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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Creativity, Inspiration, Kindness, Organization

Start With Kindness…And Then LEGOs

We just had our first elementary school faculty meeting to kick off the new school year. We did the usual housekeeping, updates, and messages but that came second. To begin, we started with a message rooted in kindness.

We were reminded by our Head of Primary, Marina Gijzen, that first and foremost:

  • You are an advocate for students.
  • People are the first priority.
  • Assume the best in everyone.
  • Be willing to generously dole out grace and be gracious.
  • Take care of each other and yourself
  • Be willing to ask for and accept help

Finally, we were reminded to Be KIND. To “throw kindness around like confetti.” And we were challenged to remember that we will never regret choosing kindness.

Our job is to treat our students with love, with hope, with empathy and compassion, to challenge them, and to inspire and be inspired by them.

This message this morning was powerful. It could have started with a joke or a cartoon or a game about holidays but instead it started with a genuine message of kindness. It was authentic – I have been on the receiving end of so much kindness here already – and it really set the tone for what I hope will be an amazing year ahead. I am grateful.

As I begin preparing for the year ahead and for our students to arrive on Thursday, I want to ensure they leave their first class with me with that same feeling I had when I left the faculty meeting: that they are an important part of something special. To that end, I have designed the following Lego Challenge for all my students. I know they are going to want to touch and look and explore on day one (two students have just walked in while I am writing this and they are touching EVERYTHING) but I don’t want the first class to be about everything they can’t do. I also want to get across the ideas of iteration, collaboration, and communication.  Here is the challenge:

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Photo by Philippe_Charpentier on Flickr
  1. Take legos from the tables and build something that represents you. It could be a model of something or something abstract. It could be in your favorite color or many colors. It is a symbol of you.
  2. Put finished models on the table. Gallery walk and talk. What do you see? What do you think?  What are you wondering?
  3. Partner up with another student. Using ONLY the lego pieces from your two models, create a new model that represents the two of you.
  4. Put finished models on the table. Gallery walk and talk. What do you see? What do you think?  What are you wondering?
  5. Repeat in groups of 4, 8, 16 until we have one model that represents us as a group. All of the models from all of the classes will be on display in the Pit Window as they are created.

 

My friend and former colleague tried this out with her new leadership team. She tweaked the idea to suit the leadership scenario but reported back that by all accounts it was really successful. She didn’t do as many iterations as I will have to do (although we have small classes of around 16 so it shouldn’t be too bad). If you have done this kind of challenge before and can offer any suggestions, I would love to hear them! If you would like to do this challenge with your kids, please do! I would love to see your creations. Stay tuned for pictures of our models!

 

How are you starting the new school year?

 

 

21st Century, Change, Creativity, Innovation, Inspiration

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?

Approaches to Learning, Inspiration

How To Write A Great Blog Post

Step One: Don’t give your post a lame title 🙂

Our fourth grade students are blogging this year. It has taken a while to get them started but they are growing in their tech skills to be able to do this more independently. Now that they (mostly) have the mechanics of blogging sorted, I wanted to switch my focus to the content.

Up until now the posts they have done have been directed by their homeroom teachers or by me. As they head off on their own, I wanted there to be some sort of checklist in their room to help them. But more than a checklist. I didn’t want it to be purely mechanics. So I turned to two of my favorites: Simon Sinek and Peter H. Reynolds.

Simon STARTS WITH WHY so I did too. We talked about leading with WHY, following up with HOW, and concluding with WHAT. Typically a blog post from a student goes like this:

This is my video of my project.

Using the Sinek way:

I wanted to explain how I understand the connection between people and the impact on the environment. The best way for me to do this was using Adobe Spark Page so that I could add pictures, videos, and links and so I could make sure to tell all the things that I know and how I want to make a difference. I hope you learn from the Page that I have created.

How do you minimise your impact on the environment?

Typically the content speaks for itself but this simple WHY/HOW/WHAT routine helps give a snapshot into the purpose of the post and its content. The question at the end is to give the readers of the blog (mostly classmates) something to respond to in the comments.

My other favorite person is Peter H. Reynolds. He has collaborated on the 4C’s project. I love the 4C’s. In addition to checking other mechanics of their blog post (capitals, punctuation, categories) I wanted to challenge them to check their blog post against the 4C’s. Does their post (and thus the content they created) hit on one or more of the 4C’s? Massive bonus if it hits on all four!

Here is the blogging checklist I created (PDF download):

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21st Century, Action, Change, Innovation, Inspiration, Leadership

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.

 

 

Inspiration, Learning, Mindset, Reflection

At Least I Tried….Again.

A year ago, I published a post on this blog titled At Least I Tried.  It referenced a daily cartoon from Gaping Void that was accompanied by this text:

In light of yesterday’s post, this was (again) very timely for me.

But this post is also about the power of our words and how a few thoughtfully chosen ones can really help a person who needs to hear them. Within hours of posting, four different people from different parts of my life reached out with words that I needed to hear. It made me grateful for these people but it also made me think how important timely feedback is.

As educators, how are we supporting our students with our words? 

For EXCELLENT advice about feedback including what it is, what it sounds like, what it isn’t and how to use it effectively, take a look at this 2012 ASCD article by the late Grant Wiggins. His work is an amazing reminder of the talent and wisdom we lost when he died last year. “7 Keys to Effective Feedback” will also give you insight into the difference between feedback and advice, and feedback and grades/evaluation.  It is a great read.

Last year’s post also made me think about Seth Godin’s mantra to “Pick Yourself” – in reference to the idea that waiting for someone else to validate you is nonsensical. Time is precious and your ideas are worthwhile and waiting for someone to ask for them will get you nowhere.

So last night, I reached out to an author I admire with a suggestion for a potential collaboration idea based on a comment she made on Facebook. And I drafted a new book idea for building momentum in schools.

Opportunity is everywhere.  You just have to look – and leap.

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Photo Credit
Innovation, Inspiration, Leadership

Begin as you mean to continue…

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I came across this on Twitter just before (or after) the New Year. It seemed timely and thought provoking and I have been pondering calling this my ‘motto’ for the year ahead.

In many ways, this is how I do things. I tend to take massive bites and try and wrap my head around large ideas (and ideals) in a very ‘gung-ho’ manner. My aim is not greatness but more the desire to do something of significance and magnitude.

But what if I have been going about it all wrong?  Would smaller nibbles that potentially yield greater outcomes be a better option? Maybe making a difference one person at a time rather than expecting a revolution?

Which method would help add the most value?

A wise thinker I know said recently:

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

-Will Northrop What If Concepts

Is he advocating for a nibble approach? Or is he just reminding us that not every attempt to serve and add value will be done with fanfare and a loud support squad? And that some of our most important work might be the work done alone?

So which approach to take?

What will you do this year to serve?  To add value? To disrupt? To innovate? 

As for me, three separate opportunities recently were in my path. I put myself out there for all three and was summarily rejected. For all three. On the same day. This led me to question many things but then to reflect on the purpose for seeking those roles in the first place: to inspire, to lead, to learn, and to grow. Are these ideals now out of my reach? No. Just moved to a different (yet to be determined) context.

I then got three new opportunities (over different days this time!): to work on a project involving math videos for lower primary students, to share ideas on “Swamp Dwellers, Fence Sitters, and Go Getters” with a school developing a 1:1 iPad environment, and a book in the mail recommended by a parent in order to develop a personalized learning approach to how we do school.  Inspiring? Leading? Learning? Growing? Yes, on all counts.

I will continue to “choke on greatness” but also with the thought in mind that not all ‘greatness’ will be heralded by a crowd – or known to anyone at all for that matter.

21st Century, Inspiration

Slow Down!

After posting about Austin’s Butterfly, I entered into a discussion with a Twitter-friend:

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If you look, you’ll notice my tweet about a ‘slow-education’ was favorited:

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After following Joe, I checked out the website.  Similar to the concept of ‘slow food’ the principles of a slow education are:

  • Promoting deep learning in the context of a broad curriculum that recognises the talents of all students.
  • Believing that the quality of the educational engagement between teacher and learner is more important than judging student ability by standardised tests.
  • Supporting investment in education and in teaching as a profession as the essential moral foundation of society.

Further investigation led me to this video which is so cool and such a good reminder as to why we need to trust kids more, allow them more agency and freedom, and be prepared to let them take the lead in their own education.

I love the PYP Exhibition for this reason.  I am wondering though, if even this is something that we are sullying with our obsessive need to

1. be in control

2. checklist and rubric everything

3. keep learning on a tight, fixed schedule

What if…

  • ‘exhibition’ was a year round process
  • all units were designed with big ideas that allowed for individual inquiries
  • we created a space for kids to learn at their own pace

Imagine that school….

Change, Inspiration

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.