explicitly- even small ones. Some of my students become anxious and put a lot of pressure on themselves to do well. They can be harsh judges and I want them to notice positive developments in their learning.

Having read Sam’s recent blog post on mindfuness , it dawned on me that it was time to introduce another two layers to our reflections on our learning. We have been using the following three questions to guide our reflections in our bubble catcher journal: What are we doing? Why are we doing it? and How am I doing? From there my students would set goals for the following week and develop a plan of action for achieving their goals.

The challenge for several students has been in developing a relevant plan of action to help them achieve their goal. I have also recently read an article on positive education (“Positive education: positive pyschology and classroom interventions” by Martin E. P. Seligman and others) and decided to combine a strategy Sam uses with one mentioned in the article.

Sam’s: What skills will you need to achieve your goal? What attitudes will you need to demonstrate to achieve your goal?

Seligman et al’s: What Went Well?

A new strategy for reflecting…I began by instructing my students to close their eyes and picture a recent event in their lives, in which they were involved, which had gone well. I asked them to notice what they were doing and how they were feeling during the event.

We then shared their thinking and I scribed. We were able to sort their responses under skills used during the event and attitudes demonstrated during the event. They then had another go with this strategy.

From here I asked them to set a goal for themselves. I then asked them to identify which skills they would need to use and which attitudes they would need to demonstrate in order to achieve their goal.

Without prompting a few students commented that this would be really helpful. We then talked more about ownership of learning and how identifying the skills and attitudes we will need, could help us to achieve our goals including that of taking ownership of our learning.

I am excited and hopefully they are too.

Big Ideas People


Big Ideas People

“The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway” The Paradoxical Commandments by Dr KM Keith

I came across this quote the other morning and a part of me cringed and another part of me smiled in acknowledgment. At times in my professional life I have been a woman with a small minded approach.

I collaborate with a variety of colleagues who are more big idea thinkers than I am. I also come across big ideas people in my PLN. I no longer shoot down big ideas. If the big idea seems too big for our context/ circumstances I now look for a way to take the essence of the big idea and adapt it to the context.
Big ideas now excite me. Big ideas have led to many interesting, sometimes surprising discoveries and great moments in my teaching and in my students’ learning.

I have always been a reflective person but I am even more so now. Because of the insights and successes I have had from taking the time to notice and reflect and then take action from this, I am learning more and more and more.

Tuesday is a unit planning session – bring on the big ideas!

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!!!

So how have I changed? How have my students changed?

Over the two week holiday, I reflected on Term 1. It gave me great pleasure to think about how my students had changed over the eight week period. I acknowledged how I had grown as a teacher and where I could have done better. I made connections between the changes in me and the changes I observed in my students.

Changes I noticed in my students:

they own more of the learning
they value reflection
they are more inclined to take risks in their learning
they are becoming more collaborative
they embrace opportunities to think
they drive the learning more
they solve problems more independently
they set relevant authentic goals

Changes I noticed in myself:

I am more mindful of letting go and am better at giving students control over their learning
I make significant time for reflection and provide scaffolds to support their reflective process
I have created a safe environment and encourage and celebrate risk taking
I have created many opportunities for explicitly and implicitly developing collaboration
I talk much less and give them much more opportunities and time to think and wonder
I listen, observe and analyse in order to follow their lead
I hand problems back to them to solve
I make time to discuss the kind of student they want to become

Yesterday I read Bruce Ferrington’s latest blog post which makes the connection between setting high expectations and supporting these with action and it occurred to me that this is what I have been doing in Term One more successfully than before. I have always set high expectations for each of my students, but what I am doing better this time round is supporting them to achieve them by taking the appropriate action.

My goals for Term 2:

For me it all boils down to our one overriding goal which is to create authentic, reflective learners who own their learning. I say “our” as my students now want this for themselves too.

How do I achieve this goal?
By continuing to notice, reflect, act.
Notice what I do. Notice what they do.
Reflect on what I have done. Reflect on what they have done.
Take action that will bring them closer to achieving our goal.

It’s not easy, but it feels so right.