When there is confusion, a lack of vision or an absent identity we have found writing a purpose statement is a powerful way to seek clarity and simplicity.
Constructing a purpose statement empowers people to make a strong, unwavering and resolute conviction about who we are. It makes things crystal clear about what we stand for and what we offer – in the way of teaching and learning. It gives definition and guides decisions. It communicate to the community what our values are.
In short, it unites people and brings them together when things become murky.
This is our purpose statement for the PYP Exhibition. Our teachers, parents and students know why this is important. It is written together to help us be the best we can be – our effort and action coming together.
Imagine if schools adopted this same approach for their own Mission Statements and lived up to it.
It’s time to redefine this process as we owe it to our students.
We have just developed one of these for our Early Years Centre and about to go through this process with our EAL teachers. This is how you build a community and develop a positive culture to know what we do and why we do it.
- What has become normal in schools?
- What has become normal in life?
- How much of what is normal is acceptable?
- How much of what is normal is harmful or destructive?
- How much do we perpetuate the normal in schools?
- How do we challenge the normal in schools?
- How do we encourage our students to challenge the normal?
BIG questions. But, if we are not answering them in the world of education then where and when will they be answered? Can we afford not to answer them?
Thanks to Dominic Wilcox for challenging us to reinvent normal.
Thanks to Katherine Williams for sharing the video about Dominic.
Thanks to Twitter for connecting people’s minds.
I recently gave this talk at the Learning2 Conference in Manila. What I am basically saying is that things need to change, that we need sudden and urgent change in the world and that schools – if we stop deluding ourselves – can be a powerful source of that change.
There are many things about life today that we passively continue to accept:
- that success = money
- that waste is OK
- that pollution is inevitable
- that destruction = progress
- that new is best
- that media = truth
- that Hollywood represents social/cultural ideals
- that school = work
- that education is the key
- that its OK for technology to lead the way
- that we have no control over the future
I could go on… its really interesting to start a list like that! However, its more interesting, and indeed sobering, to look at education and schools through those lenses and to see just how much we perpetuate the things in the list, to see how much we transfer those ways of thinking to kids.
In my talk, I use the metaphor of moulds… and I think I can take this idea one step further by saying that moulds help us to play it safe. I think schools persistently play it safe – we go about our daily existences in fear of persecution from parents, governing bodies, governments, testing companies, universities, media companies, big business, religious groups etc… As a result, not only have we become passive, we have also become rather bland.
I challenge any school to seriously reflect on its impact on society. Has it made a positive impact? Has it made a negative impact? Has it made any impact at all? What is it doing about that?
Everybody goes through school. People’s school “careers” define their futures. So, what kind of futures are we defining? Do we know? Can we be bothered to find out? Are our alumni making a positive impact on society?
These are HUGE questions. But, surely its time to start trying to find out, trying to discover what our actual impact is as perpetuators of the status quo or as agents of change.
I don’t know about you, but I’m not happy with the status quo.
There are many exciting things emerging in education at the moment.
All sorts of educational big-wigs are blowing us away with their theories about how learning should be. Revolutionary ideas about the power of allowing students to work on the things that really interest them or the intrinsic motivation of allowing kids to focus on making, doing and creating are eloquently being delivered in high profile keynote speeches.
And, it seems, school decision-makers are listening.
This is, of course, exciting.
But, for many of us… those teachers who have been giving our students these opportunities for many years – and often getting in trouble for it – the feelings are mixed. There is a sense of frustration, and exhaustion, among those of us who have been swimming against the tide for so long. We cannot help thinking of all those times we got called in to be told to “stop doing that stuff because the other teachers aren’t doing it”. We cannot help lamenting our fallen colleagues – those who were so good that their difference from the masses led to their downfall. We cannot help feeling sad about leaving schools we have given up on and moved on, again, in the hope of being surrounded by more like minds. We cannot help thinking about all those “nearly” teachers who almost developed the strength to teach differently, but didn’t quite make it.
Sounds like sour grapes, doesn’t it? At times like these, teachers like these face a serious dilemma. Do we say “I told you so”? Do we react negatively and pompously and become a bit of an ass about it? Do we turn in on ourselves, because that has been our survival strategy for so long?
No. We are surfers… and the big wave we have been waiting for is approaching. Yes, we have been honing our skills on all the small waves on the inside for a long time – and we’ve been bashed about a bit in the process. But, our wave is finally on the way… and we need to re-position ourselves, make sure we are in the right place and enjoy the ride.
We deserve it.
Photo by Jeff Rowley
I recorded this bit of audio to try and remember my thoughts as I reflected on watching my kids play this weekend. I did start typing it up, but the more I listened to the recording, the more I realized it would just be better to upload it to Soundcloud and share it that way!!!
How do you create space for, and in, the learning?
The main aim of the language arts presentations was to get a good understanding of our current beliefs and practices about language teaching and learning so that we can look at how they compare with PYP philosophy.
One of the main constants in every team’s presentations was a belief in “integration”, “transdisciplinary teaching” and “language as a vehicle for inquiry” (see the images below).
These beliefs are clearly aligned with the first two sections of the incredibly helpful chart on p. 71 of “Making the PYP Happen:
So, the next step is to see if our practices are just as aligned as our beliefs. The plan is to do this through planning sessions using this diagram from page 4 of the Language Scope and Sequence Document:
We will do this in the planning session following the initial planning of the unit of inquiry by which the following would normally have been covered:
- Cross-examination and clarification of the central idea
- Outlining desired conceptual understandings
- Consensus on assessment tools and/or strategies
At this point, it is appropriate to look at what receptive language will be needed/developed in the unit for students to receive and process information, and the expressive language that will be needed/developed in the unit or students to express their understanding. The outcome of this should be:
- Clear transdisciplinary links between the unit and language, i.e. language as a genuine “vehicle for inquiry”
- Clear areas for stand-alone focus
- Clear direction for skills development
- Clear focus for Learning Support and ESL Teachers
Year 5 stepped up to the front of the Theatre and were instantly very honest with their audience. They told us that the process of working towards this presentation had been very difficult for them, that they had struggled through it, that there had been tensions, flare-ups and strong emotions as they tried to establish common ground in the area of Language Arts.
Then, they outlined their conclusions in the following way:
Engaging: Students are interested and curious about language arts. They feel connected and understand the power and value in language as a way to communicate with the wider world. Students will more likely be engaged when learning is relevant and connected to something that they can use and apply.
Intention: There needs to be a focus, something that awaits the students on the other side of the lesson or learning experience. If there is a clear intention, one that the students is aware of then they will know what they are working towards.
Experiences: A wide range of experiences are given for students to explore and experiment with in their learning. The experiences need to be balanced and offer something different. Be creative and innovative in the ‘how’ of teaching and learning.
Evidence: Evidence of learning is really important. Students need to be honest about where and who they are as learners. Evidence of learning needs to come in many different forms. It is most powerful when it is from then and they have arrived at that conclusion on their own.
Empowering: This is where a lot of trust comes in. Students feel as if they are in control of their learning and they are responsible for it. This is where they can really pursue their own passions and interests and take their learning to the next level.
Explicit: Teaching and learning needs to be a process. A process that is at their level and allows the students to construct their meaning by adding on to past lessons and experiences.
The Year 3 Team used this Domino game to get us thinking about their language beliefs and practices. Here are their instructions:
Here’s the answers to the game! When the Year 3 Team shared the answers to the game with us we all really appreciated the simplicity and clarity of their message. They all took turns to share their beliefs and spoke very briefly and concisely about each point.
The presentations were kicked off this time by the Early Years team and a variety of guest performers. They had made a very professional video in the form of a breaking news story about the recent high demand for teaching positions in Early Years! The video was extremely funny but also set out key points about how language is taught and learned. Viewers were challenged to complete a puzzle in order to have a chance of working in EY and the main message of the puzzle was “It’s all about language”. The team feel very strongly that everything they do is about language development, there are no moments in Early Years teaching and learning that do not involve language enrichment.
Here is their video: