There are some great minds out there in different circles. Leaders and teachers doing creative things to explore and examine Who we are and Who we want to become. You just have to look at the steady stream of books being published about the importance of people, relationships, community and culture development in schools, and for life in general.
It’s all great stuff!
For inquiring minds, it creates time and space for contemplation and introspection. However, this is only where the seed is planted. The real growth happens when the germination of ideas breaks through the soil to reveal one’s conscious effort and energy to put words into action. Not only to learn more about Who we are, but to understand why we are the way we are.
It all starts with the notion of ‘Working From Within.’ We need to work on ourselves before we expect our culture or community to change. The climate of our culture, environment and community is a direct reflection of who we are as individuals.
Challenge: Over the course of a week, when chatting with people about a concern or issue do an audit on whether the person you’re talking to is doing one of two things:
- Looking at external factors or forces to explain or make sense of how things could be better; or,
- Looking within to explain or make sense of how things could have been handled differently.
There are many ways you can view the above circles depending on the situation and context.
How can we increase the circle of “What I say to other people,” in the way of honest feedback or challenging negativity without placing pressure or straining the relationship?
While all these books tell us to have radical candor, give feedback, be open and honest…. it’s all great stuff, it really is. In theory. In practice, when feedback is given or there is challenge, the reality is, that after such an interaction, things shift. In the end, we are human.
How can we truly express the things we want to say or more importantly need to be said with grace and honesty, in a way where others understand and the relationship deepens?
We all know of people who are forward and have a steady stream of consciousnesses. We all know of people, who live in their heads and keep it locked there. And then there is everything in-between.
Right now, it feels like (it is like) we are always skimming the surface. We talk a big game, yet we’re constantly traversing and balancing our weight on a tight rope filtering through these circles.
Is it just in schools that it is like this? A lot of us have never left school in the way of a being a student and then coming back as a work place. I wonder what it is like in the police force, hospitals, business firms, law office, construction site……….
It’s not what we say to people, it’s how we say it. Easy to say, more difficult to do.
Developing a culture starts with you. Parts to the whole. What is one thing you’re going to do to be true to your inner thoughts?
Traditionally our school had Grade-level Leaders with varying degrees of success. Basically, it wasn’t working. The role was more clerical and ticking boxes as opposed to empowering teachers and challenging them to work within to inspire others. Last year we moved away from this model and introduced a Primary Leadership Team with 4 key areas that were seen as timely priorities in the school. This model liberated our teachers and gave them permission to collaborate together….. yet there was still something quite tangible missing from both models.
Enter the Helix – Leaders of Learning. The words ‘innovative,’ culture,’ and leadership kept emerging in our professional conversations. How are we going to align ourselves so what we say, do and value has meaning? It was time to think creatively of an approach that transcended all roles, positions and personalities. A new beginning was needed to build true unity and a positive and professional learning community that inspired us to offer our students something unique with a focus on ‘experiencing learning.’ People are people through other people – African ideology.
Helix Model – Leaders of Learning
The Helix is represented by 3 strands to help us determine the essence of what we wanted to emphasize and value in our school.
Strand 1: Leadership – Moving the school forward and impacting Teaching and Learning.
Strand 2: Innovation – Valuing creativity, inquiry and ideas that lead to meaningful action.
Strand 3: Who we are shared inquiry – Developing a positive and professional culture that provides opportunities to empower.
Everyone in the Primary school was invited to ‘pitch’ their ideas, showcasing their talents and building a strong connection within and beyond our community. What was the outcome? A deep sense of excitement, innovative thinking and a sense of identity where Teachers and Instructional Assistants felt like they all had a voice. Together we had an opportunity to take authentic action in ways that spoke to our interests and strengths….. as teachers and as people. Our diverse and dynamic skills, talents and knowledge led us to rethinking some old habits.
Our VIS Leaders of Learning – Helix Model
Makerspace – Allan is a boat builder and carpenter by trade. This allowed him to bring in his talents and create a makerspace culture beyond the classroom. Allan is working with our Lao sister-school in building a treehouse. He is also offering boys and dads workshops on the weekend.
Lao Home-School Partnerships and Learning – Linda has shown real interest in trying to understand why our Lao students underperform. She is conducting an inquiry into this through action research as a way to collect data and plan strategically on how we can better support our Lao students.
Peer to Peer Professional Learning and Collaboration – David has been plagued working in dysfunctional teams. His pitch was centered around on bringing people together and exploring ways to offer people time to observe others, plan goals and inquire into their own collaborative practice. This has been widely accepted and everyone is respecting the process of working and learning together. The Primary Team has embraced the importance of working beyond our immediate teams.
Challenge and Extend – Virginia is passionate about all learners. As a learning support specialist she wanted to explore the other end of the learning spectrum – the high flyers. She is inquiring into how to best challenge and extend students who demand to be taught differently. Virginia will be running workshops for our school community and is looking to connect with other teachers and experts worldwide.
Digital Citizenship – Missy and Graham are always on their devices. Made perfect sense to them to lead and inquire into Common Sense Media and how best to integrate this with daily use for our students and educating parents on how to find a healthy balance and be responsible users as ranging from digital natives to novice users.
EAL – Olivia is an advocate for EAL students. As our demographics change and with an ever increasing enrollment of Japanese, Korean, Chinese and Lao students as a school we need to prepare ourselves to adapt. Olivia is leading the way for our ‘Sheltered Instruction’ model to support our learners.
Mathematics – Jill and Olwen are numbers people. They are invested in the inquiry process of running a year-long maths inquiry throughout the school. Our shared central idea: “Exploring patterns and solving problems empower us to think mathematically” is bringing everyone together. Our conversations a centered and teachers are engaged by this initiative.
Language – Ian and Angie wanted to reveal their talents by developing and strengthening our approach to Language. They lead workshops for teachers and parents and have been pivotal in leading planning sessions with teachers. They have developed the ‘trident model’ of language.
Lao Culture Connection and Professional Learning – Mai, Noi and Lae are from our host-country, Lao. Having Instructional Assistants rise to this challenge proved to us as a school that we value our Lao host-country connection. Mai, Noi and Lae will be leading professional learning and goal setting sessions, connecting with a local teaching college where training teachers can experience practical training and they are planning Lao cultural experiences with teachers as part of our Who we are unit of inquiry. All Who we are units have a 4th line of inquiry which is connected to our host-country. This is an opportunity for us to take actions and service in our community which is lead by and through our Instructional Assistants. We are so proud of our Primary community. We have amplified ‘teacher voice’ and they are leading our school forward.
We believe we’ve have found the right ingredients when it comes to developing trust and deepening relationships because we have revealed and embraced talents (both unknown and known) to us. The power is giving people time and space to lead others. This has revolutionized and unlocked the power in ‘saying what we mean, and meaning what we say.’
This is just the beginning for us as a school. This is our inquiry to learn from. The mood is positive and people feel valued. It is an exciting time for us to develop a culture that cares, energizes and recognizes talents that goes beyond our school walls.
Starting a new role is exciting. The thrill of doing something new and different is incredibly grounding and sobering.
Taking that next step out of the classroom and stepping back into even more classrooms is a very humbling privilege.
I sat in my ‘office’ for the first time a few days ago and must admit I was feeling quite overwhelmed – in a good way.
“Where do I even begin?”
I felt blank and the urge of panic was creeping in and about to take a hold on me.
I have an inordinate amount of things to do and don’t even know where to start. So, I sat there in that moment to quiet myself and regain some composure.
Anytime Sam and I have ran or lead anything to do with teaching and learning there is still one we’ve always started before pedagogy. The physical space. This is often overlooked yet it sets the tone for everything you do.
Create the space you want to be in, feel, think and do. Let that space reflect and be an extension of who you are and what you want to be about.
I did just that….. moved furniture, emptied old draws, put folders aside, made a list of the things and furniture I would need to make the space show who I am and what I value.
From this point on, I was able to chip away at all the other things. I felt comfortable and there was a sense of calm and peace in the way I approached that endless list which buried me before.
As we all start again a new year, whatever your position or role, start with the physical space first.
What does your space say about you?
What mood do you want to create?
How will others feel when they are in that space?
How does your space allow you to do things even better?
Are students part of your thinking and designing? How?
Now, before you do anything else, think about the space you want to be in. It is just like your bedroom, you spend just as many hours in it, yet you are actually awake. Make it special!
I have just been in our Grade 2 classrooms. In our school we often talk about the “flow” of inquiry, the “momentum” of inquiry and how we can create the conditions for those in our “units” of inquiry.
What I just witnessed in Grade 2 tells me that they are currently creating those conditions. Students are so involved in what they’re doing that we, with our timetables, starting and finishing times and other agendas are literally interrupting them. We are breaking their flow. We are stopping their momentum.
And that’s fantastic!
These are 7/8 year old children. They have been through a process of reflecting on their lives so far, their strongest memories, the emotions they associate with those memories, choosing which memories to focus on, considering different forms of expression and selecting which form of expression to use to share stories about their memories. Pretty complex, eh?
Now, they are in varying stages of putting together their works of art – dances, paintings, drawings, lyrics, animations… all sorts. When you walk into any of their classrooms – which have actually evolved into art studios – you are immediately struck by the variety and the palpable atmosphere of purposeful activity.
Some of the students are not in their classroom. Some are in the PE department using the space and getting advice on choreography from PE Teachers. Some are in the Art room using materials and getting advice from the Art Teacher. Some have gone to the music room to seek out guidance on song composition.
Learning should look like this a lot of the time. Students accessing the variety of spaces and expertise that schools possess. Students working on something that is highly motivating and of their own design. Teachers working as connectors, advisers, referrers and consultants.
And, most of all, students should be disappointed when they have to stop what they’re doing… that’s when you know they mean it!
Even better though, would be greater flexibility so that those interruptions happen less.
Our Grade 2 students are currently learning about emotions and emotional intelligence. They went on a field trip to the cinema to see Inside Out and the movie has inspired some very interesting thinking.
Cathy, one of the G2 teachers, gave her students a blank piece of A3 paper and asked them to draw what’s inside their heads. She got back a combination of ideas from the movie and original ideas developed by the students. This kind of open task brings out creative ideas, misconceptions, interesting language and unique interpretations that can drive inquiry in ways that teachers would not be able to predict. All too often, teachers provide their students with closed tasks designed to elicit predetermined responses that the teacher determines to be right or wrong, good or bad. When they design ways that create space in the learning for the students’ genuine responses, things are very different!
When I saw the drawings, I immediately wondered what it would be like to photograph them, put them in one of our green screen studios and film the students inside their own heads taking us on a trip around what’s inside their heads! This extended the task into new territory as the students stretched their ability to explain their thinking and to coordinate both sides of their brain as they watched themselves live on the monitor!
So, next time you’re trying to think of a way to find out your students’ ideas, thoughts or feelings, don’t design a closed set of questions to which you can anticipate the answers. Instead, design something open that creates space for them to release information that you couldn’t predict – it’ll be much more interesting.
This video represents a significant moment for its creator, Mimi. As a Grade 5 student, she has been showing tons of quiet potential all year… but this video symbolizes her emergence as a genuine go-getter, full of confidence, talent and modest precociousness.
She wrote the poem, sought out some advice on how to produce a video that wen with her message, learned how to do the green screen technique from Mr. Frank and then completed the project independently.
The video has wowed everyone in the school, within five minutes of sharing on Twitter it was used in an IB Diploma TOK lesson (see their responses to Mimi here) and it has been used as a provocation for the PYP Exhibition in several schools. When this happens with a student’s work, it is incredibly empowering for them.
Here are the words of the poem:
Trapped in Gold
It was dark
I was trapped
I was trapped in Gold
In this place of darkness
Where everyone seems to be
There was me
Finding a way out to be free
The human mindset not working properly
Greed,Selfishness is all I can see
Swiping and swiping my card constantly
Until I realized my card was trapped with me
Hard works pay seems to go so fast
When your life is on hold and it all seems so sad
The sensation of new things
Fills me up with joy
But inside I am upset and destroyed.
All this credit,loan and lending
The life we live is full of spending
It is a cycle that is unending
And we are all pretending.
They make us seem like fools
Sell us tools to make us feel good
Buy the new version to stay on trend
But it’s just another hole
For us to mend
Everything just clutter
But just with money in the gutter
It’s all just an illusion
Nothing but a trick
After you spend, makes you feel sick
There is full of gluttony
It is ruining your life
Can’t you see?
Our lives are a mess
I have to confess
But it’s time to speak up
Don’t let our world corrupt
They suck you in with weird solutions
And all that is left
Are minds with confusion
There used to be excitement
And laughter in the park
But now its all dark,no footstep,no mark
Holes in my shoes
Swinging on the swings as high as I can
It felt like I was a kid superman!
How can you be a good dad?
When your child is entertained by an iPad
So next time
Spend your money wisely
Don’t be a fool
You’re trapped in Gold
The Grade 5 students at ISHCMC are currently artists. For their How we express ourselves unit, each students is working on two significant pieces of art – one optimistic and one pessimistic.
This video shows one student discussing her work, her techniques and her thought-processes. This student is utterly engaged by what she is doing and has a very deep understanding of why she is doing it.
By using very simple mindfulness practices and routines, you can start to develop genuine independence and positive habits with students. Giving them the skill to walk into a room, find a space, relax, slow down and begin to focus on what they will be doing – and why – puts them in control of themselves and their learning.
Taking this bit of time at the start makes everything that comes after it more effective, more student-centred and more indicative of who they really are as learners.
In this video, Chad’s class are in the middle of a creative – and messy project. He is hoping to see his students take complete control of everything they do and has seen the power of helping them find and create the right mood before each session.