Agency, Change, Diversity

Don’t Say “Agency” Unless You Really Mean It

The IBO recently shared a graphic as part of it’s work in revamping the Primary Years Programme. To be clear: This is their communications graphic illustrating the new organizing structure; not the new programme model. Agency (Voice, Choice, and Ownership) feature heavily. As I looked at this and thought about each of these components of agency, I imagined what I might look for in a classroom in which this existed. I thought in questions:

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And then I read this. An amazing post by Will Richardson. I started to highlight the parts that resonated and then found the whole article highlighted. Seriously. Here is one of my favorites:

So, don’t say “agency” unless you really mean it, unless you truly intend to create classrooms where kids “have mastery over themselves” and the freedom to employ that mastery with other learners.

-Will Richardson

I watched a second webinar today on Inclusion. A lot of what was said came down to respecting all students as individuals – and in doing so, creating the type of classrooms that Will Richardson mentions above.  And not just for some kids, but for all kids.

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It made me think …if our classrooms really were places in which kids “have mastery over themselves” wouldn’t they also be inclusive? If an inclusive classroom is one in which all students are supported where they are at right now, it seems that the two are mutually co-dependent.

So, what needs to change? Lots!  Change is one of my favorite topics. For someone who has moved around a lot in the last 18 years, you would expect as much. But there is a lot that needs to be in place for change to be effective. Some of the challenges are outlined above and there isn’t a one-stop solution or a prescription for how an inclusive, agency-based classroom can be created. But there are some steps that can  be considered in order to make any attempt at change more successful.

Change researcher, Anthony Ambrose, theorized that five elements must be present in order for change to occur and that if one or more of them is missing, there is a specific emotional response. The change equation will allow leaders to plan the change strategies and also analyze where previous change efforts may have gone wrong.  They need only ask the question: “Why is this person reacting this way?”  The equation looks like this:

Because We Believe in Change (4)

And here’s what happens when we don’t plan for change:

Because We Believe in ChangeBecause We Believe in Change (1)Because We Believe in Change (2)Because We Believe in Change (5)Because We Believe in Change (6)

You can read more about this process here.

As the changes to the PYP come about and as people start to change their classrooms to be more inclusive and agency-driven, it is going to get messy. Schools who have not started this conversation are going to find themselves falling behind as more change-focused schools work to reimagine education. I feel very fortunate to be at a school who has been having these conversations for years already and is actively seeking ways to ensure we are a truly inclusive learning environment.

Here’s to building something gorgeous!

Because We Believe in Change (3)

 

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Empathy, Play, Reggio Inspired

“I Am Who We Are”

Today I listened to a Webinar with Rick Ellis, Bank Street College and EC Consultant on Reggio Inspired teaching and leading. There were a lot of snippets that stood out to me and below I have shared my notes from this viewing. One of the biggest stand-outs was the idea of belonging and identity.

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Often people will say, “I am who I am”. We tend to think in a self-centered way. We focus on our own achievements and our own improvements and where these gains will elevate us to.

Ellis suggests that a reggio-inspired environment challenges us to shift our thinking to a more collaborative, community approach: “I am who we are.”  I am still an individual with my own needs and goals but I am part of a group, a community of learners. What I do reflects on all of us. It also elevates all of us. It moves all of us forward. It lifts us.

How do we ensure we are doing both: celebrating the individual and growing as a community? I think that question is actually pretty easy to answer but possibly much harder to implement. We need to value each other and we show we are interested in what each person brings to our community. We need to listen to each other. We need to make sure we are nurturing learners who realize they do not exist in isolation.  As I have said before, we start with empathy and move forward from there.

More than kindness, more than thinking of others, empathy is, as far as I can tell, the best way to ensure we build a culture of thinking amongst students that is solution oriented, inclusive, and will engage them in meaningful inquiries on their path to greater learning. And the more I think about it, I Am Who We Are would be a great central idea for a whole school unit of inquiry. What better way to show you value the concepts of self and community than by dedicating the first unit of the year to delving into this concept?

How do you build empathy in your school, develop a sense of self, and grow as a community? 

Have you taken on a whole-school inquiry and can share any insights?

 

Empathy

The Struggle is Real!

This was on my board today as my students were working on their LittleBits Challenge:

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“Make sure they struggle”. How often do you intentionally build struggle into your program? I know I spend a lot of time thinking about how to make things easier, more streamlined, fewer steps, more cohesive. I don’t often think about making time for struggle. But if we don’t practice what to do when we experience the struggle, how will we ever learn what to do when it greets us?

The second part of this is even more challenging – for me anyway. “How can I help them to learn…” is a phrase I use over “I want them to ….”. It’s not about me. It is about believing that all kids have the capacity to learn. It’s not (yet) even about the “what” they are learning – let’s focus on that how: How do I listen to others? How do I manage my impulses? How can I express myself more clearly? How can I get the positive attention I crave?

My biggest takeaway from this one?

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You?

Play

Just Let Them Play!

I watched two TED talks last weekend, both on the theme of “Play”.

They both were really interesting, but the second one really got me thinking, especially when Peter Grey spoke of all the skills that children can learn through play:

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I am running an after school activity for G1-5 students. It is called “Invitation to Create” and it is based around the ideas from my book and my belief that kids need time to just explore different materials and processes without necessarily working toward a “product”.  On Monday afternoon, with the videos fresh in my mind, I was preparing for my activity. I was planning on reading “The Dot” (as a throwback to Dot Day the previous week) and having the kids put together sculptures in the style of Louise Nevelson. I was choosing the parts, picking the paint color, sorting the objects, plugging in the hot glue – and in my head planning out so much of how I would be directing and managing this mixed age group of children. Every time I walked from my Design Pit to the MakerSpace, I passed this table outside the Head of Primary’s office:

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On the third trip from the Makerspace, I stopped. I popped my head in and asked Marina if I could borrow her wood cookies and stones and I set these, the large wooden dots, and some corks out on the table. I read the book, showed the kids the materials, and gave them the option of cutting the corks into “cookies” as well.

Some spent a lot of time just sawing away at the corks. Most were beyond happy to just take the stones and wood cookies and play. The large wooden ‘dots’ gave their work focus and they just stood or sat and played for the hour we were together. There were collaborations, iterations,  and expansions on the original brief with students using more dots to make stacked dots. There was conversation, cooperation, amazing ideas, and many “oohs and ahhhs” at others’ designs.

It was playful. It was relaxing. And it was fun.

I learned that when I get out of the way, and let kids play, it can be a massive learning experience for everyone – myself included.

How do you create opportunities for play in your day?

 

Empathy, Reflection, Responsive Classroom

Genuinely Proactive

Today I joined our Middle School teachers for a Responsive Classroom all-day workshop. We have been introduced to RC through faculty meetings but it was great to spend the whole day learning ‘from the ground up’ as this is something our Primary School has been working on prior to my starting at NIS.

The day offered a lot to think about:

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With so much going on, the biggest takeaway for me was to be genuine and proactive in my dealings with kids. I really like that RC gives you permission to “go slow to go fast later” in the way you take the time to set up a strong social/emotional foundation on which to build academic growth and understanding.

I know I need to be more intentional and more specific in my language and continue to look for ways to have kids actively involved in their learning.

Most of all, I really appreciated the time to reflect on how things have started this year and how I hope to improve them as we move on. Here’s one idea that was sparked in our faculty meeting yesterday, percolated in my mind during the workshop and was refined in a 2 minute cafeteria conversation with our Head of Primary, Marina Gijzen:

Rest Area!

During a discussion about regulatory zones and helping kids who have trouble self-regulating, there was a “blue zone” with the symbol for a Rest Area:

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I have taken this idea and have prepared a rest area sign for my room. I modeled to one class how they might choose to come here to take a breath, re-focus, or simply rest. Students were intrigued. As well as choosing to go there, I also said I may invite some students to hang out there if I felt they needed a rest. I was happy with this idea as a proactive way of addressing potentially problematic behaviors. Marina then suggested that when introducing this area to the classes I teach, I let the kids know that “Today, everyone will get a chance to use the Rest Area. When I come by and tap you on the shoulder, just head over there and stay long enough for you to feel what it is like to be there.”  The idea of Responsive Classroom is that redirection is not punitive and discipline and punishment are not synonymous.  There is also an expectation of interactive modeling so students will know what the expectations look and feel like.

I am looking forward to engaging with students in a genuinely proactive way in our coming classes.

Creativity, Design, Learning

#cultivate your learning spaces

My feed is full of great stories from fellow teachers beginning a new school year. Many are inspiring me with the depth of thought that goes into starting a new school year. I especially liked this post from my new 2nd grade colleague, Nora, who reminded me in her post to take a minute to appreciate the special, clean start of a new year before everything levels up.

Today I read a post I have been waiting a year for. My friend Jocelyn in Singapore did amazing things with her learning space this time last year. She is not the type of person to sit with the status quo so I was super intrigued to see where she would head this year. She did not disappoint. Jocelyn has refined her thinking and continued her research all in the name of best supporting her students. She herself even says of her new learning spaces:

I also know that removing the 1 desk & chair per child will encourage me to adapt and broaden my teaching practice to move beyond ‘desk work’ activities.

Jocelyn Sutherland

I really respect the way she is leaning in on the third teacher to help her kids learn best. Jocelyn’s entire post which includes links to last year’s learning environment post, is definitely worth reading in its entirety. My biggest takeaway was the need for a variety of spaces in your classroom. Spaces known as: the cave, the watering hole, and the campfire:

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As per Jocelyn’s post, these spaces are described as:

CAVES: This is a space where students can reflect independently, journal or read. It allows students to process what they’ve learned and allows students private quiet time.

WATERING HOLES: This is the social space where students collaborate, share thinking and can work in small groups. Watering holes foster relationships in the classroom and encourage students to expand their friendship circles through mixed grouping opportunities.

CAMPFIRES: This space is used for whole class gatherings for morning meetings, storytelling, celebrations and presentations by experts. It stands as a ritual for bringing the entire classroom community together in one friendly space.

 

It’s never too late to change. Take a look at your room. Do you have these types of spaces in your learning environment? Could you? How might you #cultivate your learning spaces?

Design, Inquiry, iPad, Thinking, Visible Thinking

TMI

One of the resources that I’m using a lot in my new role as a design teacher, is the book called Invent to Learn by Sylvia Libow Martinez and Gary S. Stager. This book details an inquiry type cycle simply called TMI: Think, Make, Improve. This is very accessible language for students and most of the kids who have been in our school are very familiar with this terminology and how to put it into practice.

Here are each of the stages in a little more detail:




I particularly like the “improve” section. Once kids have made something they are challenged to ask themselves are they stuck or are they satisfied? Can I fix it or can I make it better?

Today I was working with Grade 3. Their challenge was to use what they had learned from previous lessons to create a balloon powered vehicle. We talked about TMI and as we talked about the first stage, I sat with the students and modeled how I might document my thinking. Using the Paper 53 app and my iPad Pro with Apple Pencil I was able to think aloud while drawing and projecting on our screen. This was my second time doing this lesson and I didn’t do the same kind of modeling of this documentation process with the first group. We really noticed a difference in quality when the kids were shown how it is possible to plan out their designs. 


I get to do this lesson for a third time tomorrow. I want to make sure that we refer back to the image of all the things that “thinking” entails and identify the elements that we touch on so the kids see that there is not just one way of thinking. Edit

How do you help your children to make their thinking visible?

Approaches to Learning, Design

Partner Frenzy

Today, I was introducing Little Bits to one of my classes. Here’s their tag line:

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Great! I thought. This will be awesome! I thought. I like mixing up teams and partners for working groups, so for this initial task of sorting the kit and then “making something that does something” (free exploration) for the 60 minute lesson, I thought I would just pair off down the register, students 1 and 2 together, 3 and 4, and so on. Total lucky dip.

During lunch I had taken a minute to open the new YouCubed posters:

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I think if you took the words “maths” and “mathematical” these norms could apply to many things students are challenged to do every day. In particular:

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Great! I thought. I will have a lesson in which the kids are challenged to use electronics (something they may not think they can do), they will struggle and grow their brains, and all this will be done under the umbrella of collaborative team work.

Or not.

The class was not impressed with my random pairings. Feet stomped, hands thrown in the air, students started suggesting other pairs, some said nothing, some said they were fine with their partner, one said, “NOBODY likes the person they have been partnered with!”  I had forgotten how dramatic fourth graders could be!

I let them go for a minute and then I stepped in. And in a firm, clear voice, I explained that we can do anything for 45 minutes. And we can certainly work with a classmate for that time on this task. And if you didn’t want to work with your assigned partner, that was your choice, but you would also be choosing to not work at all. All kids were heads down in the kits within 30 seconds.

We ended with a reflection. Short and sweet: “We can do anything for 45 minutes and we can always learn from and with each other or at the least, learn something about ourselves and who we are as learners.”

I want the kids to be challenged. I want them to try new things and do things they haven’t done before. I know this is already super challenging for some and the added dynamic of not choosing a partner adds another layer of stress for some. But how to overcome this when resources are limited and need to be shared? Earlier in the day on a different task for which we have an abundance of resources, the class could choose to work alone, pairs, threes, or fours. I loathe the hierarchy of “being picked” and like to avoid this as much as possible. But I also want kids to put all their energy into designing and making, tinkering, and improving, and I wonder if they don’t need to be in self-selected groups to do this at their best.

How do you group kids for learning groups?

Innovation

Ask And You Will Receive

Last night I posted about Single Subject teachers and I asked the question:

How might we all move toward a more open system of schooling in which the boundaries and delineations that divide us, did not exist?

This morning, the single subject teachers at my school got an email from our head of primary:

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Everything is a two way street. If single subject or integrating teachers want to be included and more than an “add on” they also have to do their part in making this happen. What I appreciate is that the need for holistic inclusion has been considered and is already part of “what we do”.

What systems do you have in place that show all teachers are a vital part of each child’s day? How do you purposefully plan for collaboration?

Learning, Mindset, Teaching

All The Single Subjects

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The lone single subject teacher…

The majority of my teaching career, I have been an upper primary classroom teacher. I am always interested in new things so I have also spent time as an Elementary Art teacher, a technology integrator, and now, a Design teacher. I have mad respect for the homeroom teacher in a PYP school – or any school for that matter. Our job is demanding, hectic, consuming, and typically incredibly rewarding to see growth in our students “up close”. I also have the same respect for single subject teachers. In many cases, teaching upwards of 15 different classes across all grade levels is “typical”. Hundreds of kids coming to you for short bursts, with masses of energy.

My last class of the day, today, they were big. They were energetic (loud!). They were that special kind of giddy that kids get at the end of a long day at the beginning of the year in their first class with a new teacher. They didn’t know me. They are trying to impress each other. They are without their homeroom teacher for an hour.  It’s the potential perfect storm.

The class was chatty. The class was jovial. No one was misbehaving but they were definitely searching this new learning space for boundaries. I know how important those first impressions are and I wanted to keep them enthused but also respectful. The class was successful in the Lego Challenge, Round One, and moved into Round Two (groups). This was more challenging. And then time was up. Almost. And things started getting “excitable”. Almost.

So I had the kids return to their spot, and this is what I told them:

I started teaching when I was 21. I taught sixth graders who were closer in age to me than their parents were and I loved it. Most of my time teaching has been as a homeroom teacher and of that time, I have loved grade five the most (true story). I love your independence, I love your excitement, I love your frustrations. I love that it is hard, but funny, exhausting and exciting. I know what it is like to be a fifth grade teacher.

BUT.

I don’t know what it is like to be your fifth grade teacher, yet and I don’t know what you are like as fifth graders, yet. What I do know is that you get a say in that. You, by the way you speak and work and interact with each other and with me, you get to have a say in who you are as a group. When I look at you, I look at each person but you are also a group of people. Your actions help me to form an opinion. I get to see the respect you have for yourselves, your learning space, your classmates.

I look forward to our next lesson and learning more about who you are.

The kids were quiet. I think they were listening.

Single Subjects are an amazing place for students to grow and learn. We often provide an authentic opportunity for ATLs (Approaches to Learning) to be developed and we get to see the kids in, potentially, a whole new light to their homeroom. But how do we really harness the power of specialist teachers? How do we ensure everyone is included?

Classroom Teachers: How do you work with your single subject teachers?

Specialist Teachers: How to you build relationships as a single subject teacher?

 

Today left me wondering…

How might we all move toward a more open system of schooling in which the boundaries and delineations that divide us, did not exist?