Tuesday, February 28, 2017

From good to great to exceptional

At the close of our weekend PD at ASB, Head of School Craig Johnson shared an article with us about what makes an employee not just great but exceptional.  These 8 signs are interesting (and I need to think whether or not I agree with all of them) but in any case here they are:
  1. They think beyond job descriptions.  I was especially interested in this sign, as I've been applying for jobs recently in the hope of being able to move back to Europe to give more support to my family.  I have to say most job descriptions I've read have been pretty bland.  At one point I even suggested changing the job title to bring it more in line with the school's mission statement (needless to say I was not offered that job!)  The reason that this was included on the list was that people need to do whatever it takes to get things done, regardless of their actual title or job.
  2. They're quirky.  I liked this one as it also speaks a lot about the company/school.  I definitely want to work in a place where being different or unusual is something that is celebrated not beaten out of you.  Quirky people not only challenge the status quo with their ideas, they are also a lot of fun to work with.  Throughout my children's schooling they were both lucky to have a few quirky teachers - and they are the ones who really made an impact on them and who they remember to this day.
  3. They know when to rein in their individuality.  There are times when you need to pull back a bit to fit into a team i.e. there's a time and a place for being quirky and a time and a place for conforming - and exceptional employees know when this is.
  4. They praise others in public.  They recognize the contributions of others.
  5. They disagree in private.  This is the difference between being great and exceptional.  Great people often do bring up controversial subjects in group meetings, however exceptional employees discuss sensitive issues in private.
  6. They ask questions when others won't.  They speak up at meetings and often ask the questions that others are afraid to ask, and often raise important issues on behalf of others.
  7. They like to prove other people wrong.  When people doubt them or their abilities, they are determined to show everyone that they can do a good job.
  8. They are constantly exploring, and rarely satisfied.  They always want to be reworking, reworking or tweaking something.
Photo Credit: miamism Flickr via Compfight cc

Monday, February 27, 2017

Using thinking routines purposefully and powerfully

This is my final post based on the Visible Thinking sessions I did with Mark Church at the weekend.

In schools there is a lot to get through but we must never lose sight of the fact that teachers are using language and putting structures into place that give messages about what is valuable.  Of course every teacher is likely to say that she or he values thinking - but what thinking is worth valuing?  As teachers, Mark asked us to reflect on the following:

What - what idea from making thinking visible and creating a culture of thinking has resonated with you most - considering your work with students at this school?

So what - so what about this idea strikes you as particularly important? Why is this so significant for you?

Now what - now what are you thinking a next step could be for you? (in the near term or more broadly and beyond)

Mark talked about turning the traditional view of teaching on its head.  For centuries teaching has been about talking, and students have been expected to listen.  He asked, what if we flip this?  If teaching becomes listening and learning becomes talking?  How can we be sure that the thinking routines that we are using in the classroom are purposeful?  Here are his 3 key learnings:
  1. Initially thinking routines often start off as activities, but in order to work over time they have to be seen as integrated and purposeful by the students.
  2. Thinking routines become routines only once the edges are soften and both teachers and students can work flexibly with the routine.
  3. In the classroom, it’s not just the routines themselves but the interactions that take place around routines that makes them powerful.
We need to avoid using thinking routines to illustrate the content (like a visual aid) or to decorate, enhance or jazz up the content or lesson plan. Thinking routines are not the baubles on the Christmas tree:  Content being decorated with thinking is different from content leveraging thinking opportunities and thinking opportunities leveraging content.  Of course it's important to consider the content - because it's hard to think and wonder when there are no big ideas or when there is not much in the content to think and wonder about. Our content and the thinking that we want our students to be engaged in needs to be dynamic and connected, not one-way and static.  

Final thoughts:  much of the content shared by Mark in his presentations was familiar to me from my time in the International School of Amsterdam.  However being able to engage with it again at a deeper level, and with my colleagues at ASB, was truly amazing - and hopefully transformational.

Photo Credit: ssolaresphotography Flickr via Compfight cc

Recognizing purpose, exploring practices

Lots of teachers have heard about the visible thinking routines and lots of teachers use them, but these routines and practices are only as powerful as they are connected to their purposes.  Making students' thinking visible is a stance - not a programme - to put thinking onto the front burner.

So while there are different ways that schools are using visible thinking, there are also some commonalities:
  • Core goal is to develop students’ thinking dispositions - their thinking habits - while deepening their subject matter understanding
  • Core belief - dispositions are developed through enculturation in thoughtful settings over time - dispositions cannot be taught, they have to be grown. 
  • Core question - how do we influence and shape classroom culture to make thinking a more central aspect of classroom life? Content elicits thinking opportunities. The content becomes accessible via the thinking.
  • Core practice - developing thinking routines and documenting them. The practices are NOT the goal - they are in service of developing thinking habits/dispositions. Just doing the routines are not the end goal - they are mechanisms towards the goal. They are practical things to do but must be connected to purpose.
Photo Credit: Duke.Box Flickr via Compfight cc

What thinking is worth making visible?

Last weekend I spent the whole of our Plugged-In PD in the Visible Thinking sessions facilitated by Mark Church.  This is the 4th post about our learning.

On Day 1 of the conference we spent the sessions talking about building a culture of thinking and sending a message to students that thinking matters.  On Day 2 our sessions focused on thinking.   Learning is a product or consequence of thinking, and yet as teachers we put a huge amount of effort into planning all the things we are going to do with our students - the learning engagements - but much less time planning for thinking.  Mark pointed out that thinking needs to be planned for and added into the planners and engagements.  Yet this is hard to do because thinking is invisible, and it's hard to plan things with the invisible - hence the need to make thinking visible, and notice and name the thinking we want done.  Because it's so hard to notice and name the thinking we want students to engage in, it's hard for us as teachers to activate it and to influence it - and this is where the Understanding Map comes in.

The Understanding Map contains the thinking moves that may be useful for developing understanding:
Mark pointed out that these routines do not form a taxonomy.  When you look at your subject, at what you want students to understand, you can make a decision about which of these routines will best help students develop a deep understanding.  It's also good to explain to students why you have made these choices - you should use the terms of the routines (for example " I want you to reason with evidence") instead of the simple word "think".  Make sure that you don't simply use the thinking routines as "activities".

Here is a video about the Project Zero Thinking Routines:

Friday, February 24, 2017

Establishing patterns of thinking in the classroom

After lunch I attended another session with Mark Church where we looked at thinking routines and how they differ from strategies or activities.  We asked the questions:
  • How do teachers work with, make use of, and develop thinking routines over time? 
  • What happens for students when they work with thinking routines over time?
First we needed to make sure we were all on the same page about what a thinking routine is:
Thinking - use of the mind to form thoughts, to reason, to make connections, to consider perspectives, to observe closely
Routine - a pattern of behaviour adopted for a particular circumstance, a rehearsed set of movements or actions that make up a performance.

Routines are in place for all sorts of things in schools - classroom management, evacuation of the building in an emergency etc. Why wouldn’t we expect to put a routine in place when a certain type of thinking is called for?  Students need to be familiar with thinking routines that can be applied to different content.

Thinking Routines are tools that can be used over and over again to support specific thinking and structures through which students explore, document and discuss and manage thinking.  They are patterns of behaviour adopted to help one use the mind to form thoughts, reason and reflect.

Throughout the day we explored a number of visible thinking routines - and saw videos of them in action in the classroom.  I'm excited to be going back again tomorrow - even though it is a Saturday - to dive deeper into thinking.

Photo Credit: the Italian voice Flickr via Compfight cc

What is the story of learning in this place?

In the second session with Mark Church today, we asked the question how do we use students' thinking to navigate their learning forward? We first of all considered our own experience and thought of a time when we've been part of a group that did really good thinking together that really advanced our learning. We thought about what made it that way - what were the factors, influences or practices that made that group such a good thinking group? As we shared out, we noticed many similarities: our groups had a common goal, all voices were heard, we could learn from our mistakes, there was an outcome we cared about, everyone brought strengths, we could be flexible, and our collaborative thinking was valued. This led us to the following conclusion about cultures of thinking:
Cultures of thinking are places in which a group’s collective as well as individual thinking is valued, visible and actively promoted as part of the regular day to day experience of all group members.
We applied this to our schools to ask how we could move away from simply using thinking routines, and move towards "thinking that's routine".  We thought about how a classroom's story gets told - what are we doing to foster this culture?  Again we considered the forces that shape a culture in the classroom: routines and structures, time, opportunities, modeling, interactions and language.  And we came away with a question: If I want to encourage thinking - what I am doing to get the culture into place?

Photo Credit: Anna Marie Gearhart Flickr via Compfight cc

What might we dream of for our learners?

Today and tomorrow we are hosting ASB Plugged-in at school.  We have lots of presenters, but for me I decided to take a deep dive into just one area - to work with Mark Church (an old colleague of mine from the International School of Amsterdam) to really focus in on visible thinking.  We started with some questions:
  • What messages are we sending students about what learning is and how learning happens? What do students think learning is? As teachers, do we know what we mean when we ask children to learn? 
  • What are kids learning about what learning is when they are with us? What is their conceptual understanding of learning?
  • How can we take more notice of the culture of our classrooms - and what it communicates to learners about the value and importance of thinking?
  • How might we make students’ thinking more visible, give it more value, and use it to navigate learning?
  • How can we send a message to students that thinking matters?
Individually and then in pairs, we discussed the 3 or 4 attitudes, dispositions and habits that we wished students came to your classroom with that would serve their learning well? We came up with 3 broad categories:
  1. Social dispositions - attitudes and habits that relate to how groups and people function eg: cooperativeness, humour, empathy
  2. Work dispositions - attitudes and habits related to work and school performance eg: persistence, concern for quality, willingness to do one’s best, reviewing one’s work, putting forth best effort
  3. Thinking dispositions - attitudes and habits that facilitate and promote effective thinking, eg: open-mindedness, curiosity, skepticism, looking at both sides of the issue (perspective seeking)
We reflected on how early childhood educators tend to value social dispositions more than the others - the others matter but are not as prominent. With high school all 3 categories show up but work dispositions are more prominent. We talked about what a pre-school through high school continuum looks like? Time is given to social dispositions early on - leading to work dispositions later.  But what about the thinking dispositions?  Where do we take a stance to not lose sight of these - how do we get them on the front burner just as much as the other dispositions?

An observation that Mark made was that If the social dispositions and work dispositions are a mess, you would be hard pressed to find thinking going on in a school/classroom. But the converse is not true. Just because social and work dispositions are in place it doesn’t automatically follow that there is a culture of thinking.

So how can we shift a school or classroom culture? We can do this through the use of routines that foster our disposition wishlist (e.g. curiosity and wondering) and through time (which signifies what is most important in our classroom). We can offer opportunities to engage in the routine and use the interactions around these opportunities to explore the dispositions (e.g. reasoning with evidence). The routine is a model for thinking dispositions, something we can do that signifies the teacher’s wishlist. The environment also needs to allow for the routines. The interactions and expectations afford students the opportunities to engage with these dispositions.

Or as Mark put it - the culture is the co-teacher in the classroom.

And perhaps instead of asking what 3 or 4 attitudes, dispositions or habits we want students to come into to our classroom with, we should instead be asking what 3 or 4 attitudes, dispositions, habits do we wish that our students left our classrooms with that would serve their learning well - long after they’ve left us?

Photo Credit: NuageDeNuit | Chiara Vitellozzi Flickr via Compfight cc

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Efficiency (doing the right thing) -v- effectiveness (doing things right)

Another resource shared at the Vietnam Technology Conference at the weekend was Will Richardson and Bruce Dixon's eBook 10 Principles for Schools of Modern Learning.  I downloaded this and it's amazing!  Today I've been reading the first section and considering the need to change our current system of "imperfect learning".

Will and Bruce write that schools are driven by efficiencies rather than effectiveness:  efficiency is "doing things right", whereas effectiveness is "doing the right thing".  Schools have always put efficiency first, yet we know that deep learning is not best served by the systems that deliver education as efficiently as possible.  Doing things right involves students coming to a particular place at a particular time with a particular teacher with other students the same age where they all go through the same curriculum and are assessed in the same way.  Doing the right thing relies on abundant access to knowledge and information through the internet, so that we can "learn anything we want, when we want, wherever we are, with whomever we can find, in whatever way works best for us."  Effectiveness is how learning happens in the real world outside of schools.   Will and Bruce write:
It is inarguable that striving for efficiency erodes effectiveness when it comes to learning in schools.  We know that the most effective learning doesn't happen when we take children and separate them by ability, isolate the subjects we teach them, give them little choice over the what and how of learning, try to motivate them with grades, make them sit in rows, and standardize the whole process via one-size-fits-all assessments.
Doing the right thing involves creating classrooms where learning builds on passions and interests, relevance and purpose, and where learning is not constrained by time limits and subjects.   These words really spoke to me today - my heart became full.

As well as the eBook, Modern Leaners is also launching a podcast series and next month a new 8 week course and community is starting focusing on how to effect serious, sustained and relevant change in school.  The aim of Modern Learners is to build capacity of educators to lead real change. This will need time, visionary leadership and community support, but it's definitely something that I want to get involved in.

Photo Credit: Mark Brannan Flickr via Compfight cc

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The elephant in the classroom

At the weekend I attended and presented at the Vietnam Technology Conference in Ho Chi Minh City.  The keynote speaker on the first day was John Burns, the Director of Creativity and Innovation at International School Services.  In this keynote, John shared some very useful resources, which I'm getting round to reading and blogging about this week.  The first one is by Will Richardson and is entitled 9 Elephants in the (Class)Room that should "Unsettle" Us.  Will writes that many educators are more concerned with "doing the wrong thing right" than doing the right thing and that he is frustrated with our unwillingness to acknowledge these elephants in the (class)room - the things that we don't want to talk about in education.  Here are his 9 elephants:
  1. Our students will forget most of the content they learn in school - in fact only a small fraction is retained even for one year after "learning" it because this content has little or no relevance to students' real lives.  One elephant is that despite knowing this, we continue to focus on content knowledge.
  2. Many students are bored and disengaged - and technology cannot solve this.  The answer is to give students more choices and agency over their own learning.
  3. Schools were not built for deep learning - which involves interest, passion and an authentic reason for learning.  Deep learning also involves agency and choice about what, when, where and with whom you learn, and yet in most schools students are told what to learn, how to learn it and how they will be assessed on their understanding.
  4. Assessment is not based on what will matter for future success - such as being a creative thinker.  We should not be teaching and assessing students on the things that in the future machines will be able to do.
  5. Students and parents are more interested in grades than in learning.
  6. Our curriculum is based on the subjects that were important over 100 years ago - not on today's needs.  We need to make new choices about the "one billionth of one percent" of knowledge that we are teaching in schools.
  7. Separating learning into subjects is not real-world - the future belongs to people who combine a range of different skills from different subjects.
  8. Education is not adequately preparing students for further education or for work.
  9. Learning that sticks is usually learned informally in the moment - and yet schools continue to work on a "just in case" belief that access to knowledge is still scarce.
I've been mulling over these elephants and thinking about whether or not they are also present in international school classrooms.  Reflecting on my own experience at ASB I would say that 1, 4 and 6 in particular are relevant, and possibly 5 and 7 further up the school.  I don't see our students as bored and disengaged, and I do think we are preparing students adequately for university, if not for work.  Probably our biggest issue I would think is our curriculum, especially the content knowledge, standards and assessments that don't seem relevant.  In the elementary school I think we do a good job at being transdisciplinary, but still think we could give students more choices in what they learn and how they learn it.

Do you agree with Will Richardson about the elephants in the classroom?  Which ones are the ones you need to acknowledge?

Photo Credit: Timothy Valentine Flickr via Compfight cc

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Using technology to personalize learning - part 5: mobile devices

As we discuss personalized learning at school, I'm often part of conversations about giving students a choice about how they express their understanding. Inevitably this may depend on the students' ability to choose the tools he or she wants to use. At school we have a BYOD programme, so students already have a choice of which laptop they bring to school. However, they do have to have a laptop as their primary device - just relying on a mobile device is not an option at this time. What we discovered, through various prototypes over the past 5 years, is that mobile devices do offer a different way of doing things - and that one device may not be the answer to all of a student's learning needs.

In our Grade 4 we have just completed a historical narrative which formed the summative assessment for the Where We Are in Place and Time unit. Students were given the choice of making paper slides, using Book Creator, iMovie and Voicethread. At the same time students were encouraged to use whatever devices they had for making these narratives. Some students continued to work on their laptops, others brought in mobile devices from home. Some students even used a mixture of devices, for example green screening on one device and putting the project together on another.

One advantage is that students are able to use the devices that they already have at home instead of or in addition to the laptops that they use in school. These other devices are likely to be the ones that they will be using in the future. Being flexible about the devices they are using is also a skill necessary for the future, as they need to adapt to the rapidly changing world of technology.   Students then published their narratives onto the Grade 4 blog - another tool that they are becoming increasingly confident in using and which supports the aim of the Grade 4 teachers to have their students become global communicators.

Photo Credit: Zach Frailey Flickr via Compfight cc

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Leadership: a rank -v- a responsibility

Last week our Head of School, Craig Johnson, shared a video clip with us about Simon Senik's new book Leaders Eat Last.  Craig wrote:
Much of what Senik says (and much of what the book speaks to) is what we are about at ASB.
Although the clip is only 4 minutes long, there are some important points:
  • Leadership is a choice - to put others before yourself.
  • A leader is like a parent - we want our children/employees to achieve more than we have ourselves.
  • Leaders risk their own interests so that others may advance.
  • Trust and cooperation are feelings produced by the environment in which we are working - and that environment is created by the leaders.
  • When we feel our leaders have our interests in mind, we look out for each other; work harder, are more innovative, and give our best talents and ideas.
  • When times are tough - a great leader makes sure that each person suffers a little so that no one person has to suffer a lot.
  • Great leaders put people before numbers (heart-counts not head-counts)
  • The leader points to the direction in the distant future - we feel excited to participate when we are given ownership and responsibility for the mission. 

Photo Credit: Baron Reznik Flickr via Compfight cc

Saturday, February 4, 2017

We rise by lifting others

This is my fifth year in India, and as I consider the future I think it's also good to reflect on the past.  I came to India once before, as a 23 year old, and when I left to become a teacher in the UK I never thought I'd be back.  And yet, in 2011 when I accepted a job in India I wrote, "Now I feel I've come full circle: I'm returning to the country where it all started as I've accepted an exciting new job on a wonderful new campus of ASB that is being constructed in Mumbai. I am thrilled by this new opportunity to completely redefine 21st century education, but above all I have a profound feeling of karma - I have gone full circle and come back to where I started."

Little did I know how true these words would turn out to be.  When I first moved to India I started to learn Hindi. As we were moving onto the past and future tenses, I came across the Hindi word "kal", which means yesterday and also tomorrow. I asked my Hindi teacher how the same word could mean two things that were totally opposite of each other. She simply smiled, knowing I'd been in India before, and said "But Maggie, don't you know that in India time is circular?"

In my first year in India I often said I felt a very strong sense of karma - of being in exactly the right place at the right time - but I didn't know why.   Five year on, however, I truly believe that the reason I was meant to move back to India was to get involved in the TTP (ASB's Teacher Training Programme for local teachers who are working in NGOs).  I cannot tell you what an inspiration it has been to spend time focused on teaching adults.  These teachers work in the most challenging of situations, and often for lower pay than they would in the Indian state schools. The TTP takes place on Saturdays from August through to February each year.  After the TTP Saturdays, the teachers that participate in this programme go back to their schools, train their colleagues, and making a difference in the lives of thousands of students. These dedicated teachers are building India's future and I'm humbled to be able to help them on this journey.

Today was our last day of this year's TTP cohort.  We have around 70 teachers who have gone through the programme this year from various NGOs around Mumbai and beyond.    These were divided into 10 cohort groups with about 7 teachers in each, and each group had an ASB coach and in some cases a translator.  My cohort group is in the photo above - they have all just received their graduation certificates.

Here are some of the NGOs and what they have learned and implemented in their schools as a result of attending this year's TTP.

This organization was founded in 1990 with the vision of a world where every child counts.  They work to provide supportive environments for families living in marginalized slum communities and on the streets.  Their focus is on both education and health, having evolved from an organization that worked with lepers to one that now deals with families and children with HIV/AIDS.  Currently they are working with around 7000 communities in Mumbai, and the teacher who spoke to us about her learning mentioned that she works in one of their crisis centres.  She identified many areas of key learning this year.  For example on our first session, we did an activity about our names.  She said she has used this in the centre because they deal with many orphans who really don't have a history (or at least they don't know it).  She has had the CCDT teachers look into the history of the children's names and in some cases used this to help students create their own histories.  CCDT has embraced the idea of holding morning and afternoon meetings and using positive teacher language, and felt they learned about the difference between classroom management and discipline. Other areas where they felt they grew in understanding include the development of the brain and how it affects learning, skill development in oracy, listening, reading and writing, and differentiation. They tried out the 6 Thinking Hats, the Hour of Code, and coaching. They feel their teachers are now more sensitive to their ESL students, and they have implemented PLCs.

This year 3 teachers from this school came to the TTP.   The school was established in 2012 and serves students aged 5 - 18 with learning challenges.  The intention is to help students develop the skills, knowledge, understandings and attitudes necessary for them to lead fulfilling and productive lives – as independent and successful individuals that actively contribute to society.  The Gateway teachers felt they had taken onboard many of the responsive classroom ideas, in particular morning meetings which are now used across the school, interactive modelling, positive teacher language (reinforcing, reminding and redirecting language) and various protocols.  They now have classroom rules and classroom norms and are also enthusiastic about differentiation using academic choices.

The iSanctuary joined the TTP for the first time this year.  The iSanctuary works in the red-light districts of Mumbai where the average price of sex is just $8 and where trafficking of minor girls is a $1 billion a year industry.  We had one teacher from the iSanctuary, and he told us that worldwide there are over 27 million victims of human trafficking, 18 million of these in India.  The iSanctuary works with the survivors of the sex trade, and since 2007 has served over 300 young women and girls aged 12 to 25 who have been rescued from sex trafficking.  These girls receive education, counselling, medical care and employment.  The aims of the iSanctuary are to offer a place of dignity for women to return to education.  He told us that everyone in the iSanctuary has a dream and that their students challenge and inspire each other as they pursue their curiosities and discover their passions.  The programme consists of core subjects, life skills and personal development.  An individual learning plan is drawn up for each student to address their unique educational needs.  The teacher who joined the TTP from the iSanctuary this year identified his key learnings as Responsive Classroom, WIDA, the 6 Thinking Hats, how to teach integers and PBL.

This is an NGO working with underprivileged children.  Through various interventions, the aim is to improve their standard of living and to enable them to lead a life of dignity.  This year the participants on the TTP were focusing on spoken English.  They told us that their key learnings were Responsive Classroom, classroom management, differentiated learning, adolescent behaviour, the use of technology in learning and reading workshop and EAL.  They told us that they had started using the 6 Thinking Hats with their teachers.  They also said that the TTP had helped them as individuals in the following ways:
  • It made us realize the importance of being a good listener.
  • It gave us an insight into the mind of an adolescent.
  • We understood that class management is about how I manage myself rather than students.
  • We learnt that reading and writing can be enjoyable activities.
Muktangan is an NGO founded in 2003 to provide quality, child-centred, inclusive schooling to 3,400 underprivileged children in Mumbai. They believe in "education for the community by the community," and also run a teacher training programme for local teachers.  The teachers are from the same neighbourhoods and communities as the students, creating empowered change agents.  Their key learnings from the TTP this year were EAL, the morning meetings and energizers, reading and listening strategies, the hour of code, classroom management and science and Maker.

At the end of the day we reflected on the TTP this year.  This is our 6th year of TTP and we have just graduated our 4th cohort of teachers.  We felt we achieved our goals of sharing our professional practice and in addressing the mindset that every child can learn.  Their students will have the skills they need for the future and the confidence to turn their dreams into realities.  At the end of the day our High School principal, Josh Bishop, spoke and reminded us of our strategic plan where we used the term "making a ripple".   Dropping a stone into water makes a small, but ever spreading circle, and the TTP is just like that - it starts small but makes a bigger and bigger impact.  As this cohort of teachers leaves us,  this ripple will continue to expand outwards - and who knows how many children it will eventually impact.  Each one of the 70 teachers in the cohort is making a difference - together we are making a change to education in Mumbai.