Thursday, September 30, 2010

What ICT strands?

This week I've been away in Hong Kong doing curriculum review on the role of ICT in the PYP.  It's been an intensive, exhausting and exhilarating experience.  The best part of all was working with people who think in the same way and who have the same beliefs about the way ICT should be integrated into the curriculum.

Some years ago when I was writing curriculum at my last school I drew up what I thought were the main ICT strands.  At the time there were 8 strands that we thought were important:

  • presentation/publication
  • web research/design
  • multimedia
  • graphics/drawing/visual organizers
  • data handling/spreadsheets
  • animation
  • integrated technologies
  • programming

Our aim was that at some point during the course of the year all of these strands would be covered by integrating them into the units of inquiry.

While at the same school I was head of the IT Action Team that drew up the strategic plan.  One of the end results we wanted to achieve was that IT benchmarks would be integrated into all curricula to make student learning more meaningful.  Our way of implementing this was to review existing curricula, identify year levels where benchmarks would be in place, identify areas of IT in the benchmarks and have departments be responsible for integrating the areas of IT identified in the benchmarks in their curricula.  The aim was that IT teachers would become facilitators to ensure that those areas of IT skills were integrated into each subject area.

Following the acceptance of the strategic plan, another committee was formed to draw up the benchmarks.  These ended up falling into 10 different strands:

  • audio
  • data handling
  • ethics and responsibility
  • graphics
  • graphing
  • integrated technologies
  • research
  • sharing and collaboration
  • text and presentation
  • use of equipment and systems

In the past few days in Hong Kong we have again be asking ourselves what the important strands are.  We talked about the fact that learning is a cyclical development process and that learners move from a personal to a group and hopefully to a global awareness.  We have come up with 6 strands that are relevant to the development of all learners:

  • investigate (inquiring or researching to create new understandings)
  • create (innovating)
  • communicate (exchanging information using a range of media)
  • collaborate (validating and negotiating of ideas, sharing knowledge to reach a deeper understanding)
  • organise (structuring and arranging)
  • be responsible (making ethical choices)

I think one of the strongest points about the strands we drew up is that they are not specifically "techie" strands, in the way that the earlier stands I helped draw up were.  Hopefully this sends the message that it is the integration of ICT that is important,  the use of ICT to help students in their inquiries, not the mastering of a set of computer skills or a viewing ICT as a separate subject area.   While in the past we have always integrated technology, the stands we drew up were still typical IT strands - the ones we discussed this week, however, are applicable to all areas of learning as they transcend the boundaries of traditional subject areas.  This whole process has been so empowering for me and finally I feel we have got the emphasis on the learning, and not on the technology.

Photo Credit:  Aloe polyphylla Schönland ex Pillans by J Brew

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Leading the Transformation

Last week I read a blog post by Edna Sackson about Management vs Leadership.  This year I have taken on the role of ICTL Team Leader (we are no longer called Heads of Department or Coordinators) and one of the main reasons I did this is because I was told I would be mentored in leadership, which sounded new and exciting to me and because I thought it would lead to more discussions at school about improving teaching and learning.   Currently it's rare for me to have a really deep discussion about these important issues at school, possibly because of the pressures of time, whereas in contrast I seem to be involved in these discussions on an almost daily basis with other educators around the world through Twitter and blog posts.  In the past few months I have found that I am turning increasingly to my PLN outside the school to help me move forward.

Some years ago I was fortunate to attend Harvard Project Zero, which was probably the best professional development I have ever received in nearly 30 years of teaching.  One of the Co-directors and founding members of PZ was David Perkins who drew up a list of "knowledge arts" for students (though they apply equally to teachers):

  • Creating knowledge - teachers should create knowledge about teaching and learning
  • Communicating knowledge - teachers should communicate this knowledge to one another
  • Organising knowledge - teachers should also organise knowledge within themselves and for others to make it more meaningful and accessible
  • Acting on knowledge - teachers should act on this knowledge in order to improve student learning.

The more I think about leadership, the more important I see it is in improving the quality of teaching and learning, because it is the leadership that forms a school culture and determines whether teachers feel respected and whether they collaborate in order to improve learning.  A transformation in the culture of a school will only happen when the leaders of the school transform themselves and promote and lead that change in others.  When the leaders of the school change what they think, say and do, this change will radiate out to the entire school community, in the same way that dropping a stone into a pool of water will create ripples that radiate out over a large area.  And this must not be a one-time event - it must be seen to be ongoing.

Our school has changed dramatically in recent years, as it is an amalgamation of a couple of very different schools in our local area.  This was an ideal opportunity to rewrite the culture of the school.  However teachers' job descriptions were not changed so that there has not been much effect on teachers expectations about what is taught or how it is taught or how teachers work together in collaborative teams.  And even more important many teachers having only a sketchy idea of what those in leadership positions are thinking, saying and doing to promote student learning.

What do we need to do, to really transform learning?  I would like to see our leaders more involved in what is going on in the classrooms, and for them to be creating more time for teachers to truly collaborate instead of adding more and more duties, clubs and activities that have a negligible impact on the actual student inquiry and learning that is taking place in the classrooms.  I put myself into that category too - I feel I need to get out of the IT labs more and participate in what is actually happing when technology is being used in the classrooms.  I also believe our teachers are in need of mentors and coaches - people who will support and encourage them to move forward and try out new ideas - again I feel as a team leader I should be devoting more of my time to these very important aspects of my role.  We also need more professional development days that are focused, relevant and that have continuity across time, rather than just one-off days where issues are discussed but never revisited.  I tried to do this last year by offering "techie breakies" every couple of weeks and perhaps I need to revisit these and think about how to expand this programme.  What is needed, as mentioned by David Perkins, is to transform that learning into action in order to improve the quality of learning in the entire school community.

Photo Credit:  Honk!!! Honk!!! Honk!!! :))) by Denis Collette

Friday, September 24, 2010

Today - a little town in central Switzerland, Tomorrow - Hong Kong

Today I'm working in an international school in central Switzerland based in a small town that I'd never even heard of two years ago, but that has quite a large international school of over 1,000 students.  Today I'm an IT teacher here, in fact I'm the ICTL (information and communication for teaching and learning) team leader.  I work with the teachers on two of our campuses to integrate technology into the curriculum.

Tomorrow I'm going to Hong Kong.  In the summer I received an invitation to be part of a team of 12 educators from around the world (6 from Asia, 3 from Europe, Africa and the Middle East and 3 from the USA) to develop a document for the IB to clarify the role of ICT in the PYP.

Currently the Making the PYP Happen document doesn't contain many guidelines about how ICT should be used.  It talks about the enhancement of learning (whereas I think it should refer to the transformation of learning) and that ICT should support the students in their inquiries and in developing their conceptual understanding.  It mentions that ICT is a tool for learning, not an additional subject area.  In the whole 142 page document there are only 5 paragraphs devoted to the role of ICT - and now it is time to make some changes!  We need to take on board the implications of ICT integration for schools, administrators, teachers, students and parents.  We need to work out what things should have decreased emphasis, for example being lab based or relying on a specialist teacher, and what things need to be increased in emphasis, for example using ICT to develop higher order thinking skills, problem solving and collaboration.

This is a wonderful opportunity to really work on a document that will make a difference and I'm honoured and excited to be a part of this team.

Photo Credit:  Hidden Colours by Spettacolopuro

Motivate Me (part 2)

Today I have been thinking more about motivation and I dipped again into a book by Jim Hayhurst called The Right Mountain.  In 1988 Jim, a 47 year old advertising executive, became the oldest member of the Canadian Expedition to Mount Everest.  Jim says:
Motivation makes the difference every time.  You may have the best equipment, the most up-to-date information, the most money, but you can always be out-sold, out-played, out-performed by someone with more motivation than you.
So what is it that really motivates us?  It's not a simple answer, as different people will be motivated by different things.  Some people, for example, are driven by a desire for balance or harmony in their lives or perhaps by routine or structure, some are driven by economic or practical reasons, some need to stand out from the crowd and be individuals, others are motivated by control or the desire to have influence.  Some people are driven by a desire to help others and others by a thirst for knowledge, learning and understanding.  Motivation, it seems, is driven by our values.

For myself, one of the things I value deeply is the environment I work in.  While I may not be working in the best school in the world, for example, I very much appreciate living and working in a beautiful country.  While job satisfaction is important of course, I want more work/life balance.  As one of my personal goals this year, I am trying to take a walk along the lake where I live every evening to just enjoy my surroundings.  The school I used to work at in Thailand was a much better school than the one where I am now, but I didn't like living in the middle of a large, busy, polluted, noisy city.  Enjoying being in a beautiful country now is one thing that motivates me to try to do the best I can in my job and to make the school the sort of place that I want to teach at.

Like most teachers I would say economic gain plays very little role in motivating me.  Almost every teacher I know could be earning more in some other occupation.  We definitely don't do it for the money.  Teachers in general find a lot of satisfaction in their work because they thrive on helping others.  Despite this I would say I have become very demotivated by salary scales which rewards longevity in place of qualifications or experience - basically the longer you are there the more you earn.  A new person coming in with much more and varied experience than those already at the school still has to start in the bottom half of the salary scale.  While this is fair (in the sense that this applies to everyone) I find it unreasonable.   Daniel Pink talks about compensation in his book Drive.  He talks about internal fairness (paying people in line with their colleagues who are doing the same job) and external fairness (paying people in line with what others are earning in similar organisations - in this case schools).   So while I am not driven by money, I am extremely sensitive to unreasonableness.

However being able to work independently is what really motivates me.  I love being in a team environment but in a place where I have my own niche.  I very much celebrate the differences and divergent ideas that individuals on the team have to offer.  I like having the freedom to do my own thing, and to do things a little bit differently from others.  In this way I have thrived in schools that have given me ample professional development opportunities.  It's really motivating for me to be able to learn new things that lead to me becoming a better teacher - I think I truly am a life-long learner.  Classes, courses, conferences - send me and let me learn!  Given the choice between the two, I'd rather have more professional development than more money.  And at the same time I love teaching others new things too, helping them to develop new talents and skills - and so I guess, at the end of the day, the things that really motivate me are teaching and learning and a quest for greater understanding.

Photo Credit:  Creative Independence by Nattu

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Decisions, Decisions

This year the ICTL Department has come up with the following goal:
To develop and encourage different ways for students to show their understanding using technology.  
Our plan is to expose students to a range of different tools, which could also be used in summative or formative assessments, so that students have a choice in how they best show their understanding.   Our aim would be to do this for a minimum of 2 units of inquiry this year in Grades 2, 3, 4 and 5.  This is already being done for one unit in Grade 5, with ICTL support of the PYP Exhibition.

During our first unit of inquiry with the Grade 3 students I have already tried to introduce the idea that students may choose different ways to show their understanding.  I decided to introduce this to our teachers by using digital storytelling to support the narrative adventure story writing being done in class with all 4 classes of Grade 3 students, but using a different Web 2.0 tools with each class.  I gave our teachers a choice about which tools they wanted to use with their students.  The aim was to show them that we all have different ways of showing what we know and that it's OK that the way of doing this is not the same across the grade level.  My hope is that once the teachers are comfortable that they can choose to do things that are different from their colleagues, that they will let their students choose to do things in a different way from the other students in the class too.

One of the teachers in Grade 3 is also the Primary Drama Coordinator.  She decided she wanted to have the students use drama to tell a story, to photograph each other showing the relevant parts of the story and then to put these photos into VoiceThread and have the students narrate the story.  Another teacher was working on settings - she was having the students use art to create lovely watercolour paintings of the settings.  She decided she'd like to continue to use art and chose Storybird as the tool for her students to use for making an online book with the story art provided on the website.

One of our teachers decided she wanted to use animation.  She chose to have her students use ZimmerTwins to write a story about decision making.  The final teacher had her class create characters in Bitstrips, which could then be turned into a comic strip.

The task for each class was the same and I used Jason's Ohler's book Digital Storytelling in the Classroom to go over a visual story map that all students would be following:

The task for all students was to make a story that had an introduction which would include the setting and the characters.  The character would encounter a problem that would cause some conflict and would eventually transform him or herself in order to find the solution for the problem.  There would have to be a conclusion to the story.  This story map reinforces the central idea of  the unit of inquiry which is "The decisions we make can cause and resolve conflict".

All of our students have explored the Web 2.0 tool chosen by their teacher.  Soon they will be ready to create their stories.  At the end of the unit I would like the teachers to share how the students created their stories and talk about the plus and minus points associated with the tool they chose.  By sharing these tools with the rest of the grade I'm hoping it will let the other teachers see some different possibilities that they could use with their classes later in the year for other writing assignments.  Already the teachers are enthusiastic about the choices they have made.  Hopefully they will come to understand how enthusiastic the students will be once we give them choices and ownership of their work too.

Photo Credit:  Decisions, decisions by Garrett Coakley

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Is teaching the best job for me?

Although I've done a lot of other jobs in my time, teaching is the one I've stuck at the longest - over 25 years.  I suppose it's true to say that since I started teaching I've never moved on to anything else because I've found a job where I feel I'm achieving something useful every day.  I've never wanted to move into administration (having done those sorts of jobs before becoming a teacher) because the joy for me in teaching is being in a classroom with the students and seeing the amazing learning that is going on, not being in an office and dealing with people and their problems.   These are the kind of things I need in my ideal job:

  • freedom for mobility around the organization/country - as a teacher I have taken on a lot of different roles (thanks to all those administrators who encouraged me to move in these various directions) from a specialist high school teacher, to a more general middle school teacher and then to a primary homeroom teacher, after which I moved into IT.  I'm not done moving yet as I'd eventually like to take on more work in the library.  Currently I move between labs and into classrooms where I use mobile devices.  At the same time working in an international school has taken me to 3 different countries in the past few years - Holland, Thailand and now Switzerland.  I would say being a teacher in an international school is as pretty close to ideal as any job can be for me.
  • responsibilities with a high degree of contact with people - well this is definitely true of teaching - as this year I have over 350 students and work with 21 different homeroom teachers and lots of specialists too.
  • a responsive team with whom to work and associate - I have been truly blessed in my years as a teacher to work with the most amazing educators who have students' best interests at heart.  
  • an environment with an organisational eye towards the future - we are dealing with children's futures so we have to be very forward thinking.  The international schools where I've worked have been striving to get better all the time.  As an IT teacher nothing ever stands still - we are always looking to the future.
  • a work environment that encourages creative risk-taking - most of the time I have been encouraged and supported when I have gone "out on a limb".
  • challenging assignments - definitely!

So reading through this list I would say that teaching is definitely the best job for me.  But am I the best person to be a teacher?  Well here are some area that I know I need to work on:

  • being impatient - usually for change - I know I could get more accomplished by using more patience with individuals and teams.  I often hear myself saying "we're already behind other schools with our IT, we need to be moving forward at a quicker pace."  I'm conscious that this probably puts people's backs up.  I know I need a softer approach.
  • doing too many things by myself because usually takes too long to explain my ideas to others - I know I need to work hard to get others on board too.
  • being too impulsive - because I want to get things done now and am optimistic that I can get them done
  • setting goals that are too high, too challenging or too optimistic - but on the other hand I don't want to set them too low and succeed at a low level.  I'd rather aim high, even if I fail to reach those heights.

All in all I think I am better as a specialist teacher than as a homeroom teacher - I like having a class come in and work on something and then leave again when they are done, and I think the students have this feeling when they come to the labs or when I go to their rooms, that here we are, we have the computers for a while to do a job and we need to get on and use the time wisely to accomplish it.

Photo Credit:  Impatience by Marylise Doctrinal

Friday, September 17, 2010

Teachers and Principals as Lead Learners

When my mother left school at the age of 13, she had already mastered the skills that she thought were important and necessary for the rest of her life.  She could add up in her head, read, write a letter, cook, clean, wash and remove stains and because she also had a class called "deportment" she could walk tall.  When my son left school last year to go to university at the age of 18 I would estimate that he knew very little of what he would need to get through life, and yet he probably knew vastly more than my mother did at that age.  Now we are told that knowledge doubles every 3 years, and technology is mostly out of date after 18 months.  The only way we can survive is to keep on learning.

Lifelong learning is a term that is often used, but rarely defined.  We all think we know what it means but today I tried to find a good definition of it - which was hard as it means many things to many people.  One of the best definitions I read was from Roland S. Barth, the founder and former director of the Harvard University Principals' Center and the International Network of Principals' Centers.   He says that being a lifelong learner involves:

  • a love of learning for its own sake
  • choosing to engage in learning
  • questioning and wanting to find the answers
  • using resources and knowing where to go to answer the questions
  • reflecting on what you are learning
  • evaluating whether the answers you are getting are useful
  • celebrating your learning
Barth claims that teachers need to model being lifelong learners for the students, and that principals need to lead the way.  It's no use if they have their doors and minds closed to this - and I have worked in schools where this is certainly the case - where the director was never seen in a staff meeting and was never involved in discussions about learning but simply in discussions about new building plans, exam results, salary scales or fund raising.  Both students and teachers need to look and see what the most important people in the building are doing - are they seeing people who are "finished" with learning, or are they seeing people who are asking questions, reading, sharing their ideas, solving problems and so on.  If this is what they see, then this is what they will want to do too.  If they get the message that learning is just for the unimportant people, that the important people don't need to learn anymore, then what message is that sending?  Barth says:
The principal who joins with the faculty and students in learning activities is the one who changes the school culture into one that is hospitable to lifelong learning.
In most international schools there is a healthy turnover of staff.  I suppose it depends on the school and the country, but I have been in schools where over 30 teachers have left in a single year and in schools where only 2 teachers have left.  Generally, though, many international teachers have the travel bug which means they like to move on and experience new places and cultures, and that in turn means there is a fantastic opportunity for the school directors to employ new teachers who have a proven record of continuing with their learning and who can bring new ideas and different ways of thinking to the school.  What's then important is to provide opportunities for the teachers to make their learning visible and to celebrate this learning - as it is only when schools do this that a true culture of learning will be promoted.

In an IB World School we are all learners and we should all be working on the different attributes of the Learner Profile.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Motivate Me!

This school year I'm much more motivated than last year.  I wonder why?  Some of this could be to do with the fact that I'm not the new person anymore, some of it could be because of taking on a new role and feeling that I'm making more of a difference.  Some of it could be because the technology is working better and because I feel at last I can think about teaching and learning, rather than just thinking of ways to fix things.

A few days ago I blogged about the DISC index and today I went back and read the section on motivation.  This is what is says I need to be motivated:

  • Opportunity and encouragement to try new ideas and take risks - yes, I love doing new things and this year I have a lot of new classes, am working on a different campus one day per week, and am enthusiastic about new things I'm wanting to develop such as the Google Apps for Education. 
  • Work activities involving contacting, leading and directing people.  I seem to be doing more of that this year too.
  • Control over my workplace responsibilities and destiny.  True, this year I feel more in control and feel I'm able to carve my own path rather than having to walk to the beat of someone else's drum.
  • Social or public recognition for accomplishments and successes - actually I don't care about this at all.  The best thing for me is walking around the school and seeing the students and hearing them say in a really happy voice  "Hey, it's Miss Maggie" because they know that I've come to do something exciting with them.
  • New experiences and a variety of activities -  I love taking on new things and learning how to teach with different technologies such as the SMARTboards, iPads and so on.  I'm passionate about professional development and am excited that we may have the ADE programme coming our way sometime soon too.
  • Opportunity for advancement to more challenging roles or assignments within the organisation - yes for sure - this is also because of being more in control of what I do and how I do it.
  • Independence and autonomy - yes I thrive on these! 
So overall I think I am more motivated because I am using more of my strengths - I think I am helping teachers to become more successful with their use of technology and that some of last year's problems are being solved as decisions made with teaching and learning at the heart of the process.  At the start of the year when people asked me how I thought the year would go I said that I was hopeful but not optimistic.  Now, however, I am optimistic and enthusiastic about building on our successes.  I like dealing with many activities simultaneously and I like a multi-tasking and a fast-paced environment that is challenging.  I like to find solutions to problems and I love it when I see others shift in their ways of thinking so that they can get on board with what we are doing.  This year we've given MacBook Pros to our teachers and SMARTboards in all rooms from Grade 2 upwards - and I'm loving the spark I see when teachers realise what they can do with these and how using technology can make them better teachers.

Motivation is an upward spiral.  Because I'm more motivated and enthusiastic I am reaching out and encouraging our teachers more.  Because this in turn makes them more motivated and enthusiastic this encourages me to do more and to try harder and to achieve more.  Last year I felt like I was bogged down in quicksand, now I feel I'm moving forward, and also that the pace is increasing all the time.

Photo Credit:  Lost on the Beach by Spitfirelas

Working in Collaborative Learning Teams

Perhaps I should start by asking a question - can a team be made up of 2 people?  At our school there are 2 of us working in primary IT and there are 2 librarians who we also think of as part of our team.  Today, however, I met with just my fellow IT teacher to discuss how we work together in our team.

To facilitate this discussion we looked at Chapter 12 of Becoming a Learning School from the National Staff Development Council.  We both chose one point in this chapter that jumped out at us for discussion.  For me it was the section about conflict.  This is the part that meant the most to me:
Conflict is the irritant that shapes the pearl.  It brings possibilities for deeper relationships, new perspectives, appreciation of differences and clarity of beliefs that shape an individual's and the team's actions.  it is the disequilibrium that brings equilibrium.
Lots of teachers see conflict in their team as a bad thing - as a sign they are not working together effectively - however this paragraph showed me that if we avoid conflict at all costs "the result is a lack of authenticity."  For me if we are in agreement all the time, we just recycle the same old ideas.  Conflict makes us think of new ideas and of old things in a different way.  Later in the chapter we read:
Teams that handle conflict smoothly move to the performing stage of development quickly.  They use conflict to deepen their understanding of individual members' perspectives and to enrich their experiences.  They tap individual expertise so that all members benefit from the collective expertise they share.  They appreciate conflict for the opportunities and possibilities it holds rather than fear it or hide its existence.
For my colleague the part he was most in agreement with was the section on creating and maintaining a sense of team.  We also talked about the team -v- the individual and about leadership -v- management.  We talked about the importance of valuing the team and also valuing the individuals in the team.  We thought it was important to recognise:
When teams first come together they are merely a collection of individuals who have their own perspective, frames of reference and goals.  However as team members work together over time with a clear purpose and with success they develop a deep sense of interdependence.
We went on to look at the 4 stages of team development (forming, storming, norming and performing) and discussed where we saw our ICTL department.  We decided we were a team with a shared vision, goals and commitment, that our work was easier when done collaboratively and that teamwork is professional rewarding and highly productive.  At the end of our discussion we were in agreement with the opening paragraph of the chapter:
Collaborative professional learning teams do not result from luck or magic but from discipline and commitment.  A team is a collection of individuals who commit to working together to accomplish a common goal.  Team members choose to share their individual knowledge, talents and expertise so that the team benefits.  Every member takes personal and collective responsibility for the team's success.

Photo Credit:  Slim Pickings by Spitfirelas 

"I can do it" - the PYP Attitude Confidence

A couple of years ago, at my last school, I taught a kindergarten student who lacked confidence on the computer - he thought the computer wasn't doing what he wanted it to do and I had to work hard to get him to realise that he was in control of the computer and not the other way around.  Every lesson I used to say to him "You can do it", until eventually he was able to say himself "I can do it".  Having confidence is one of the PYP attitudes that we want students to feel, value and demonstrate.

The Making the PYP Happen document explains why attitudes are so important:

While recognizing the importance of knowledge, concepts and skills, these alone do not make an internationally minded person. It is vital that there is also focus on the development of personal attitudes towards people, towards the environment and towards learning, attitudes that contribute to the well-being of the individual and of the group. By deciding that attitudes need to be an essential element of the programme, the PYP is making a commitment to a values-laden curriculum. 

The PYP defines confidence in the following way:  feeling confident in their ability as learners, having the courage to take risks, applying what they have learned and making appropriate decisions and choices.

One important aspect of confidence is that we as teachers must believe that all our students have the ability to do rigorous work and reach high standards.  Each and every day we need to communicate to them that what they are doing at school is important, that they can succeed and that we won't give up on them.

Recently I've been thinking about inquiry and about how I use questioning with our students.  I think that how I respond to their answers is very important.  This year I am trying not to have students put their hands up to answer a question, but instead to ask the question, have all the students think about it and then call on a student of my choice to answer.  I want to give students enough time to think of their answer and I want to avoid some students thinking that they don't need to come up with an answer because I will only ask the students with their hands up.  I'm finding it hard to give enough wait-time, because I can see that some students are bursting to tell me the answer, but I am trying hard to focus on the individual student whom I have asked the question of, even when that student is staying quiet or answering incorrectly.  I am trying really hard to show that I have confidence the student can answer, even if I need to ask the question again and again in several different ways.  I am also trying to probe further into the students' answers by asking "What makes you think that?" one of the Visible Thinking routines.  I'm trying to show students that it's ok to say what they are thinking, even if they are not sure what they are thinking is correct.

Another thing I am trying out this year is not offering much help to students but trying to get them to figure it out for themselves first, and then asking their computer buddy and then the class teacher if they can't do something.  I'm conscious that if the first person the students ask is me and if I then respond straight away with what they need to do,  I am sending them a message that I am not confident in their ability to work it out for themselves.

Last school year my teenage daughter had a problem with maths - she just couldn't seem to understand equations and failed one of her tests.  I was so grateful to her teacher, who explained to her that although she had not yet reached the standard needed to pass the test, she could continue to work on mastering equations and that whenever she felt she was confident she could retake the test again and get a different score.  Although my daughter initially put off going back over the maths, saying "I don't get it, I'll never get it", after a while she did choose to look back at the work again and eventually felt confident enough to retake and pass the test.  Last year she gained the highest score in maths she had ever got in the end of year reports, and this has given her the confidence to take Standard Level Maths for IB this year, whereas earlier on in the year she had opted for the Maths Studies course.  She's very lucky that she has the same teacher again this year and that this teacher has worked so hard in building up her confidence so that she can say "I can do it" now in her maths lessons.  Last week she told me she was doing "really well" in maths this year, something I would never have expected to hear last year!

Photo Credit:  Fantasia by Spirfirelas

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The IB Learner Profile - Finding the time to be Knowledgeable, Inquirers and Thinkers

In an IB World School, everyone who is part of the community is a learner and should be modelling the attributes of the IB Learner Profile.  Recently I've been thinking about how teachers can model being knowledgeable, being inquirers and being thinkers.  How do we find the time to be learners, as well as being teachers?

Last week I wrote about a staff meeting that took place at our school where we did an activity based on a chapter from the book Becoming A Learning School, from the National Staff Development Council.  I was really pleased to receive a comment from one of the co-authors of this book, Joellen Killion, who suggested reading Chapter 5 about developing a school schedule that allows for collaboration during the school day on a regular basis.

Chapter 5 opens with a statement that I think we should aspire to, but which I don't think is true yet of our school:
The most effective professional learning experiences are job-embedded collaborative, and connected to the real world of teaching and learning.  Collaborative professional learning occurs during the workday, in the workplace, is connected to the real work of teaching and student learning, and includes all the teachers all the time.
Wow! What I fantastic school we would have if only this were true.  Unfortunately for us this is nowhere near being true because of the lack of time.  Chapter 5 therefore goes on to look at how schools can create more time for this professional learning to take place and it is something that I hope our school can take on board eventually.

Chapter 5 also goes on to explain what being part of a learning team involves, for example  meeting every day, taking collective responsibility for all students in the grade/department, using standards, developing lessons and assessments, critiquing student work and observing or coaching in one another's classrooms.  At lunchtime today I was talking to a colleague about this and she was saying she would love to look at how other students across her grade are doing, for example, with their spelling programme.  This team is not yet at the stage where they are comfortable looking at students' work across the grade and seeing how the students are doing in the different classes.

Another very important point made is:
This kind of professional learning requires time within the workday.  NSDC advocates that 25% of an educator's work time be invested in professional learning.
When I read this statement my first reaction was that this is extremely high.  Currently out of a 7 period day, 35 period week our teachers meet for collaborative planning for 4 sessions, one extra session after school and one staff meeting, where PD can take place, each week.  Clearly we are nowhere near the recommended 25% of our work time devoted to learning, reflection, sharing, planning and analyzing student work.

Our school is like many others, we need to adjust the schedule to accommodate more collaborative learning.  In the past I worked at a school that had a dedicated day each week as a late start, giving the whole school time for professional development.  Apparently at my current school this used to happen with an early release day, but this time disappeared a couple of years ago as the number of German lessons students had each week increased.  As it seems there is a clear connection between teacher learning and student learning, I would imagine that reducing the amount of time teachers have for learning together will have a negative impact on student learning.

Joellen Killion outlines 9 steps to help educators gain support for new schedules:

  1. Form a task force which can include parents and students and generate recommendations.
  2. Explore current beliefs about time and how these are impacted by the culture of the school.
  3. Analyse current time use - see if existing time could be used differently to allow more collaborative professional learning.  For example use just one staff meeting a month for "business" and have the other three meetings as collaborative team meetings. (I think this would be a great idea!)
  4. Establish and prioritize criteria for the whole community - for example maintaining the same amount of instructional time for students or retaining a minimum amount of individual planning time.
  5. Study other schools' solutions.
  6. Form recommendations for the key leaders in the school to review.
  7. Present the recommendations the the community for feedback.
  8. Revise the recommendations and draw up the final recommendations.
  9. Draw up an action plan to implement the decision.
After all this it is very important that the teachers use their extra time well - for job-embedded professional development - and that this extra time must have an effect on improving teaching and learning.

While last week I disagreed that the best professional development I had received had come during the workday and in my schools, I can now see that this is a result of our meetings not being devoted to collaborative professional learning - instead many have been devoted to "business", paperwork, completing planners and so on.  Adopting the suggestions contained in Chapter 5 of Becoming A Learning School would certainly lead to more PD taking place during the workday and at school and would be, I think, for many of our teachers very valuable professional learning.  Using our collaborative time productively in this way would definitely lead to us as teachers becoming more knowledgeable, more inquiring and better thinkers and therefore developing these attributes of the IB Learner Profile.

Photo Credit:  Tunnels of Time by Fdecomite

The IB Learner Profile - Reflective - The DISC Index

At the end of last month I took an online "quiz" that gave my my DISC index.  This index deals with 4 aspects of a person's behaviour - how decisive you are, how interactive, how stable and how cautious.  Having taken on a new position at school I thought it might be interesting to see what the results were as well as suggestions for how to improve areas of weakness.  To get the results you had to rank a series of words as to how closely you thought they fit you - each screen had 4 words on it and you had to decide which was the most and least like you.  You could move the words around until you got them into the order you felt most happy with.  The words were characteristics such as generous, forceful, friendly, diplomatic and so on.  I thought this would be a useful exercise for me to do since I have to work closely with almost all the teachers in our primary school - plus I wanted to see if the results were in any way similar to the way I see myself.  These are the results that emerged when I did the test:

Decisiveness:  I think of myself as being very decisive - once a decision is made (usually quickly) I am quite happy to follow it through and fight my corner.  This is what the results showed:
  • I can be very commanding and take charge more than follow.
  • Sometimes I become argumentative even when I don't mean to be (sometimes I don't even notice)
  • My approach is forceful and direct.
  • I am a strong self-starter with a high sense of urgency.
  • I am practical and want to get results quickly without fluff or delay
  • I like a good challenge, seek freedom and look for a lot of variety.
So far I would have to say this is spot on!

Interactiveness:  I thought I would score high on this one as I have to interact with lots of people and think I'm talkative and outgoing.  This is what the results showed:
  • I appreciate an open door policy with both peers and supervisors
  • I like a flexible environment that allows for creativity
  • People may find me charming to meet and to converse with on a variety of topics (not sure I agree with that one!)
  • I work best when I am able to interact with others.
  • I can be an effective coach or counselor for others (I was pleased to see this).
  • I prefer an environment with ample people contact.
Once again I think this is a fairly accurate description.

Stabilizing:  I thought I would score low on this as I'm not someone who likes to stay too long in one place.  This is what the results showed:
  • I can multitask fairly well
  • I have a sense of urgency to get things done now,  but not without planning or thought.
  • I prefer a fast paced environment but one that is not frantic or chaotic.
  • I prefer a moderately structured environment.
  • I appreciate the need of others to have more freedom and less structure.
  • I like being mobile and on the go, but like a home base to return to from time to time.
Once again I think these are very accurate descriptions of me.

Cautious:  I thought I would score low on this one as I don't really like to stick to rules and standards and prefer to work more independently.  This is what the results showed:
  • To me rules are guidelines, not concrete.  (Couldn't agree more!)
  • I am practical and realistic.
  • I may be perceived as being non-committal by some.
  • For me the end justifies the means.
  • I'm fine with change when it improves efficiency.
  • I am persistent in trying to get the message across, even in the midst of resistance.
Once again I would say these are very accurate.

The report goes on to recommend ways of being more effective based on my scores/behavioural style.  Here are some things I definitely need to take account of.  Overall I can be more effective by:
  • Having support staff to handle the detail work (Oh yes, I would love this!)
  • Being around others who share my high level of urgency.
  • Being aware that my level of aggressiveness and tenacity may be offputting to others.
  • Remembering to negotiate difficult matters in a real-time, face-to-face manner rather than through electronic means.  (I definitely need to take this one on board!)
  • Softening my approach with more introverted people
  • Becoming more sensitive to the climate or situation and adjusting my intensity. (Yep!)
  • Trying not to over-react.  (Yep again!)
  • Becoming more aware of my approach to others and its imapct on others.  (Yep again!!)
So far I am only about half way through the report which goes on to look at things like how I can stay more motivated, my ideal job, how I can continue to improve, my preferred training and learning style and how to communicate more effectively.  More about some of these later - I'm still taking time to reflect on all the above first and to see how I can get the most out of the report in a tangible way.

I got this report as a result of a free online test. I'm adding a link to this site because I thought the report was interesting and maybe others might like to take the test too.  There are a number of sites that actually sell the DISC test, but this one provides you with a pdf report and it is free.

Photo Credit:  Paris Tour Eiffel Reflection by Luc Viatour

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Assessment -v- Motivation

When I was at school I seemed to do a lot of assessments and exams.  Back in primary school there was the 11+ exam to pass, which determined which secondary school students would go to.  After that in secondary school it seemed we had tests of one sort almost every week.  Then there were the O' and A' levels to pass before going to university and taking final exams for my BA.  I don't think at any point during this part of my education I ever experienced continual assessment that counted towards my grades, everything was determined by how I did on the day of the exam - and I never had any feedback from these exams either (just pass or fail) which could help me know how to do better next time.  While I was a good student and did study for the exams, I wouldn't have said I was truly motivated by this form of assessment.  I studied because I wanted to pass, because I needed to pass to move onto the next stage of education, not because I was motivated by a love of learning or even of the subject itself.

I was one of the lucky ones.  At the age of 11 I passed the 11+ and went onto grammar school.  90% of my classmates in primary school did not pass and went to secondary modern.  At this age I had already learned how to memorise what was necessary for me to pass and to regurgitate it during the exams.  I was confident in my ability to do this and this probably gave me the confidence to take new risks and tackle subjects that were not so easy.  I believed that if I tried, I would succeed.  Other family members were not so fortunate.  Their experience of tests and exams were negative.  For various reasons which included poor health and undiagnosed learning difficulties, they did not see themselves as so capable.  Poor results in tests did not spur them on - they lost confidence and gave up trying and settled for a different goal.

As a teacher I have struggled with this experience - how to give an assessment that motivates all students, not one that rewards some and punishes others.  How to foster cooperation and collaboration among my students, rather than competition.  How to give all students the message that they will succeed if they keep on trying.  I think in order to do that teachers and students have to look on assessment in a different way.

What we need to do is to have students learn how to learn so that when they are assessed they use the experience to understand how to do better the next time.  When I was an MYP teacher this was covered in Approaches to Learning, which is one of the areas of interaction.  AtL encourages students to ask

  • How do I learn best?
  • How do I know?
  • How do I communicate my understanding?

If a student knows that the purpose of assessment is to get better over time, the assessment itself can be very motivating - it gives the student the information he or she needs in order to do better next time, and seeing this progression over time students become more motivated, more persistent and more confident in their abilities.  This is one reason why I have always loved building portfolios with students - so that they can see and reflect on their own improvement.  I have seen these portfolios used very successfully by students at their student-led conferences - they are proud to show their work to their parents and take on more responsibility for their learning.  The MYP states:
Recognizing and helping students develop the range of their capacities, positive attitudes and effective habits of mind is the shared responsibility of teachers, and is at the core of all curriculum development and delivery.

Photo Credit:  Kevin in real life by Kevin Chang 

Saturday, September 11, 2010


Over the past year I've been in Switzerland I've relied so much on my PLN - the network of educators around the world who have been a daily inspiration to me through their comments and links on Twitter and the blog posts they have written.  Out of my whole PLN I have probably only met about 1/5th of them face to face and the rest I "know" online.  This network is truly mine - they are the people I have chosen to follow and connect with, the educators from around the world who seem to share the same philosophy and goals for education that I do.

But now I realise that is probably not enough.  It's great to be able to choose the people that I interact and learn with on a daily basis - but I am also part of a community:  the teachers I work with, the ones I do see face to face every day.  Whether or not I have chosen these people, the fact remains that they are my colleagues and it is my responsibility to connect and collaborate with them so that the educational needs of our students are being met in the best possible way.  While last year I focused on building my personal learning NETWORK, this year I feel I need to develop my professional learning COMMUNITY.

I've been thinking about this and asking myself why it seems so much harder to develop a community than a network.  I think in part it is because as teachers we do not always agree on the best way forward especially when, despite all our efforts, we have students who still experience difficulties with learning.  Sometimes we feel that admitting this in our teams is a sign of weakness, an admission of failure, which can lead to a feeling of inadequacy when others in the team don't seem to be having similar problems - maybe it's better just to stay quiet and hope nobody notices.  Because we are under pressure of time - our units of inquiry begin and end on certain dates, summative assessments have to be completed and so on - we are often under pressure to finish and move on.  In our teams there is no consensus as to what to do with the students who need more time, who have not yet mastered a particular skill or demonstrated their understanding of the central idea of a unit of inquiry.  Should we give more time to assist those students, even though most students have already mastered the concepts, or should we push on and let the struggling students fall even further behind?  In order to build a real professional learning community we need to work together on tough questions like this, to question what we are doing, to analyze and improve our classroom practice at the formative assessment stage when we can ask whether all our students are learning what they need to learn, rather than at the summative assessment stage where we find out which students did not.  We need to have dialogue not just about planning the units of inquiry, but about implementing what we have planned - to discuss what we are actually teaching and what the students are actually learning, and how we will know when each student has actually learned it - and also what to do if they haven't.

Where there's a will there's a way.  I think the will is there to work closer as a professional learning community.  What we need to do now is to find the way to actually do it.

Image Credit:  Web 2.0 Party by Fritz Ahlefeldt-Laurvig

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Mobility and the Transformation of Education

Last night after work I went to Basel to attend a lecture by Dr. Bill Rankin of Abilene Christian University who was talking about mobility and the transformation of education. ACU was the first university to establish a comprehensive 1:1 mobile learning initiative that supplied every student with an iPhone or iPod Touch.  Bill opened with talking about a new technology, telling us the benefits and threats this new technology posed:

  • High portability and accessibility
  • Disperses information quickly
  • Allows for synchronous and asynchronous access
  • Distraction
  • Loss of control over information
  • Loss of control over distribution
  • Challenges traditional systems and ideals
  • New systems of organization needed

Of course we thought he was talking about the iPad - in fact he was talking about a new technology from hundreds of years ago - the printed book. 

Bill pointed out that technologies change what we can do and affect our view of the world. Technologies can change, and can change culture and social hierarchies.  We shouldn't focus on the technologies themselves, but think about how the technology is making us view our world and how it can change our culture.  All technological innovations become successful by solving problems.  However in solving some problems technology can also create new problems which threaten the existing culture.  There is a cycle here:  innnovation leads to building, then solidifying then destabilizing - which in turn leads back to innovation again.  Today most teachers are at the destabilizing stage whereas most students have moved beyond this to a new stage of innovation as they have already found the solutions that the teachers will eventually adopt.

Bill talked about the 3 ages of information:

The age of hands and the changes during the time a scroll changed into a codex (book).  The codex is random access device, whereas the scroll is linear access device.  With a codex you can go to any point at any time, or even to several different places at once.  The codex is more portable, while the scroll is a fixed device.  The codex is made for mobility. Just like today, 1700 years ago people also wanted to carry information with them and access it when it was useful.  In those days the only method for transferring information was copying by hand.  Universities of the past focused on the delivery of a particular type of information using lecture, reading books to students while the students made own copies.  The printed book shattered this – putting the teacher out of his traditional job but freeing him up to do more complex things with the students.  At that time everything was very localized.  If you wanted to learn something about London you had to travel there, so few people could participate in the learning and even fewer could produce the knowledge. Generally learning took place by apprenticeship where you learned from one person while training to become an equal.  Learning in the first age of information:
a.     Teachers lived and worked in relationship with students
b.     Teachers were guides or mentors,  people learned by practise and apprenticeship
c.      The emphasis was on using knowledge in particular contexts
d.     Repetition and assessment lead to independent practice
e.     Learning was embodied, subjective, dialectic and broadly interconnected.

The age of books resulted from the invention of the printing press and allowed information to proliferate.  The problem of access to information had been solved, but new problems had been created - for example finding the information, or the books with the information.  This led to sorting and cataloguing.  In this age the teachers were the guideposts and helped students to find the information they needed and testing was developed since learning was standardised as everyone had the same book.  A distinction grew up between living and learning, between home and school, and people accessed information from other places through books.  In the second age of information more people got to participate, but still only a few produced.  This was the beginning of universal education with classrooms looking more like factories and processing as many students though as possible and in doing so making them as much alike as possible.  There was no individualism or diversity and even today many schools do not see diversity as strength and still pretend everyone can learn in the same way.   Learning in the second age of information
a.     Teachers were the first conduits of information, students were the receivers
b.     The emphasis was on classifying and cataloguing
c.      The focus was on memorization of facts and data
d.     Repetition was primary, analysis was secondary,
e.     Learning was a hierarchical “objective” standardized and narrowly-defined.  Learning was more from books than from people.

This age is now over.

The age of data. Searching using Google now brings up more information than a person would have encountered in a whole career 20 years ago.  Information is coming from everywhere.  There are lots of people who consume it and many more can produce it, but we now have a problem of validating this information and working out what is trustworthy.  The problem is not finding information – access is easy, the problem is assessing and the problem is about to get worse as estimates are that by 2020 information will be doubling every 15 minutes (so the information we teach students could be obsolete before they even leave the room!)  If we give more information to students now, this just makes their problem worse.  In this world teachers are even more necessary,  but not if they are dealing with the problems of the last informational age.  How can teaching change?  Learning in the third age of information:
a.     Teachers live and work in relationship with their students
b.     Teachers are guides or mentors and  people learn by practise and apprenticeship
c.      The emphasis is on contextual learning 
d.     Repetition and assessment lead to independent praxis
e.     Learning is embodied, subjective, dialectic and broadly interconnected.  Each student is learning differently.
(This list is the same as learning in the first age of information!)

Technology is now allowing us to break out of the classroom and at the same time it is keeping students connected to their teachers.  The iPhone is 1000 libraries in your pocket, 1000 experts in your pocket.  Social networks helps you to the process information as you trust the people in your social networks and you discover things you would otherwise miss.  Now we are finding that a digitized text is not the same as digital text.   New books are emerging that are interactive, customized, mixable, socially connected and augmented.  They are able to merge various kinds of media. Mobility changes content delivery,  the time of engagement, the location of engagement and collaborative opportunities.  Everything is not happening in class anymore teachers can deliver the information in a podcast, for example, then use the information later in class.

The real goal of the age of data is that there should be a lot of producers as well as a lot of consumers.  Monocultures almost always disappear.  We need to build a culture of diversity.  People with different perspectives need to work together. We mustn’t teach the technology, but the ideas behind the technology.  If you understand the “why” you will survive.  We are in a time of transition between ages:  the web has been around for 20 years but now it is exploding.  A lot of tools are needed to get it out to a lot of people and the job of the teacher has changed again:  now the job of the teacher is to make a structure in which the information the students find can be assembled and assessed.

Photo Credit:  Time and Space by Darren Kuropatwa 

Collaborative Professional Learning - part 2

Following on from my post last week on collaborative professional learning, and especially after receiving a comment from one of the co-authors of the book Becoming a Learning School that my post was based on, I returned to read the chapter and found out that I'd neglected 2 very important aspects of it:  the Where Are We Now section and the final reflection.  This post seeks to address those omissions.

The Where Are We Now section is right at the beginning of the chapter and it provides the opportunity to agree or disagree with various statements about how we are doing as a school:

  • Teachers work collaboratively on the routine tasks associated with teaching:  I agree with that as at my school there are opportunities every week for the grade level teams to meet 4 times together during the school day and again one day after school.  This is because all the students in the grade level go to either German or EAL 4 times a week at the same time.  What this means is that myself (as an ICTL teacher) and one of the learning support teachers are always available to meet with the team during at least one of their collaborative planning sessions as we have built this meeting time into our flexi schedules.  My observation during most of these meetings is that teachers are working together both on the routine tasks and on the collaborative planning process.
  • Teachers focus their professional development needs on the learning needs of their students:  I agree because this year certainly PD will be tied with our department and personal goals.  In addition there is the requirement from the IB for all teachers to be trained in the PYP.  Certainly I can say that personally I have attended workshops and conferences that have had a direct impact on the learning of my students.
  • Professional development involves teachers working in teams to improve teaching and student learning: I agree - there are grade level teams and subject leaders also meet together as a team.  During the past year we have focused on many things that will impact teaching and learning, for example which inquiry cycle we will use.
  • The majority of teacher professional development occurs at school:  I disagree - most of my professional development occurred outside of school - however last year I did run Techie Breakies to give PD to teachers at school.  There was also a large focus on having all the teachers who had not had PYP training attend a PYP workshop (outside of school).
  • Teachers meet multiple times per week in teams to learn, reflect and extend teaching and student learning - I agree as already mentioned above.  The question in my mind, again based on a previous post, is how much of this planning is true collaboration, and how much is coblaboration?  How much is a true creation of knowledge and how much is just a transmission of knowledge, cooperation and collegiality (what we did last year, what worked, what didn't etc).  In addition up to now we have had collaborative planning sessions for the whole primary school where all specialist teachers attend (though if they teach several different grade levels there are often clashes)
  • How could we benefit from collaborative professional learning?  I think in any school teachers will benefit from a being part of a culture of collaboration and learning together.  I think that teams will be strengthened by this and will start to work together for the good of the team rather than for the good of the individuals in those teams.
  • What barriers appear to stand in the way of our implementing collaborative professional learning?  Time is a major barrier and having all the teachers who are collaborating being given the time and space to work together.  Too often duties and extra curricular activities are standing in the way.  Some years previously (before I actually worked there) students at my school had an early release day which allowed the teachers more time to collaborate - this time disappeared when the students were given extra German lessons.  In a previous school where I worked, students had a late start one day a week, giving teachers the first hour of that day to work together and receive PD.  I think that was an even better idea than an early release day as teachers were fresh for their morning meetings, rather than feeling jaded at the end of the day.
  • What aspects of collaborative professional learning are we already implementing and what aspects need more attending?  I think staff need to feel more in control of their learning and the direction they are going.  I think there needs to be more emphasis given to making teachers feel safe and respected.  I think some teachers still feel very threatened in meetings if their opinion is very different from the rest of the team, and therefore they are less likely to contribute or to share.
  • What is one action we can take to strengthen our practice of collaborative professional learning and its results?  I think we could focus more on "just in time" professional development rather than "just in case".  I think we need to recognise that a one-size-fits-all approach just doesn't work.  we are all at different stages on our learning journey - we need a differentiated approach too.
  • What attitudes and understanding or lack of, do we need to address to begin collaborative professional learning?  I would say that we should all be addressing the IB learner profile - we should work on being inquirers, knowledgeable, thinkers, communicators, principled, open-minded, caring, risk-takers, balanced and reflective.

Photo Credit:  Warming your hands by Ecole Wind

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Moving from Good to Great

This evening I attended a Back to School night on our Luzern campus.  It was a great evening and I ended up feeling very energised after attending the presentations made the parents who attended the evening.  This is the last of 4 parent evenings I have attended over the past few weeks (one as a parent myself) and I have started to feel that as a school we are beginning to move from good to great.  This is what became clear to me when I reflected on what I had heard at these Back to School evenings:

  • I heard a lot of talk about learning, rather than about teaching.
  • I heard single-subject teachers talk about how they integrated with and supported the programme of inquiry being delivered by the homeroom teachers.
  • I heard talk about formative assessments rather than summative assessments.
  • I have heard talk about comparing students to standards and learning outcomes, rather than comparing students to each other (and I only once heard how our IB scores compared with the world average).
  • I heard talk about making a difference in students' lives.
  • I have heard talk about working together collaboratively rather than working in isolation.
All these things make me feel that we are moving in the right direction.  Teachers are talking together and sharing their knowledge about what is working and they are building on changes that have already been made last year.  In addition, now that we have two new campuses I feel a sense of new beginnings and of the will to transform the school culture, I feel we are starting to move beyond just adopting a new mission statement and a new strategic plan and that many of our teachers are starting to "walk the talk".  Last year I felt as a new person that the experience I brought to the school was often colliding with what Ian Jukes called the traditional TTWWADI culture ("that's the way we've always done it").  This year I am feeling that we are starting to discuss the culture of the school in a more open way, the processes we are going through, the new practices we need to implement.

Over the summer holidays I watched some presentations from Jim Collins on YouTube and visited his website where he discusses moving from good to great.  He says:
Good to great comes by a cumulative process - step by step, action by action, decision by decision .... that adds up to sustained and spectacular results.  
So what needs to happen next?  Well I think that our leadership needs to actively work on giving us the time we need to enable us to work collaboratively, learn from each other and create something that is bigger than we could create as individuals.  In addition I think our administration needs to accept that in order for us to become continuous learners we will need to have more emphasis on professional development, both within and outside of school (and that will also take time).

At our staff meeting last week we were introduced to the idea of the best professional development occurring in the workplace, rather than outside.  While I don't agree totally with this, I do think there needs to be more emphasis on learning from each other at school and that professional development needs to be focused on developing the team, rather than the individual.  When I organised our recent SMARTboard training I did this with one teacher per team - but that teacher is now responsible for providing leadership within that team on the use of IWBs and for finding and creating resources for the team to use.

Another area that I think we need to work on as a staff is the idea of sharing the students achievements on formative assessments across each grade.  When I have been involved in this type of sharing before in previous schools I have found it to be extremely powerful in reaching consensus in how to judge the quality of students' work and in addressing areas of common concern.  For some teachers this can be a bit threatening, however, if they perceive this as a reflection on their own teaching, rather than as a constructive way of ensuring that all students are getting the time, help and support they need.

This year our co-ordinators have been renamed leaders.  Team leaders, subject leaders and so on.  I like the idea of developing the leadership of all teachers.  Recently I have even been reading articles about schools that don't have principals but instead run with teacher leaders, in other schools principals have seen their role as "leaders of leaders" (as opposed to leaders of followers).  Today I came across a blog about what teachers need from administrators where Brian Crosby wrote:
If you have been an administrator for more years than you taught full-time in an actual classroom, you are probably disconnected from what it is like to be a teacher. If you taught for less than 4 or 5 years ... sorry, but you probably don't know what it is like to be a full-time classroom teacher
I definitely agree that the vast majority of administrators could learn a lot from stepping into the classroom a bit more often!  Moving from good to great is a hard process - it involves us taking a good and critical look at ourselves and it involves being open-minded and willing to change many things - ourselves included.  It also involves the administration of the school being equally open and accepting of the need to make changes to themselves and their practices too.

Photo Credit:  Life is Good by Bob Fornal

Monday, September 6, 2010

Building a Community of Inquirers

For our Team Leaders meeting on Monday we have been given the article to read: So they can fly ... building a community of inquirers by Linda Gibson-Langford and Di Laycock.  This article addresses the difference between collaboration, cooperation and connection and introduces a new term to me coblaboration.  We were asked to come up with thoughts, questions and analogies for discussion at our next meeting.

Collaboration is seen as a "deeper concept than the more superficial enactment of working together in cooperative partnerships".  The article quotes from Thomas Friedman who says:  "we are going ... to a world where value is created ... by who we connect and collaborate with".  The article looks deeper at the two words connect and collaborate and points out that you can connect to things without collaborating, but you cannot collaborate with connecting.  Many teachers talk about Web 2.0 helping them to collaborate, whereas in fact they really refering to connecting, sometimes superficially.  The authors point out that "unless we can learn the lessons of collaboration and get them right, it doesn't matter what technology can offer us."

So what is true collaboration?  It is the shared discovery or a shared understanding that leads to a shared creation and this in turn leads to innovative thinking and change.  Shared creation is an interesting concept in these days of copyright as the common knowledge and creation can be owned by everyone.  Collaboration involves transforming the knowledge that is inside each person into explicit knowledge that can be documented.  This success of this relies on the relationships between the collaborators - as each person wants to share their knowledge yet at the same time they want to protect their ideas.

Oftentimes instead of collaboration among our colleagues we simply have coblaboration - a chaotic pattern of conversations, over-talking, giving information, repeating the obvious, groupthink or even conversations with no action or new ideas being generated.  Or as someone once said to me, two monologues don't make a dialogue.  What is needed for teachers to move on from this point is planned structures and processes that are dedicated to facilitating the shared creation that is the hallmark of true collaboration.  Teachers need to feel safe, and must feel that their contributions are valued.

Our schools often lack a collaborative culture, which has been defined by Leonard-Barton as "knowledge reservoirs where the flow of ideas is constantly replenished with streams of new ideas" leading to a continuous process of school renewal.  In order to become more collaborative schools need to analyse the processes of collaboration - without this there is simply a transfer of knowledge instead of a creation of knowledge and instead of collaboration you are left with cooperation and collegiality.  True collaboration involves community dialogue and works against groupthink and hierarchical decision making.  It also leads to teachers leaving aside self-promotion and moving towards promotion of the whole school community as a knowledge-oriented culture.

If we accept that true learning is an outcome of collaboration, then placing more emphasis on the social nature of learning and fostering a spirit of inquiry within a school will lead to a greater chance of fostering innovative thinking.  We talk a lot about our students becoming life-long learners - teachers must embrace this too.  School leaders need to focus on promoting socially shared learning, supporting teachers emotionally and intellectually, encouraging teachers to work interdependently and creating a safe environment where ideas can be expressed and where teachers feel their contributions are valued.

3 thoughts about the article:
It's important to move towards true collaboration, not just get stuck on connection, cooperation or coblaboration.
Collaboration involves shared creation and the transformation (as opposed to the transfer) of knowledge.
Collaboration only happens in a safe environment where teachers feel valued.

2 questions:
How can we replace knowledge silos with a school-wide knowledge reservoir?
How can we create safe and creative environments where teachers truly feel their contributions are valued?

Positive - 12 years ago I was involved in a European-wide Butterfly Sight project, studying butterflies from the Arctic to the Mediterranean.  This project lasted in total for 6 years, with the last 3 years focusing on sharing our pedagogy.  This was the most collaborative project I have ever been involved in and 6 years after the project has finished I am still in contact with the teachers who participated.  We definitely created knowledge and transformed our individual knowledge.  We definitely felt valued.
Negative - I am involved in developing curriculum on the role of ICT in the PYP.  While my personal feeling is that everything the committee creates together can be used by the IB, some schools have a different perspective - that everything created by the employees of the school is owned by the school.  My personal feelings are that this attitude works against building a collaborative culture.

Photo Credit:  Peonza by Roberto Corralo