As a School we are committed to bringing specialists in to drive professional learning forward. Our philosophy is clear. We value the importances of learning and growing together. The only way to impact culture and engage in meaningful dialogue is when we are all affected by a learning force bigger than ourselves.
This year has been a challenging year in terms of teaming, collaborating and connecting with one another. We needed an outside force to bring ‘play’ and ‘imagination’ and the power of ‘story telling’ back to the centre of Who we are.
Enter Neil Farrelly. An experienced performing arts teacher who has predominately worked in International Schools. He is also an author and moves around the International School circuit to lead all sorts of workshops.
Our teachers were exposed to situations where they were thrown into expressing themselves, being spontaneous and creative and most of all laughing with each other. And didn’t we do just that! Laugh. We also needed to leave our egos, inhibitions and grudges at the door as Neil pushed, nudged and encouraged us to put our selves out there and be vulnerable again.
Learning how to deepen trust and collaborate has been a focal point for us as a Primary School. Everyone had a voice during the week and there were so many lessons to dissect for different reasons.
How we ‘set up’ the conditions for learning creates the tone and climate for Who we want to become as a caring and connected community. Neil was constantly setting it up for us and together we responded in ways that energized us and illuminated the importance of people, pedagogy and place.
Conversations were elevated and the scope for being part of an audience was just as important as the presenter on the black box. This challenged our thinking in the way we value our audience and how we listen and respect one another. Knowing our audience improves interactions and promotes positive intensions. Listening with our ears does not mean we’re effective listeners. We learnt to listen with our mind, eyes and heart.
One of the things we shared with teachers is that the ‘loudest’ person in the room or the one to be ‘on’ the black box does not always equate to leadership. We stated the opposite is true. We are all leaders and this can take many forms. As long as you are part of the learning and contributing in positive ways to impact ourselves and one another, then that is leadership too.
We often hear teachers talk about ‘looking through different lenses.’ Our professional learning week was all about Who we are when it comes to collaboration and Who we want to become using performing arts as the ultimate lens to look through.
This experience put our teachers in the shoes of our students. The ideas and connections went into overdrive from there. We were constantly ‘connecting up’ and the learning felt real and raw as we shared together.
We could have easily run a workshop on collaboration and why it is important… yada yada yada. This time we were listening to our audience and decided to go a very different direction to shake it up – and it worked brilliantly!
Neil is already coming back in May.
Sharing assessment pieces with students at the start of a unit, and coming back to them as the unit progresses, allows them to see what it is they need to do to achieve the desired outcome they set for their learning.
How many times have teachers not shared what it is they are looking for from the students until the last minute?
It sounds incredibly unfair to expect them to meet or reach a certain level in their learning if they are unaware of the expectations. By being transparent and sharing with them in good time – and sometimes co-writing assessment criteria with them – allows students to know what they need to do to rise up, develop plans and bridge the gaps in their understanding.
Students will always meet and exceed expectations if they have a clear vision of the learning behaviors and knowledge they need in order to be successful.
Learning always spikes when they know where they are going, or what they need to do to get there!
We need to stop talking about the 21st Century as if it is the future, we are already in it.
We need to stop trying to address new situations and challenges with old models and moulds.
If we are in any way serious about moving education forward, or even just catching up, we need to be in the business of breaking moulds. If we keep using the same old moulds, it doesn’t matter what we put into them… the end product will always be the same.
Here are some educational moulds that could do with being broken:
- Leadership – Leadership roles in schools tend to be very restrictive as there is usually only one possible way to advance if we are ambitious and wish to expand our scope of influence. The career path usually takes us further away from kids, further away from learning. This will inevitably make leaders less relevant! Why not break a few of those moulds and create alternative career paths for people so they can continue to be their best?
- Homework – For all the talk about homework, there is still remarkably little change. Thousands of teachers are still handing out homework to thousands and thousands of students that is still in the same mould as it was 5, 10, 15 and 20 years ago. We have moved on so…. let’s move on. We could even go so far as to break that mould and then simply not replace it!
- Reports – Another mould that we continue to use even though we know it isn’t the right mould. Break it, rethink it, redesign it, discard it… anything but carry on with the same.
- Classrooms – It is such an uncomfortable feeling to walk into a classroom (for any age) and find it to resemble classrooms we endured when we were kids. It is so refreshing, on the other hand, to walk into a classroom that breaks those moulds. Imagine a classroom with different seating options, different shapes and heights of tables, different lighting options, different smells and sounds… Teachers need to have a daily routine of asking themselves “would I like to be a student in my own class?”
- End-of-year class parties – just adding this as our school year comes to an end and I have been around every classroom and found mountains of junk food, packaging, throw-away cups and plates and wide-eyed over-indulged children who ate lunch only an hour beforehand. Time to think again people! Have a pool party like we did in Year 6 at NIST, have a class sports day, go out somewhere, bring someone in to do something different with them. Or, at the very least, cancel lunch on that day.
- Technology – Funny isn’t it, most of us actually think 21st Century leaning actually means using technology. We are mistaken. It actually involves, but doesn’t mean, using technology to make learning different to how it was before, not simply replicating what is used to be like but using a computer or other device instead. Use technology to break a few moulds, then it may serve a purpose. Be careful, we are in danger of creating some rather dull new moulds in the way we currently use technology.
- Committees – Instead of creating a few of those dull old committees and populating them with people who have to be in a committee, how about using an inquiry style of leadership and letting teachers determine what needs to be done to improve their schools and then empowering them to take action and make those improvements happen. Teachers who feel empowered to create change have a much better chance of nurturing students who feel empowered to create change.
- Timetables – The fragmentation of the school day is often done with little thought about the flow of learning or the time needed for genuine inquiries to take shape. Discrete lessons, certainly in primary education, may be close to obsolete. In fact, in my teaching practice over the last few years, I would struggle to give an example of a lesson that actually ended – many began, many had middles, but I can’t think of any that had an end. And, I wouldn’t want them to!
- Meetings – Any time any person is running any meeting, they should consciously try to make it unlike a meeting. This is really hard, the meeting is a very strong mould! But, if we can just approach them with the determination to chip away at the mould we will start to create something different.
- Professional development – Throw some money at it, get on a plane somewhere, sit and listen to someone, take away one or two things, implement one of them, share nothing. All too often, PD falls into that trap. Great for getting around the world, meeting people and making connections… don’t get me wrong. Hopeless for moving a school forward. Even bringing in big names and filling rooms with teachers can sometimes have little or no impact. Good professional development should have a sustainable impact on a school’s culture of learning and to do so it needs to be dynamic and multi-faceted. A model that we are experimenting with and getting a lot of success is bringing in practitioners, people who still teach, and setting them up to have an effect on the teaching and learning in the school in multiple ways – team-teaching, demonstration teaching, helping with planning, working with parents etc… there’s lots of ways to do it. Give it a try!
- Learning – Yep, even learning is stuck in a type of mould. While doing a teacher appraisal today, I snapped a photo of this image that was on top of one of my colleague’s files – it pretty much represents the mould of teacher/student relationship that is being broken and needs to be broken more!
Anyway… enough from me. What moulds are you breaking? What moulds would you like to break?
Image from OKFoundryCompany on Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jamesoneil/
I was recently very fortunate to attend a keynote speech by Richard Gerver (@richardgerver) during the IB Annual Conference in Singapore.
One of Richard’s quotes that really resonated with me was:
“One of the most important things we need to do in education is get out more.”
This a short and simple statement but, like many short and simple statements, it asks many questions!
How often do we venture beyond the walls of our schools?
It’s funny… “field trips” are viewed as a special event and are done, in most schools, pretty rarely. In my school, for example, most grade levels have ventured out of the school only once. There are many reasons for this – costs and the fear of anything “happening” are often the biggest barrier. Indeed, I know of one IB school in Australia in which it is strictly not allowed to take students on field trips! How about that?
Yet, every time we take students outside of the school there are learning experiences above and beyond those we planned for:
- Genuine connections with the real world
- Improved sense of place
- Observations of people’s behaviour
- Improved ability to look, see and notice
- Rich language and conversation
- Emergence of prior knowledge and wisdom
- Natural curiosity
- Greater bonds between students
- Bursting the bubble by going somewhere new, expanding horizons
- Revealing information about students as individuals in different contexts
- … and more
You see, very often teachers have a limited understanding of the learning objectives that will be reached by taking the kids out somewhere. But, if we realize that everything is learning, everything is an opportunity to develop, everything is a formative assessment – from how well students behave in an art gallery, to how curious they are in a botanical gardens, to how well they talk to strangers at a market, to how they sit and eat during a picnic. It is all real learning.
How well do teachers know the world outside the school?
I work in an international school and, of course, you get all types. In Bangladesh, I worked with local teachers who had never stepped foot in the local markets – that was for servants to do. In China, I worked with people who detested China and refused to enter into society at all, purely frequenting expat restaurants and bars. In Thailand, I worked with people who spoke literally not a single word of Thai. In Vietnam, I work with people who go from school to home and back again over and over and over each day, week, month and year. Of course, there are the complete opposites in each school too – one of my colleagues here speaks the language pretty fluently and has covered nearly every corner of the country in his travels.
My concern is that we are, in these schools, teaching many students who live in a privileged bubble, our schools are often bubbles themselves and many teachers also live in a bubble. What are we teaching them then?
I find it fascinating to provoke people in international schools by asking what difference it would make to the curriculum if the school was suddenly picked up and dropped in a completely different country in a completely different city. Rather soberingly, in some ways, the answer would be “not much”.
What connections does the school have with the community?
Inspired by the stories of two-way community connections that come out of Reggio Emilia, I do wonder about how schools can become genuine parts of their local community. Like a watch, schools seem to have become a “single-function device” – kids get dropped off here and we teach them. How else do we serve our community though? Is student art displayed in local restaurants, shops and public places? Are the students encouraged to initiate projects that feed into and have an impact on the local community? Are the expertise and talent from the local community brought into the school to create those connections? Are the students visible in the local community?
It seems we are stuck in some rather tired looking moulds (schools excel at that!). We can break those moulds by getting out more, as Richard says.
How does your school do it?
We just returned from an overnight trip to the Creativity Center of Arts in Malindi, Mombasa. The previous 5 years (in Grade 5) students have been going to Tsavo National Park to learn about wildlife and sustainability. Being a new team member it was time to invigorate this trip and connect it to the Exhibition – time to power it up! Promoting and advocating change was difficult. Parents were confused and annoyed that their child would not be going to Tsavo. This line of thinking is quite dangerous. It actually reveals a little bit of the school culture and tradition that has lingered around here… but, I won’t dwell on that. While we were met with a lot of resistance, there was also some strong support coming from the other camp of parents who could see what we were trying to do. The other parents just needed to be educated, they needed to see the value in changing. In the end, we were able to make changes and it is our hope that this change remains till something better or more fitting can be offered. That is the main reason for change, right?!
The past week has been buzzing. We bonded. We listened to each other. We shared stories and observed students playing with ideas, tapping into their creativity and allowing their imagination to flow. In short, we saw another side that we would not have seen, unless we as teachers stayed true and were bold enough in pushing what we believed in.
So how did we organize and plan for this and then bring it back to the Exhibition?
Transdisciplinary Theme: how we express ourselves
We offered 6 different creative/expressive experiences. This is an example of Team 1. The other 6 Teams simply rotated through each experience.
The trip was balanced between creativity, The Exhibition (setting the scene) and bonding with one another though meaningful downtime.
Tuesday 4th of March
Time to relax and feel the space. We had one Exhibition session.
Wednesday 5th of March
We ran 3 art sessions and had 2 Exhibition Sessions. 3 Hours of downtime.
Thursday 6th of March
We ran 3 art sessions and had 2 Exhibition Sessions. 3 Hours of downtime. Honored student work in the gallery.
Friday 7th of March
We ran one session on pulling the pieces together.
I would be happy to email the full schedule to anyone that is interested.
Why did this work so well?
We gave students the room to explore, seek, observe, and just be. We were surrounded by nature and creative art pieces that adorned the resort from the moment you stepped inside to the very rooms you slept in. We were in it.
What did we achieve as a result of immersing kids in it?
I am confident in saying that ‘most’ of the kids have shifted in terms of how they see themselves as artists and as people.
It is like they have come back as different people. Ready to learn. And hungry to experiment with their ideas. We have introduced a book called the X-pand book. Essentially, it is a sketch book where they can draw, sketch and conceptualize their ideas.
During the sessions we talked about and listened to each other. We took them through a real process to play around with ideas and think about their convictions. Their convictions about what they believe, what is important to them and of the world around them and what they really care about.
It is much more powerful to add photos to illustrate this….. so here goes.
The students are writing down their experiences, then their reactions to those experiences, then thinking about which one mostly inspires them to take action and then the best way to express it.
The power of bringing in experts. Armando Tanzini is a real artist. It is his resort and he opened it up to us to use. He inspired and taught the students so much about art, in a way that we could not of done.
Students were thinking about what mattered to them and what they did during that day. This was very powerful.
Students started to defend and challenge each other on what matters to them. This really personalized their thinking as they had to communicate with one another.
Armando honored their work like real artists. he removed his own work from the gallery and put the students’ work in there. It was like the staging of the Exhibition and we hadn’t even started.
The point I am trying to bring out is that real learning is messy and sometimes you have to fight for it. We could have easily done the same trip from the year before, instead we demanded different. We kept the child at the center and in the spotlight of real teaching and learning. When things get hard whether that be from parents, teachers even administration stay with it. That is putting the kids first. That is the type of school I want to work in and be part of.
Does anyone want to share how they approach the PYP Exhibition?
I am just editing a posting by a new author on this blog, Tiffany Eaton (@votefortiff), and her words really reminded me of this very short piece Chad and I wrote a few years ago:
Believe in students
It is disturbing to hear teachers say things like “oh… my students won’t be able to do that” or “my students won’t understand that”. It is just not OK to think that way. Instead, believe that your students are capable of almost anything if you give them the chance and set them up for success. Adapt the way you teach in order to help them be successful. Break things down for them because you believe they will get there. Change your perception of what it is you want them to achieve, but don’t write off their chances of achieving it. If you do believe in your students, and make sure they know you believe in them, they will repay you a thousand times.
Wisdom. Being wise. Knowing what to do and doing it. Ultimately, that’s what we want our students to do. That’s what we want our students to be more like.
There is a great book I bought written by Dean Cunningham titled Pure Wisdom. Time Space Education heavily centers itself around simplicity. Keeping things simple as a way to get to what is important. Contained in this book are three parts:
1. Right Attitude
2. Right Practice
3. Right Understanding
Each chapter is only 2-3 pages long and has so much meaning. The insights in this book gives clarity and understanding by looking at how to think, act and be. It is a book with great power.
If you have been following our blog for a while, you will be familiar with Round Table Discussions. I have started this up again with real success. It is best used by observing how the kids are behaving and what they are up to in their learning. From there, I select a chapter that will help lift, expand and transform their learning.
We have a real problem in our class – consistency! We need to take the time to develop habits and routines, so that our commitments become a way of life. The conversations and the connections that they made to each other and themselves was truly special. The language they are using and the things they are doing has shown a clear change in who they are as people. Yes, it has helped them with their learning, but there is even more value as it has helped them organize their lives more effectively.
I would encourage any teacher to do something like this with their kids. This is the stuff they remember and more importantly connect with on a deep level.
Last week was all about commitment. This week it is all about stretching. Exactly what they need to work on. “When we’re comfortable we become stiff. We resist change. We learn nothing new, and we don’t grow. Dean Cunningham – Pure Wisdom