Saturday, January 18, 2020

Define (or redefine) your role as a coach

This week I've had a bit of time to look at the social media challenges designed by Eduro Learning.  These challenges are intended to be used as Resolutions for Coaches for the New Year.  Resolution #1 is about redefining your role.  As the downloadable resource explains, a big challenge as a coach is to define your role not only for yourself but for your whole school community.  In many schools the position of a coach is a new one, and many coaches don't even have job descriptions that accurately encompass all that they do.  A video is provided as part of Resolution #1 where Kim Cofino defines the 5 key roles as a coach:
  1. being a listener
  2. being an advocate for teacher needs
  3. being a content area expert
  4. being a partner in learning
  5. being a data collector
I sent my 3 takeaways from this video to Tricia at Eduro Learning and she kindly made these into lovely images which I'm sharing here.

You can get your free copy of the Coach Better Resolutions by following this link.  You can also check out the Coach Better TV that contains a myriad of resources to help you in your coaching journey as well as information about all the great professional development on offer from Eduro Learning.

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

What's new and different: Technology in the PYP

This post is the second one about the PYP Enhancements and what is new and different as opposed to a deeper focus.  For today's post I decided to write about technology as this is an area I've been heavily involved in at all of the 4 PYP schools where I've worked.  The previous guidelines in Making the PYP Happen were sketchy to say the least: in the entire 146 page document there were only 14 mentions of technology!

The PYP has always maintained that ICT is not a separate subject, but a tool that facilitates learning.  As a result it is mentioned as a communication skill, where technology can be used for effective presentation and representation, and also as a way of connecting the PYP classroom to the wider world.  It was also recognised that acquiring the skills related to ICT was an important aspect of visual literacy - in particular because images can be very persuasive.  Technology is also mentioned in both the science and social studies scope and sequence documents, basically recognising the impact that advances in technology have had on society and the environment.  There is also about half a page dedicated to the impact of ICT on teaching and learning, with the advice to train all staff to integrate technology to enhance student inquiries and to support the needs of individual learners.  We were advised to use technology to document learning and to provide rapid feedback and reflection.

In PYP: From principles into practice the role of technology is more explicit as students are learning technology, learning about technology and learning through technology.  It is also clear in this document that technology includes both digital (computer, camera, iPad) and non-digital tools and resources (pencil, books, games).   Drawing on the IB Continuum Series Teaching and Learning with Technology, the focus is on integration rather than implementation (please see an earlier blog post I wrote about this in 2014).  Areas where technology is seen as being of vital importance is in developing students' literacy, competence and confidence.   Much of the deepened focus on technology can be found in the following paragraph:
Technology learning and teaching in the PYP is best supported, strengthened and extended within the transdisciplinary programme of inquiry where students can apply technology in purposeful and authentic contexts. Seamless integration of technology enhances student agency, enabling students to learn in any context—formally and informally, through individual and social learning, and in any time and place. Therefore, all members of the learning community are technology teachers responsible for both the learning and teaching of technology, as well as its integration.
 I love how explicit this is:  we are all technology teachers in the same way that we are all language teachers.  Technology should not be confined to a lab that students go to for one or two lessons each week, it should be seamlessly integrated.

Digital citizenship is also mentioned:
Learning communities support students in becoming responsible digital citizens, who make informed, ethical choices while acting with integrity. In a globally connected digital world, students are responsible for their actions, value the rights of others, exercise academic integrity, and practise safe and legal behaviours.  
The last post unpacked the Enhancements for the early learners, in the Technology in the PYP section they are also mentioned.  Young children presented with technology will first of all explore its functionalities before moving onto innovation where they can use the device in a new context.  Early years teachers are encouraged to have plenty of old devices around for students to investigate through touching, seeing and hearing.

Learning technology
Students learn about the functions of technology tools and resources, and they develop the capability to make use of technology to engage with opportunities and challenges in order to find creative solutions.  One subset of this is students using technology for research, for example for gathering and recording data during inquiries and to document and present their learning.

Learning about technology
Students learn about technology in the world, for example coding, robotics, sports equipment and so on.  Technology literacy is an important aspect of learning about technology, and involves using tools such as rulers, protractors and colouring pencils.  Students learn which technologies are most appropriate depending on the task.

Multiliteracies such as digital, media, information, critical and design literacy are all explained, including how technology literacy encourages multimodality - understanding and communicating using different modes of expression such as print, images and sounds.  Computational thinking is also part of technology literacy: even very young children can understand how to follow a series of steps to solve a problem or to write a series of steps to design and build their own solutions.  The document also has a section on design thinking and how moving beyond following directions can lead to creative and innovative solutions that address opportunities and challenges.  The PYP now encourages the incorporation of Makerspaces into the curriculum, providing students will real-world experiences.  Students also learn that a solution to one problem may well create another problem.

Because technology is so powerful in connecting schools, students need to understand how opportunities bring with them the requirement for being responsible digital citizens when using technology and how inappropriate behaviours can impact themselves and others.

Learning through technology
Students use technology to explore and extend their inquiries, therefore technology encourages the development of important elements in the Approaches to Learning.  Technology sub-skills include investigating, organising, deating, communicating through multiliteracies, and collaborating in online spaces.  Technology also facilitates students learning about multiple perspectives.

The main message I'm getting about technology in the Enhanced PYP is that the focus has to be on using technology purposefully to transform the learning.  Technology should not be driving the learning - and it is for this reason that if there is a dedicated technology teacher, he or she should be working with the students in their classrooms (the same is true of the librarian who should also be coming into the learning environment).  Remember too, that technology now needs to be documented in the learning environment field of the planner.

And, as always, here is a video showing how we did this at ASB.

Photo Credit: pennstatenews Flickr via Compfight cc

Monday, December 30, 2019

What's new and different: The Early Years

As a way of getting back into blogging for 2020, I decided I'd write a series of posts about what is new and different in the Enhanced PYP.  I decided that I'd start with the Early Years, since I'm preparing for a workshop in February which focuses on this age group, and also because the PYP has always recognised that the experiences during the early years lay the foundations for all future learning.  This has always been seen as a crucial stage of learning, with rapid development taking place in the physical, social, emotional, intellectual and aesthetic abilities.

In the previous curriculum document, Making the PYP Happen, there was no section that was entirely dedicated to the Early Years.  Teachers had to read through the entire document and pull out the areas that were most relevant.  One important paragraph was this one:
Teachers of students in the early years are encouraged to support students’ interests, build up their self esteem and confidence, and respond to spontaneous events, as well as support the development of skills in all cognitive areas in relevant ways. Children, from birth, are full of curiosity, and the PYP provides a framework that gives crucial support for them to be active inquirers and lifelong learners. 
In the Enhancements, the online resource PYP: From Principles into Practice is much more explicit about the early learner, and the age range has been extended from ages 3 - 6 (previously this was 3 - 5).  There is also a more specific directive that supporting children's growth requires that all members of the learning community value this as being a time where play is the driver for inquiry.  In fact play is so important that teachers must plan uninterrupted time for play as well as creating responsive and interactive learning spaces for play, because play provides opportunities for children to develop in all the key developmental domains.

Just as in the older grades, the programme of inquiry for early years students is organised into transdisciplinary themes.  In the case of the early years, the school may choose a minimum of four units for these age groups, two of which must be Who we are, where students learn about identity, relationships, well-being and being part of a community, and How we express ourselves, where the focus is on discovery, creativity and the expression of ideas and feelings.  The idea here is that the units of inquiry are iterative and flexible and that they centre on concepts of significance in the lives of the students.

The role of the teacher is now much more explicit.  Whereas previously schools and teachers were able to determine the frequency of play, now this is a central and protected part of learning.  Again, previously play may not often have been documented in PYP schools, now the teacher should be actively documenting the inquiry that emerges through play.  As well as this, by listening attentively, teachers can plan learning experiences such as stories, songs and rhymes, that extend students' language capabilities and encourage the development of their communication skills.

An important role for teachers is that of creating stimulating learning environments and experiences where students can develop at their own pace and where individual children can follow different pathways.  The key word here is flexibility as teachers plan, facilitate and co-construct inquiries, scaffold and reflect on both student learning and their own teaching.  Timeframes and routines need to be flexible and responsive to the needs of the students.

Children are natural inquirers, and the PYP teacher recognises them as curious and capable learners with a sense of agency.  The central features of early years are:
  • Play as the primary vehicle for inquiry, with planning for uninterrupted time for play
  • Building strong relationships with students and their families
  • Creating and maintaining responsive/interactive learning spaces for play
  • Offering many opportunities for symbolic exploration and expression.
Let's think about each of these in turn.

As mentioned earlier, play provides benefits for cognitive, social, emotional and physical development.  There needs to be a careful balance between student-initiated play and teacher-initiated experiences, in particular because play involves choice based on personal interests and therefore promotes agency.  Through play children construct meaning about themselves, their peers and the world as their ideas develop in the light of new experiences.  They also develop self-regulation through play.  During the time given for play, teachers initiate different learning experiences, both indoors and outdoors, and they interact with the students, responding in ways that will extend the learning, while monitoring and documenting this learning against individual developmental milestones.

The family is now seen as a crucial component of early inquiry, so encouraging positive relationships between home, family and school will provide a strong basis for learning.  Trust, agency and belonging are fundamentally important for child development, and building strong relationships are essential for an effective learning community.

Learning spaces
Effective early years education relies on the creation of safe, stimulating and inviting learning spaces that encourage exploration and learning through play.  Teachers need to pay attention to the structure, purpose and function of learning spaces including the provision of a range of materials as well as areas for various forms of play (role play, block play, the arts).  The learning spaces should be flexible, providing for many different learning experiences.  Students should be involved in the design and construction of these spaces and there should be choices for both group and individual play.  Displays in these spaces are important and should reflect the process of student learning.

Symbolic exploration and expression
Becoming literate and numerate is an important aspect of the early years, and one that evolves over time based on a student's developing abilities.  The development of understandings in language and maths is encouraged through interest- and inquiry-based explorations.

Here's a video of the EY areas in my old school.  What do you notice about the spaces and about teaching and learning that goes on there? 

Photo Credit: VisitLakeland Flickr via Compfight cc

Draw - don't write!

Several months ago, after my mother died, I decided to join a sketchbooking class in my village that was run by a local artist.  The reasons for this were that firstly I needed to do something to fill the "gap" in my life - I had spent so much time every week with mum and I needed to find other things to do in that time.  Secondly, it only really struck me after my mum died that I'd spent a lot of time supporting her, but that I didn't have a support system myself.  I knew that I needed to reach out to other people.  Thirdly, I thought that drawing would be a challenge.  Mum was a very good artist, and my daughter Rachel has obviously inherited that too.  I'd never really tried to learn to draw, so this was a challenge.  I started in July being given one thing to sketch every day - the idea was to spend 6 minutes every day sketching something that was suggested by our teacher.  After that we moved onto drawing things we were drinking and the following month things that were made up of circles.  The group then did Inktober, and finally at the end of the year started meeting in a garden centre where we sketched flowers and then Christmas items.  I'm not the greatest sketcher, but I have improved.

I was interested, therefore, to look at the Edutopia video about how drawing is a better way of learning than writing notes.  This was borne out by a study showing students who drew information remembered nearly twice as much as students who wrote things down.  This is because drawing uses visual, kinesthetic and linguistic areas of the brain all at the same time, which leads to more connections being built in the brain.   The video below gives 4 ideas for educators to incorporate more drawing into their teaching.

Photo credit:  Original artwork from sketchbooking class.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

60 Nice Things

Back in March I decided that I needed to do at least one nice thing for myself every week (this was at a time when I was looking after mum and I needed to "fill up my own cup" so that I could do this well).  I called my project for the year 60 Nice Things and decided I'd post about them so that in the bleak days I would have something to look forward to and nice things to look back on.  This followed on from the previous year's project which I'd called Finding Joy Everyday - and that was also at a time when joy was sometimes elusive - I forced myself to find the good in every day things and to appreciate the things I had.  This year's project was a little different as it would involve be actually choosing to DO something:  it was active rather than passive.  Currently I'm at number 52.

The vast majority of "nice things" I've chosen to do have involved travel - 10 of them in fact.  Many
of these involved pushing myself out of my comfort zone to travel alone, for example to Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe and to the Cradle of Humankind in South Africa.  Others, such as deciding to go to St Petersburg and Dublin, were done with friends and family.

Almost as many "nice things" were done locally.  These were visits to stately homes, gardens, wildlife refuges and so on in England, and another 7 "nice things" were done in and around my village and included saying yes to things like African drumming, joining a sketchbooking group, taking a photography course, climbing up to the top of the village church, a duck race on the local river, the World Pea Shooting Championship (yes it happens just up the road from me) and a scarecrow hunt.

Museums and art galleries have featured strongly as well - 8 "nice things" were going to exhibitions, some combined with travel such as The Louvre in Abu Dhabi, and the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha.  Another 8 "nice things" involved going to live music, plays and ballet.  I've also been to several live screenings of plays and ballets.

Finally some of the nice things have involved food and drink - for example gin and chocolate pairing in Johannesburg, or pampering such as massage.

This is obviously a bit of a personal post - not a professional one.  I will get back to blogging about

technology and the PYP soon I promise.  But for now, in this hard year, I'm just happy to be nearly at the end of it and to have grown stronger as a person by saying YES.

Oh, and by the way I've also said Yes to a couple of things for next year as well.  I'm going to fly to Uzbekistan and travel along the Silk Road.  I'm also going to walk the South West Coastal Path to raise money for the Alzheimer's Society in honour of my mother.

Watch this space!

Monday, December 16, 2019

Living out of a suitcase

As my regular readers will have noticed, I haven't blogged for a while.  Partly this is because my mother died in the summer and I just couldn't face putting this fact into writing for the world to read about.  I felt bereft.  I felt that my reason for living in the UK no longer existed.  I felt purposeless.  Dealing with grief has been so hard to bear, and I'm still not sure I know what I want to do next.  Initially I said to people that I would attend the London Search Associates job fair, but as time has ticked on I haven't registered for it and now I think it's probably too late.  I think my procrastination has been telling me something:  maybe I don't want another full-time job in an overseas school at this point.  The big question is what do I want to do?

In September I started to do some supply work in a local school.  I was covering for the deputy head of the school who had been seconded to another school for a time as the headteacher.  This gave me a deep insight into what is going on in UK schools from a very practical perspective.  I would say that my big takeaway from this is that schools in the UK are not training students for the future - the skills being taught are generally low-level thinking skills, and there's not a lot of critical or creative thinking.  Students are taught the things necessary for them to do well on the SATS tests at the end of each key stage and these things, by their nature, are things that can be tested (creativity, communication, caring, inquiry and so on clearly are not tested because they cannot be).  Our children are coming to see that what is valuable is being able to remember and regurgitate.  This experience left me feeling very sad.

On the other hand I've done a lot of workshops, school visits and consultancies for the International Baccalaureate.  In fact I could characterise the last few months as simply living out of a suitcase. This year my travel schedule has looked like this:

Warsaw -> Doha -> Dubai -> Dartford -> Dublin -> Johannesburg -> Durban -> St Petersburg -> Madrid -> Lusaka -> Livingstone -> Egham -> Riyadh -> Doha (again) -> Maastricht -> Vienna -> Dammam -> Abu Dhabi -> The Hague -> Doha (again) -> Beirut -> Copenhagen and Helsingborg -> Hannover -> Vienna (again).

I have enjoyed all these visits though at times my body has not known what time zone I'm in, and at other times I've felt I've had just one day to turn around (wash clothes, dry clothes, pack them back into the bag again) before setting off to the next destination.  I'm hoping I can continue with my travels until such times as an opportunity comes along that makes me think that it's the right next step for me.  I suppose all this is karma - being in the right place at the right time and saying YES to whatever the world is telling me I need to do next.

I do have some visits planned for next year.  I have a couple of jobs in the UK, as well as consultancies in places such as Germany and Kazakhstan, after which I'm planning to travel through Uzbekistan.  I have a visit to a school in Romania planned as well.  I'm hoping I can get some more work with private providers as well, otherwise it's back to supply teaching here in the UK again.

As a way of getting back into blogging again I've decided to start looking at the PYP Enhancements and to look at the changes that will be coming into the PYP as a result.  That certainly should keep me busy for a while!

So thanks for hanging in there through all the months - and look forward to a lot more posts from me in 2020.

Saturday, May 4, 2019

Finding Joy

Something I've noticed recently is that a few of my favourite EdTech bloggers have branched out into blogging about different things.  For example Colin Gallagher is now writing a travel blog (Surprising Horizons) and Chris Betcher has been trying trying a different religion every month this year as part of his Beyond Belief project.  I've been doing some new things too - so maybe now is a good time to write about them.  On my return to the UK last year, I decided that I needed to "keep my cup full" in order to care for my mother with dementia.  I therefore started a Facebook album called Finding Joy Every Day.  The aim of this was to make sure I was looking after myself - so that I would have enough patience and energy to give to my mother.  This is how the project has been looking so far:

  • The Art Pass:  Before leaving Mumbai, my friends in our book club gifted me a one year Art Pass.  This allows me to get into exhibitions and old houses with art in the UK either for free or for a much reduced price.  So far I've used this pass to visit Ickworth House, Gainsborough's house, the Stained Glass Museum in Ely Cathedral, Audley End, Melford Hall, Kensington Palace where there was an exhibition of Princess Diana's clothes, Lavenham Guildhall, Framlingham Castle, Oxburgh Hall, Norwich Castle, the Wimpole Estate and various places in Cambridge.  I've also attended the Monet and Architecture exhibition, the Frida Kahlo Making Herself Up at the V&A, the Courtauld Impressionists: From Manet to Cezanne, the Pierre Bonnard at the Tate Modern and the Edward Burne-Jones at the Tate Britain.  In Bury, where my mother lives, I've used the pass to get into the Marilyn Monroe Timeless photo exhibition.  All these places are a day-trip away from where I live.  The Art Pass has truly been a gift that keeps giving and I'll be renewing my membership next year.  Surrounding myself with beautiful things is definitely one of way of keeping my cup full.
  • Gardens:  Coming back to the UK has renewed my interest in gardens.  I've often stopped off at a garden on the way to and from Mum's just to go out and walk in nature and clear my head.  I've walked the grounds at Ickworth House, Chippenham Park, Wicken Fen, Barnsdale, Lakenheath Fen, Fuller's Mill and visited the RSPB sanctuary at Welney for the winter swans feeding.  As well as this I started a project in my own garden.  My father used to pride himself on having a flower in his garden every day of the year.  I decided I'd try to do this too and it has been an interesting journey!  Having been away from the UK since 1988, and having moved to a new area of the country with a well established garden, I actually had no idea what was planted or what would grow.  I was especially worried about the months between November and February as I did not know what plants would survive the winter.  However this project has been a resounding success!  I have had a flower in my garden every single day since last August when I moved in.  Recently I was talking about this to my aunt, who told me that in fact I'm the 3rd generation of my family to do this.  She told me that her father, my grandfather, also made a promise to my grandmother that she would be able to pick a flower from his garden every week. Apparently my grandmother had a photo of one of her daughters who had died young, with a green vase next to it - and every week she would go out to the garden to pick a flower to put in this vase.  As well as this I've been growing vegetables!  I have a fruit and vegetable patch at the end of my garden and have been exploring what I can grow here:  apples, tomatoes, butternut squash, courgettes, kale, cabbages, chard and lettuce last year and I've got some plans for more vegetables this summer as well.  It's really great to eat food that you have grown yourself!
  • My village:  It has been amazing to live in a village and there is more going on than you would think!  The weekend I moved in there was a "picnic in the park" with live bands and fireworks, this was followed by a flower festival, a Christmas tree festival and a beer and cider festival in the church.  There is a walking group, yoga classes, a women's institute and so much more.  I've been determined to join in with as much as I can, even though it has initially been hard for me to go to things by myself.
  • Workshops:  I was prepared to be challenged by work as it's been the first time in over 35 years where I haven't had a regular salary to look forward to every month.  This has been extremely hard as I had no idea how to stretch my money out (bills continue to come in with alarming regularity, yet the money doesn't!).  However I have managed to get some workshops and school visits overseas (Taiwan, Poland, The Netherlands, Denmark, Qatar, UAE, Ireland, South Africa and even the UK) and many of these places have also given me the opportunity to reconnect with colleagues from the various schools I've worked at.  Meeting up with friends in these far-flung places has been a bonus I did not expect going in to this year.  
  • Family:  I have seen much more of various family members than I would have done had I stayed living and working in India.  In particular I've seen a lot of my mother and her sister, my brother, my children and several cousins and nieces than in previous years.  The support from my family has been invaluable during this tough year.
My new project:  This year I decided I would do 60 nice things.  This is different from "finding joy every day" because joy was something I was just looking out for, whereas my new project is all about saying "Yes" to trying new things.  So far I've said yes to a photography course, learning to play African drums, a visit to the Guinness Storehouse, climbing to the top of the Octagon at Ely Cathedral, a gin and chocolate pairing experience, a safari and a visit to the Cradle of Humankind - and all that in less than 6 weeks.  Saying "yes" has become an important part of keeping my cup full.  It has led to me feeling more confident, patient and friendly, and in this tough year it has kept me feeling positive - and hopefully that feeling spreads to those around me.  I'm mindful of the need to keep other people's cups full as well, by saying or doing something kind, even if that's just a nice smile, showing respect to others and giving sincere compliments: in other words focusing on the positives.  At this time last year I was scared and full of trepidation about giving up a "safe" job and casting myself off to the winds of fortune.  This year I'm starting to see how much of a joy and blessing it has been.