Agency, Change, Design, Inspiration, Leadership

If The Shoe Doesn’t Fit…?

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Bringing about choice in the classroom via John Spencer. 

If you had a pair of shoes that didn’t fit – too small, too tight, too loose, too high – what would you do with them? Put a bow on them and a row of sparkles and wear them anyway? Cram your feet in and mash up your toes, bloody your heels, and suffer?

No. You would put them in a recycle box, trash bin, or donate them and move on to something that worked.

Why don’t we apply this analogy to school? So many of the embellishments we are slapping on: iTime, differentiation, personalized learning, flexible seating, choice boards, passion projects – are the bows and sequins that don’t make the shoe any more comfortable or any closer to fitting.

What if instead of focusing on building agency, we focused on building a school that is radically different to the production-line-based factory model we are currently saddled with? Agency already exists. We are born with it. It is not something you give someone. But schools and the structures we have created, do a great job of taking that agency away and out of the hands of the learner.

So, what do we do? 

While we work on the audacious goal of revolutionizing school as we know it, there are small things we can do now, to make a shift. Here are five things every teacher could do to start the journey of change:

  1. Stop making decisions 
    • Take a tally of all the decisions you make for your students. Better yet, write them all down – you’ll be exhausted. How can you switch so that more decisions are made by each child for themselves?
  2. Unplug the photocopier
    • Kids don’t think in A4 or legal shaped boxes of paper! And they don’t need us to pre-think on this paper for them. Try ditching the grids and templates and cookie-cutter forms and see what your kids come up with.
  3. Teach like a designer
    • I just retweeted this image. How can you use your observational powers to see where the paths need to be laid instead of rolling out the concrete where it fits best? Screen Shot 2017-11-05 at 5.06.22 PM
  4. Go behind the curtain
    • This one stems from a phrase we used a lot at the Learning2Asia conference this past week. Think of freeing kids from the checklists and criteria and just let them play, create, explore, make, do! YOUR job (behind the metaphorical curtain) is to be tracking their learning and watching for what they can do independently, with support, or haven’t gotten to just yet. Guide. Observe. Ask. Or even just say nothing and keep quiet while they get on with the real work!
  5. Bring back boredom
    • You don’t need to entertain your students. That doesn’t mean you can’t be entertaining, but it does mean your job isn’t to ensure that every second is packed with – wait for it – ACTIVITIES! Let them play, them them iterate, let them be bored. They’ll soon find something to do.

As John Spencer has pointed out, we need to move from entertaining our students (“The kids love this activity!”) to engaging them by connecting them with real ideas that matter, and then go further to empowering them to seek out the learning for themselves instead of waiting for it to be delivered.

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These ideas have been percolating for a while and the perfect place for them to synthesize a little more clearly in my mind was over the last three days in Shanghai at the Learning2 Asia Conference.

In addition to some excellent practical tips and ideas from Jamie Stevens and Nici Foote in the realm of Makerspaces, Tinkering, Playing, and STEAM, I was incredibly inspired by what I am calling my “Unconference Fung-Kee-Fung” Sandwich.

First layer: Unconference Session #1 in which a group of 20+ passionate educators discussed the idea of student agency and in which I got to meet (in real life!) Taryn Bond-Clegg, the educator extraordinaire behind the blog Making Good Humans.

Sandwich Filling: Lisa Fung-Kee-Fung (Best. Name. Ever) and an extended session on Launching Student Learning with a focus on who we are really here for – the students. Coupled with a really interesting discussion with the Deputy Director of WAB, John D’Arcy on the concept of Flow21 and WAB’s 2021 vision for the future of learning.

Top it all off: Unconference Session #2 in which 20+ shrinks to 7 and we have yet another focused, inspiring, and fast-paced discussion on agency and beyond.

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“Nothing’s more powerful than a group of committed educators who believe they can solve any problem together.” –

In sketchnotes, the Unconference Fung-Kee-Fung sandwich looks like this:

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This is a huge thing to think about and it can seem overwhelming to know where to start. In addition the ideas mentioned above, I would recommend exploring the Global Goals and seeing where these might take you and your students. These goals encompass a wealth of understanding and knowledge – and “it’s hard to change the world if you don’t know much about it.” –.

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Agency, Design, Inquiry

Agency by Design

I have been re-visiting the Agency by Design website over the past few days. One of the things I was reading about was a “Big Rocks/Little Rocks” task which was designed as a way to have teachers  prioritize their values related to teaching and learning. The idea is to think about what you want your kids to be like when they leave your classroom. What is important to you as a teacher? What do you value? The premise is, that articulating what we value will shape what we assess. I would add that it will likely also change the way we teach.

Here are my rocks:

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My big rocks are things I value AND things I really want kids to experience in our learning space. I notice that “listen to me talk” is not one of my big rocks. I am working on cutting down on talk time in place of having conversations that simply start with “What are you learning?” or “Do you need anything?”.

I am trying to build in time for “fix or make better” – the IMPROVE part of our design cycle, so children have a chance to make iterations of their initial ideas. Ideas - 12

I want my kids to have to learn to share and engage and interact. For me, learning is a social activity. I also notice that I haven’t put ‘reflect’ or ‘process’ or ‘work on my own’ as my rocks. These are valuable too and are things I need to consider for those students who shine in the quiet spaces of our classrooms.

I look at all these and then I think about how I plan my lessons. And I think about Agency. It doesn’t appear on a rock. Not because I don’t value it, but for me, the entire bowl holding ALL the rocks is learner agency. But do I teach in a way that reflects that?

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Who makes the decisions in my room? How are the choices made? Do the kids really get a say in what they are doing or have the parameters for their choices been so narrowly focused that the choice they have is really just a token one?

My last post on Agency and the questions I have regarding it are very much on my mind. If I want to show that I value agency, what am I doing on a daily basis that reflects that? And what does agency in the grade 1-5 Design classroom actually look like?

In order for agency to authentically exist, do we need to rethink the way we do school in its entirety? 

#grapplingwiththeconcept #agencyadvocates #help

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:

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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!

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