If The Shoe Doesn’t Fit…?

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.

john spencer

 

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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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)

 

Imagine A Teacher

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Imagine you are a teacher.

The school year is about to begin – it’s the first day for teachers to arrive at school.

You walk into your classroom and there is a letter for you. From your students.

Dear Teacher,

The most important thing you can do for us this year is to teach creativity. Consider yourself no longer our teacher but be our ‘Captain Creative’ and we, your eager cohort of innovators, curators, makers, and thinkers.

To teach creativity is to equip us with the skills to think critically. To examine, debate, discuss, agree, argue, dissent, come to a consensus, and to think.

To teach creativity is to question. To make sure you ask questions you don’t know the answer to and let us ask questions too. Let’s solve them together in short, frantic bursts of excitement and long, drawn-out wondering that go far beyond the lesson plan.

To teach creativity is to teach us that ideas are treasures, to be gathered and cherished with pirate-like pleasure! We need to come to school each day more curious than the day before and should know that our actions have an impact that goes beyond our classroom walls.

To teach creativity, one can start with empathy. When we know that to empathize is to arrive at the starting point for change and possibility, that to try and to trial and to test and to try again are all part of process, and that there is never a ‘one way’ of doing (but always your guiding hand should we get stuck down a wrong way), you will be a teacher of creativity.

To teach creativity, is to allow us to bloom. To nurture each of us through the learning process at a different pace and in a different space, feeding our quest for knowledge so that new ideas can flourish. Teach us to connect rather than simply collect the dots.

To teach creativity one does not need to be creative (but you are). To teach creativity one does need to rethink ‘school’ (and you will). To teach creativity is to respect us as individuals, to seek the ‘so what?’, and to be authentic in all that you do.

What are you waiting for? The creativity revolution begins with you. And with us. And it starts now.

Sincerely,

Your students

What would this inspire you to do? What does it tell you about your school leadership team? And where does this school exist?

Rethink Everything

And start with rethinking worksheets.

I believe that in 7 minutes, you will never look at a worksheet in the same light ever again. What are we doing to our kids when we don’t take the time and effort to breathe creativity and agency into our classrooms?

If you are interested in taking this discussion further, take a look at The Ten Principles For Schools Of Modern Learning. This Whitepaper is the best thing I have read about education and change since I read Seth Godin’s Education Manifesto.

I have just started a course in Creative Teaching and Learning as (a final) part of my Masters Degree and my hope is that we will come up with practical ways to inject greater creativity into schools. One of my classmates shared this video and in it, the speaker tells of the need for knowledge in order to fuel creativity.

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The idea being that having knowledge helps you build creative ideas to problems  and challenges. Do you agree?  I certainly side with Tony Wagner’s thought that “it is not WHAT you know but what you DO with what you know” and believe that the ‘knowing’ and the ‘knowledge’ are important parts to being a creative person.

It comes as no surprise to me that Tony Wagner is an “Expert Education Advisor” for the award-winning film “Most Likely to Succeed”. A ‘grown up’ version of the animated ‘Alike’ this film is on my list of things to watch (when I write up my grant proposal to get the money for a screening).

Most Likely to Succeed Trailer from One Potato Productions on Vimeo.

 

 

Think Like A Startup

Last week I was fortunate to go to Amsterdam with four fabulous colleagues to attend the European Conference on iPads in the Classroom hosted by the International School of Amsterdam.

Our trip started like this:

And then on to the ‘real business’ – two days of guest speakers, breakout groups, classroom observations, speed geeking, and great conversations about the use of technology in the classroom. The tech team at ISA offered some great tips and ideas about getting started with iPads including appointing iPad Point People to support learning across the school and they had some practical ideas for making the day-to-day use of iPads easier for everyone (students and teachers). Sue Worsnup, the Grade 3-5 IT Facilitator at ISA shared the following:

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The Keynote speaker for the conference was Warren Apel – the former Tech Director at ISA who currently is operating his own startup, Scholastico, before moving to Tokyo in the fall as Director of Technology at the American School in Japan.

As a sidenote, Warren’s company offers a way for schools to set up Parent-Teacher Conferences that is so quick and easy. If you or your school are interested, it really is worth your while to read the brochure linked above or to watch this 2 minute video on how it all works. It really looks awesome!

 

With his recent experience in building his own startup business, Warren’s keynote “How Schools, Teachers, and Administrators Can Learn To Think Like A Startup” was a great combination of his experience as a teacher and tech director, and his past year of starting a company. He presented his 12 lessons that he learned over the past year that could be applied to the work we do in schools when looking to innovate or start a new project:

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  1. Be curious
  2. Focus on what could be – not what is
  3. Be disruptive
  4. Learn from failure
  5. Move with speed
  6. Embrace a playful attitude
  7. Get the team right
  8. Communicate!
  9. Be transparent
  10. Learn together with the customers (or in this case, students/parents/teachers)
  11. Dream big – go for your Moonshot!
  12. Start with “why?”

Warren has written up his keynote as a blog post (linked above) and it is a really worthwhile read for those looking to lead change within your school. I was most grateful that there were five of us from my school hearing this message together. There is such a lot of power and added value to sending a small group to the same workshop or conference that I think some schools overlook. As the conference went on and conversations bubbled up, it was great to see the ideas and suggestions forming within our group and the enthusiasm for what could be regarding our iPad program at MIS.

This group of go-getters, early adopters, innovators, were motivated by what they saw and heard and inspired to bring these ideas back to their own classrooms and teams. For me, this was the most rewarding part of the two day event. The other thing I loved was that the conference was held during the week which allowed us the opportunity to observe classes in action.  The opportunity to walk through a school when the kids are there was fantastic and in itself, was a great PD session full of ideas and tips for cultivating a mindful learning environment.  Here are a few shots from around the school:

As the two days progressed, I made notes that I later turned into an iBook titled “iPad Integration Guide”. It focuses on technology in the PYP classroom, a core set of apps for learning and sharing, coding apps, students as authors with a focus on Book Creator, and a ‘nuts and bolts’ section which gives a few tips and tricks for rolling out iPads into the classroom. Click on the link below to download for free from iTunes.

We have had a less than ideal (!) start to the year with our iPads as we transitioned to the VPP program and a new MDM system so this conference was just what was needed to help us recalibrate and set ourselves up for the rest of the year and the year ahead. I am looking forward to seeing the authentic, purposeful, and innovative advances in teaching and learning that will come from all of this!

 

(Un)Professional Development

I recently saw this heading somewhere (Facebook? Twitter?) and was naturally intrigued. And then I was in love. Here’s why.  First, take a look at the premise for this organization that offers training for teachers:

OUR BEST TEACHERS INSPIRE STUDENTS
TO BE BRAVE AND THINK DIFFERENTLY.

But professional development rarely acknowledges – or inspires – the courage and curiosity that educators bring to their own classrooms. Unprofessional Development is based on the belief that teachers must be celebrated as professional learners who find truth in discovery and joy in taking bold risks. It is a call to ignite a rigorous and personal creative habit. It is a challenge to resist judgment, perfectionism, discomfort and procrastination, and to put creativity at the root of all learning. Unprofessional Development is a charge to write, weld, cook, construct, jury-rig, sketch, stitch, bend and build both in and out of our classrooms.

Pretty cool, huh?

And then it got better when I scrolled further to their credo:

Credo

So who is behind all this?  Unprofessional Development is an initiative of the non-profit Project H Design and is led by Emily Pilloton and Christina Jenkins. If you live in NYC, Oakland or Berkeley, CA then, lucky you! They have courses in your area that you can sign up for.

But what about those of us in Munich – or elsewhere? (Un)Professional Development offers a tailored service to your school (contact them for further information).

But what if you can’t afford that right now? Well, start with yourself. Take a look again about what they said about traditional professional development and what they do differently.  Ask yourself what it would look like if you were:

  • celebrated as a professional learner
  • finding joy in taking bold risks
  • resisting judgement, procrastination, perfectionism and discomfort
  • putting creativity in the root of all learning

How would you be a different teacher? How would your classroom change? What if you said “yes” more often? What if you disrupted the status quo?

One of my favorite thinkers had this to say about disruption:

The journey to disruption may be lonely but fundamental to our ability to serve and add value.

-Will Northrop

What are you doing to disrupt, to serve, to add value in your classroom?

Responsive

One of the things I have read about is the importance of kids getting to talk in the classroom.  If it is an inquiry based classroom it stands to reason that the voices being heard should be that of the students. Our school is a PYP school that offers “guided inquiry” and it is the guided part that is really important.  The role of the teacher is ever-changing, yet one of the key tasks is to move conversations along.  To facilitate discussions, to guide inquiries.

The following guide is very comprehensive and offers loads of strategies that move (as opposed to blocking) conversations forward:

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The TERC also has a checklist that teachers can use to deepen the discussions:

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One of the best practitioners I have seen when it comes to kids talking is Tasha Cowdy. Tasha and I worked together at Yokohama International School.  She was a kindergarten teacher and like no other teacher I have ever seen before when it came to really listening to her children, moving them forward, and guiding their inquiries. I would love for everyone to see her teach to get a feel for what guided inquiry really looks like.  It is amazing. You can get a brief feel via her blog.

If I could sum Tasha up in one word, it would be:

Tasha responds to her students. She doesn’t try to get ahead of them in her planning but takes the time to listen while they talk and responds to them where they are at in their understanding.  She listens and she acts – but she is not reactive. Her actions are considered, measured, timely, and responsive. 

That is the key when it comes to creating discussion and dialogue in classroom.  The students have to feel like their is a point to their participation (not just to please you and give you the answer you want and already know). When classrooms are responsive and children’s conversations are key to moving inquiries forward, then we have a true inquiry classroom.

Three Things We Can Learn From Jon Stewart’s Departure

Jon Stewart announced he will be stepping down from The Daily Show – maybe in September, December, or July – or at some time in the imminent, yet distant, future.

As he announced this to his studio audience, he began to speak about why he loves what he does and who he works with, describing his colleagues in three words:

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Not smart, funny, witty, political…but creative, collaborative, and kind.

If you were looking for three words to live by, to be remembered by, to leave an impression on others, these might be pretty good ones to choose.

Thanks, Jon.  You will be missed!

View Jon’s full departure announcement, below:

 

Notice Anything Different?

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I have been doing a little ‘spring cleaning’ (wishful thinking given all the snow on the ground!) of my blog.  I wanted a cleaner, tidier look to the blog and, inspired by my third COETAIL course, I wanted to makeover the graphics and create a more engaging visual display for my readers.

Here is an overview of the changes and the new blog format: 

Next up, is an overhaul of my resume.  I really like my current resume but it is good to keep it fresh and updated so I am looking forward to playing around with it.  I want to incorporate a more infographic feel to the resume while still showcasing who I am – and the color orange (of course). This is going to be my assignment for my COETAIL course on Visual Design which I am loving. I think it bodes well that one of the course instructors blogged about my resume design when discussing this course a few years ago. I look forward to sharing with her the 2015 version, soon!

Are You A Modern Teacher?

Thanks to Twitter (#pypchat) and my COETAIL course (#coetail) I came across this graphic from fellow Coetailer, Reid Wilson.

The-Profile-of-a-Modern-Teacher

I love it. I think it embodies everything I believe in when it comes to 21st learning. A quick look through Reid’s classroom blog (he teaches fourth grade at my old school, NIST, in Bangkok) shows that he is an avid user of technology in an integrated way to add value to his students’ learning.

Read this list.

Slowly.

Let in sink in and ask yourself if you are nodding along.  Or are you realizing that there are things on this list that you could embed in your own professional goals in the year to come? How could your mindset impact that you teach?

Grant Wiggins asked himself what it was like to be a student and this stunning, must-read description of ‘a day in the life’ and the changes he, a veteran teacher, would immediately make to his teaching, is a must-read for every teacher. If someone like Grant Wiggins (half of the Understanding by Design guys) is able to make thoughtful reflections on and modifications to his teaching practice, isn’t there room for all of us to make a change?