As a previous Grade 5 Coordinator, I know that one of the biggest responsibilities is leading planning meetings. So much pre-planning goes into this process. Having to think about the best way to approach, angle and guide this process is challenging, yet also exciting! While I have a clear plan on how the learning could go, it is my role to provoke the thinking so we can shape our understanding together.
The most successful way to bring great thinking to the table is to create the opportunity for it. This happens in the way of running a retreat – a retreat for planning, a retreat for ideas to emerge. We have always done this as part of the PYP Exhibition unit. The team has always walked away from these retreats making concrete and meaningful connections and a shared vision on how to drive the Exhibition unit together. We get so much from running this and the protocols of thinking that come with it, to drill down to the core of our ideas and understanding.
But, why only for the Exhibition unit?
In my new role, I have a much wider responsibility to ensure that 7 teams are planning relevant, significant, meaningful and challenging units. At our school, we write ‘reports’ at the end of each unit. The trap that we were falling into each and every time was that when we arrived at the beginning of a new unit, teachers were ill-prepared and making things up on the fly. This is called reality – our reality. Having our 40 minute planning meetings were simply not cutting it. This is because teachers had finishing up on writing reports, following through with assessments to gauge student’s understanding of the unit along with all the other practicalities and formalities of day to day teaching. This simply was causing teachers more stress and angst and ultimately, students were suffering as a result.
To this end, we have now introduced 1/2 day planning retreats for each team. These retreats happen 2 weeks before the next unit commences. This gives teachers time to think about the learning, engage in conversations early and get energized about possibilities and ideas.
What does this look like?
It really is pretty simple. For one whole week and 2 days for the following week, each grade level will have planning time. Cover is arranged for their classes and we are able to dive into those deep conversations that simply can’t happen in a 40 minute time frame. By the time teachers settled into the 40 minute planning meeting, teachers knew that students were about to walk through those doors again and any momentum worth running with is lost. It is this piecemeal approach that was getting in the way of designing the best provocations and ideas around the central idea.
The impact – what are are teachers saying?
Teachers now seek me out when the next planning retreat is and get in early to pick an ideal day for them. They feel more confident about that first week as things have been thought through. They can focus on writing their reports (well and thoughtfully and honestly) knowing that there is clarity, vision and understanding on how to move the learning forward for the up and coming unit.
Students are the clear benefactors in this process. Teachers are more focused. And as for me, I get to spend more time in classes, to see the planning transfer and transpire into the taught curriculum. Nothing better when a plan comes together!
The small cost in organizing ‘cover’ for teachers is well worth the investment. Give it a go!
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!
When I left my job in Manchester and moved to Amsterdam, I was an IB novice. Over the next few years, ISA (the International School of Amsterdam) sent me on IB workshops in Vienna, Istanbul, Gothenburg, Barcelona, Geneva, and probably one or two other places I’ve forgotten about.
But it was on a week-long trip to Harvard to participate in Project Zero’s 2002 Summer Institute (http://www.pz.harvard.edu) that I started really getting my head around constructivist ideas about education, and realizing that my own approach needed to change – in ways for which there seemed to be no clear models, at least in my subject area.
My own English teachers in high school were interesting enough, with their literary passions, pet theories and intriguing (to us) private lives. They were OK. Pretty good in fact. When I taught in England for about twenty years, I was probably about as good as they were. I hope so, anyway.
But what I was being exposed to now made me think that wasn’t enough. Nobody was trying to pretend that they had all the answers. But I now had some at least some of the questions. I was being given all kinds of encouragement to think – and rethink – about exactly what I profess to do.
I found myself focusing not so much on how I teach, but on what. Or to be more precise, on what I teach as the essence of how I teach. I’d always put plenty of creativity into my teaching, though without, as I now realize, having any particularly coherent analysis of what I was doing. I thought my job was to inspire, to encourage, to correct. You know – to teach. To expand minds and tighten skills. To get kids reading, and writing better. All of that. And none of that is wrong, of course. But in pursuing these general aims, I have to admit I could be a bit instinctive (ie random!) in my reference points. I brought in texts I cared about, used the reading I’d done and the passions I’d developed.
I’d taught bright kids at top English independent schools – it was fairly easy to be OK in that context, generally a pleasure to share what you knew and cared about. But the constructivist model of learning I was introduced to through the IB and Project Zero constituted a powerful, relevant and grounded theory. It is how we learn. Knowledge cannot be transferred like a digital file; it has to be constructed afresh by every individual mind. In that sense we are all self-taught. To ‘teach’ anybody anything, I had to get involved on that level, and get much more into the perspective of my students. My job was not primarily to tell, or even to share, but to guide – to create compelling inquiries, to find or build spaces for the students to enter. These spaces have to be structured. They have to have foundations. The curriculum is the blueprint for building inquiry space, and in committing to an inquiry model of teaching we have to start with curriculum.
The river of learning is about making time and allowing students space to think about what they have been learning and why they have been learning it. The students really examine their learning and make the connections between the what and more importantly the why. The most empowering part of this experience is that students plan the things that they have to do the next week. They write the attitudes they will need along with the habits to help them be successful. Again, it comes back to giving students time and space to look back in their learning, be present with where they are now as learners and look ahead to plan where they want or need to go as learners.
What would you do?
A colleague of mine, Tony, came across this fantastic graphic during an in-school workshop I ran here at NIST. It was a Making the PYP Happen workshop and Tony was conducting his own inquiry into the Learner Profile. He presented this image to the group and we stood around it, interpreted it and discussed it for quite a long time!
I decided to use the image again in this workshop in order to provoke conversation about the Learner Profile and the relationship between the Learner Profile and the PYP Attitudes.
How do you interpret this graphic?
Could it be used in your school?
Could it be used in your classroom?
Could it be used in planning?
Tree Diagram found at http://www.greenwichschools.org/page.cfm?p=2971