Chad Walsh and I recently ran two 3-day workshops at a school in the Netherlands. One of our goals was to leave several mantras behind that would help the leadership team and the faculty focus in on some of the main themes that revealed themselves before, during and after the workshops. One of those mantras was “connect up”.
Chad had picked this up while doing some work with Neil Farrelly, and we found ourselves saying it a lot as we explored communication, relationships and encounters within the faculty. Like in many schools, there had been some situations in which the encounters between colleagues had left one or more of them feeling down, disheartened, disempowered, disengaged, disappointed, disrespected… lots of “dis” words! The concept of connecting up really seemed to resonate as something that could create positive change in the school.
So, what does it mean?
Well, basically it means intentionally trying to make sure that all of your encounters lead to an upward connection, such as:
- feeling more empowered
- feeling uplifted
- feeling affirmed
- feeling more energized
- feeling more connected to someone
- feeling seen or heard
- feeling amused or cheerful
- feeling inspired
- feeling curious
- feeling excited
… the list could go on.
Obviously, it’s at its most powerful when everybody is setting out to achieve the same upward connections.
But, you can give it a go next week – see if you can monitor your encounters with other people and get a sense of what effect you might have had on them as a result. You could also gather some informal data about the effect the people you encounter have on you, and start thinking about how that might impact your mood, your mindset or your capacity to be at your best.
I know many people who have worked in many schools. A recurring theme in conversation and behaviour is an unwillingness, or inability to trust. A kind of protective wall, probably erected because of previous bad experiences.
I too have found myself silently uttering the negative mantra of “trust nobody” at certain times in my life, nearly always as a result of being “burned” by someone professionally in some way. But, even as I do that, I know that is not a good way to live. If we are all, or if most of us, are living that way in our schools then it means trust is absent from our culture. If trust is absent from our culture then it will become apparent to our students too – they don’t miss much you know! If it becomes apparent to our students it means we are modeling it to them. If we are modeling it to them it is more likely to become a thing for them too.
I’m not writing this post because I have the answer. Bestowing, investing, earning, denying and betraying trust are all complex parts in the bigger complexity of what it means to be human.
What I will say, however, is that there are things that can be done to create the conditions for trust to thrive in our schools. A quick search online, or reading a couple of books will show us that. The most important thing is that leadership teams in schools understand how much trust matters, how much having ways of getting along matters, how intensifying relationships can transform the work… and then setting out to make that a priority for them, and for all the protagonists in the school community.
The only way to make it a priority is to give it thought and give it time.
Unfortunately, I think that the idea of collaboration is very rarely understood properly by teachers of the PYP. For many of us, student collaboration has always meant “working in a group” and never really progressed any further than that. Part of the problem with this is our misguided belief that teacher collaboration means “planning in a group”, but more on that another time.
Ironically, it is our flagship student experience – the PYP Exhibition – that can be held responsible for our misconceptions about collaboration. It was always designed to be a “collaborative inquiry ” and so, to that end, teachers have been popping their poor students into groups in PYP schools worldwide every year. Doesn’t sound so bad, does it? Well, yes, its catastrophic for many of the following types of student:
- those students who end up being put in a group because there wasn’t a group based on their interest
- those students who end up being put in a group because the group they wanted to be in was “full”
- those students who always end up doing all the work in groups
- those students who always fade into the background while others take the glory
- those students who have always let others do the work because they lack confidence or skills
- those students whose interests and styles of learning are never quite the same enough for them to be in a group
- those students who make misguided group choices and regret it later
- those students who compromise their own identity just to be in a group
- etc… have I left anyone out?
When teachers create a finite amount of groups for the PYP Exhibition (often defined by a finite number of pre-determined things the kids can learn about) with a finite number of places in each group they are undermining inquiry from the word “go”. They are also pushing cooperation and not setting the scene for genuine collaboration to happen naturally. They are creating the conditions for conflict, frustration, bickering, divisive behaviour, sulking and competitiveness. We have all seen it.
When you remove this obsession with grouping from the equation completely and allow students to develop their own inquiries… a real, natural, diverse, dynamic and unpredictable culture of collaboration begins to evolve:
- you get partnerships and groups emerging at different times in the process based on a recognition of like minds or similar goals
- you get frequent, spontaneous collaborations taking place as students share information, exchange ideas or help each other with things
- you get collaborations happening between students and adults as teachers, parents and other members of the community get involved in the process
- you get collaborations between the students and students of all other ages who become part of the process
- you get collaboration happening by email, and online
- you get collaboration you never anticipated
Putting students (and all people) in groups and calling it collaboration is a mould that must be broken. We have been breaking that mould for a while now, and it works.
Why not give it a try? There’s no need to wait for the PYP Exhibition, after all… it’s just another unit of inquiry.
Myself and Chad are on our way to Phuket to spend a week at the wonderful, small, new school called The Gecko School. This is a cool story in itself, and one I will tell in subsequent postings this week.
However, I am going to look backwards first, to my time working in the city I sit in now – Bangkok – en route to Phuket.
I was here last week too, and bumped into a couple of ex-colleagues as I wandered around the city I both love and hate. We sat for a few minutes and analyzed the strange culture of one of my former schools – a place where innovative and “different” teachers tend to struggle. One of them casually came out with a statement about teachers who don’t share their ideas and try and glorify themselves by keeping hold of them and being secretive about how they teach. I nodded without really considering what was said. I only really thought about it afterwards, and it annoyed me because I was pretty sure it was a thinly veiled dig at me!
It is in the nature of ideas that sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. It is also in the nature of ideas that they are spontaneous and organic. Very often, one is not aware of how good an idea actually is until its happening! A strong teaching team is aware of what each other is doing in their classrooms. Student learning is public. Doors are open. Chats about learning are frequent, formal and informal. When you see something working in another classroom, your curiosity is piqued… you ask the students and teacher what they are doing, why they are doing it and how. You may ask the teacher to come and run a session in your class – or, even better, some students. Or you may just pop back, take a few photos and consider how, or even if, to adapt it to the way your own students and classroom culture operates.
It is not a problem caused by “Ideas People” not sharing their ideas. It is a problem of the people who have the ideas sharing them and sharing them and sharing them and sharing them and ending up being stigmatized because of their ideas. Having other people not think their ideas were valid, worthwhile, important, meaningful, realistic… but then when they see those ideas come to fruition, when they see those ideas become powerful, when they see a transformation in those students because of those ideas – that is when they announce that ideas were not shared. That is when the envy kicks in, that’s when it all turns around… because there’s no proof. There’s no proof that they didn’t hear that idea, see that idea, chat about that idea… but just didn’t think it was a good idea.
But there is proof that they didn’t do it. And there is proof that the teacher who did do it, did do it! And there is proof that their students’ learning was transformed because of it.
Sadly, in some schools, that is proof enough to damage a great teacher, to render one guilty of not being a “team player”. I am not sure that many people in schools have a very sophisticated understanding of what a team really is.
- So, if you are one of those “Ideas People”, be strong. Let your practice do the talking. People who are genuinely interested will show their interest in positive ways – make them welcome. They will be important allies when times get tough.
- And, if you are one of those people who keeps pointing your finger at “Ideas People” and copping out by saying they are not a team player, look to yourself first… that may well be the root of the problem.
Over the last few years, I have seen amazing teachers get dragged down and raked over the coals for “not sharing what they do”. This accusation is often made as a way of labeling a teacher as “uncollaborative” – a really serious crime in modern schools, it seems.
“I just don’t know what she’s doing… I wish she would share” they say.
And yet, it is often more about the person making the accusation than the accused.
By saying you don’t know what they are doing, you are basically admitting that you have made zero effort to be curious enough to find out! Weird.
But then, it does make me wonder about that sense of entitlement many teachers have… and a tendency to operate from a transactional perspective rather than a transformational one. How many times do you hear things like:
- “I would do more inquiry if my students were more curious”
- “I would use maths manipulatives if the school ordered more”
- “I would do play-based learning if we had more time”
- “I would take my students out there if there was more equipment”
- “I would do that if you show me exactly what to do”
“I would know all the wonderful things that teacher is doing if they shared them with me”
There is one, very quick, very easy and very powerful way to find out what people are doing. Go and take a look. Walk in the door. Speak to the kids. Listen in. Take some photos.
Its not threatening – it is flattering.
Let’s face it, most of the best teachers we know are not 100% sure what they’re going to be doing with their students until they are doing it. Also, most of those teachers do share their ideas with us during planning sessions… but other people often just don’t get it until they see it.
The best way to share is to show, not tell. The best way to have something shared with you… is to go and take a look for yourself.
Whose classroom are you going into today???
What really matters in life? We all hear this a lot. True.
I’m sure most of us could rattle off an extensive list of what really matters to us. Ultimately, it would boil down to a very small number of things. Family, happiness, and…..well, happiness.
It is so easy to get sucked into things which often sit on the circumference of what really matters. Think about the people and relationships in our life. Why is it that we sometimes treat them worse than complete strangers….. because we know they will always be there. Well, hopefully. This is quite telling and also really stupid. It tells me that people don’t really know what matters or even who matters. Now, let’s think about arguments we have with people. This includes colleagues, friends or family. The real reason the confrontation surfaced often gets lost, and you start fighting about other things. Things that have no connection or relationship to how the initial argument started in the first place. Vexing!
We need to make time for what matters. This requires a lot of effort and awareness. It is all about closing the chasm on what we know we should be doing against what we need to do more of.
This also applies to learning too. We should be asking our students this question every day. “What learning today meant something to you?” I wonder what responses we would get if we asked the students that at the end of each day. Let us make no assumptions about what they would say. Imagine the natural inquiry to extend and explore on the learning that mattered to them. Spending time on something they are on the edge of knowing to help construct their own meaning about learning.
Alright, now I need to bring this posting back to the center. The real purpose and motivation for sharing this points to human interactions more than learning (even though there is an obvious connection to learning). If people could focus on the things that really matter all of the time, our interactions and dealings with others would improve dramatically. If people dump problems, concerns, dilemmas or issues on you challenge it in a way that asks, does this really matter? At what point did things turn sour and what triggered it? People need to find alternative ways to communicate on what is really happening without judgment or ego. Be very clear about making a choice on what is at the center and focus on the ‘one thing’ that needs to be addressed. Stick with it until there is a resolution or a conclusion. Don’t get pulled into the things that end up making us feel overwhelmed or inadequate, either indirectly or directly. A lot of what other people dump on us often says a whole lot more about them, than it does us. Step back, take a breath and take stock of the things that deserve your attention right now. I challenge anyone who is reading this to try it for just one day. Observe any noticeable change in how you feel and/or make others feel too in the process. Challenge people to be better and have the same expectation for yourself. What really matters?
I’m going to attempt use this blog to document all my planning, both before and as everything happens, as I work with my Year 6 students through the PYP exhibition process. I’m going to call this “Blanning”… because “Blagging” is just too honest!
Tomorrow, I’m going to use the Nature lens of the Compass. Through the Nature lens, students are asked to consider the implications of their issues from the natural perspective. So, for example, making links between local beggars and deforestion and loss of homes in Myanmar and Cambodia.
I was thinking of having quite an open-ended day, with students making choices of a number of ways to consider the links between issues and nature. But then I thought it might be good to have a series of finite activities that need to be done within a specific timeframe and then shared and reflected on before moving on to something very different. Perhaps:
- Students could use expressive materials like pastels and charcoal to create an impulsive abstract piece of artwork based on their thoughts about their issues in the green context. I will limit them to using only shades of green and one other significant colour. I got the idea from a session my Dad did for the teachers at the Green School Bali: http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=199675&id=114095042424&ref=mf
- Creating quotes, locating quotes, sharing quotes: This would be the search for existing and student-created quotes that illustrate connections between their issue and nature. They will have a set amount of time to find and develop their quotes, and then the same amount of time again to think about how they will share it.
- Green Data: Up-to-date facts and figures that will back up student ideas, arguments and conclusions. Again, they will have a set amount of time to find and collate their data, and then the same amount of time again to think about how they will share it. Emphasis will be placed on producing infographics here, probably leaning heavily on using the SmartArt features of Microsoft Word, or paint.net for the more technologically advanced.
- I’d like to end the day with a lot of talking, walking and looking at what the kids have produced. I’ll try to provoke conversations and play devil’s advocate a bit. Then, I’ll get them to identify the “Key Connections” between their issue and the Nature lens of the Compass. They may blog those by comments on a posting. They may display them visually in the room, they may do both… we’ll see what happens tomorrow!
So, during all of this – hopefully – the Compass Guides will be dropping in whenever they have 5 or 10 minutes to spare and taking a look at what the kids are thinking, what directions they’re moving in and what ideas they have for them.
I've shamelessley created another wordle for this posting by copying pasting the words in the posting into wordle and hitting "randomize" several times. So simple, so good to look at. But... they can't be used all the time.
It’s hard to make exact plans for the next stage of our exhibition as we’re never fully sure the school will be open or that several students will take extended holidays. However, it will be a priority for us to look at the students’ issues through each lens of the Compass in myriad of ways. I ‘m thinking:
- Hi-quality image searching, seeking images that are entirely relevant, powerful and large file sizes for added manipulation and poster design. I get the students using the Creative Commons image search as they have share-alike copyrights which means we can use them as long as they are credited.
- Quotes from media reports and opinion
- Data in the form of infographics – see http://www.coolinfographics.com/
- Use Wordle to create visuals of frequently used words in media stories, blog comments, interviews (see the examples in the slideshow that I created by pasting the text of this posting into Wordle).
Students will spend the day looking at their issue solely from the perspective of one lens and will be responsible for sharing their findings throughout the day. Compass Guides are invited to drop-in to the classroom at any time during the day in order to give feedback, provoke ideas and familiarize the students further with actually talking to different people about their issues.
Technology will play a major part in each day. I’m imagining students will be:
- Searching the Internet for images
- Reading online news and reports
- Watching Youtube videos
- Reading or writing on the 6SS Blog
- Recording video using Flip cameras
- Making calls on Skype
- Designing pages using Word
- Creating infographics using SmartArt or paint.net
- Taking and manipulating photographs
- Using Prezi or PowerPoint to deliver short presentations.
- Developing their own big picture/small picture tasks for other people
Basically, the students will be exploring issues with a very clear focus: Nature, Economy, Society and Well-Being. Have a close look at the original Compass developed by Alan Atkisson.
I’ve been thinking of an idea that might make me and my colleagues play to our strengths for the rest of the year. I think we need to spend some time working out who we are as people, what our interests and strengths are and what we are terrible at or unwilling to do. If we can become more aware of our competences and incompetences, we can work more fluidly and allow each other the space, time and trust to develop things from our own perspective and expertise as part of an honest team. For example, I am a pretty disorganized person. I start a lot things that I don’t finish and I have trouble with keeping records. I need reminders about events and about deadlines for things that are not immediately important – in my opinion! But, will I change? Should I change? Do I have to change? These are my fundamental weaknesses, but I have many strengths too. Rather than try to eradicate my weaknesses or enforce that I do things in a way that does not come naturally, should I be trying to use my strengths as much as possible safe in the knowledge that there is support for the weaknesses?