In leadership roles in spaces with many moving parts and challenges, I’ve learned that unnecessary ambiguity can lead to unnecessary conflict. As a coordinator we can often predict where some of these conflicts might arise.
In something as complex as an international IB school, with a range of perspectives and experiences, having the “truth” to hand can be an effort and relationship-saver. Thinking carefully about the cultural forces of expectations and language can shape more positive interactions.
I’ve more recently started to lean on the phrase “here’s where we’re going with this” (Ron Ritchhart), in making as clear as possible to my colleagues and students the direction we’re going… and that it’s a shared journey.
We can invest time to make time (COT), to set the stage for productive collaboration, through resourcing, accessing “truth” documents and being clear with intention and the use of language. Through clarity of message, direction and resource we can minimise the chances of someone’s energies being sapped on surface-level frustrations. We want the mental energy to be spent on productive, collegial discourse.
Another line I love in Brené Brown’s post is “talking about someone rather than talking to them is unkind.” So much so, that in the agendas I control, we have two guiding questions at the top:
- How do we make it easier to do better things?
- Are we talking about someone that we should be talking to/with?
Simple principles, easy to live by.
They have helped me mature and maintain calm over my journey so far.
A rough metaphor for leading from the middle, the Middle Leader Sponge often has to clean up spills and messes and absorb the stresses or worries of others so that they can go about their own job without passing on that stress. Sometimes an approach needs the soft side. At other times a little more scrubbing gets the job done but the sponge can’t afford to cause new damage.
However, a saturated sponge can’t absorb any more and could end up creating new messes if one tried. There are times it might feel like trying to soak up the mess of a broken sprinkler system, set off by little fires in many rooms.
The Middle Leader Sponge needs to find ways to wring out the worry, so that they can get back to it. How do you do it?
A quick post to share an animated gif, made in the new Keynote 9 update. It is a rebuild of a lower-quality animation I made years ago and use often, inspired by a cartoon I saw but cannot track down again (and I’d love to find it). I have used it in the context of critiquing my own MA dissertation and more frequently in conversations about not over-describing the 7-8 level of MYP assessment criteria.
“Zooming In” to MYP Assessment
A growing concern for me in MYP is the power this line from MYP subject guides can have on the opportunities and expectations for and the language of learning in the classroom:
Subject groups must assess all strands of all four assessment criteria at least twice in each year of the MYP.MYP Subject Guides
There is a danger that we ignore the heart of the discipline in anxiety for “getting it right” in terms of assessment; that reporting drives practice. Don’t boil teaching and learning down into a checklist. We can do better, we can enjoy it more and we can collect acceptable evidences of understanding in a range of forms.
Connecting to this, here are a couple of really powerful posts from Grant Wiggins: On Intelligent vs thoughtless use of rubrics (and part 2 here). It’s not the first thing generated and should not be over-described in the first round of a project, or we risk shutting down the avenues for true inquiry. For another MYP parallel, here is an older post connected to my “all in one” project, focusing on “zooming in” to the third band. Jennifer Gonzalez’s single point rubric is well worth reading
Authenticity & Opportunity
A post that really influenced my thinking on authenticity in assessment and learning opportunities was this, from Grant Wiggins. It defines authenticity as:
Authentic tests are representative challenges within a given discipline. They are designed to emphasize realistic (but fair) complexity; they stress depth more than breadth. In doing so, they must necessarily involve somewhat ambiguous, ill structured tasks or problems.Grant Wiggins
He outlined 27 characteristics that can be used to develop assessment tasks and learning opportunities, which I summarised in this table:
An important takeaway from this, is not that “real world” is better than (or less than) anything else. It is more that when everyday usage of the content diverges from authenticity true to the discipline, we should aim for sophisticated authenticity rather than shoehorning-in some “pseudocontext” and pretending it is “real world”. It is better to think as a mathematician in a sophisticated inquiry than to not think at all…
Creating Cultures of Thinking
Similarly, the following on the force of Opportunities, from Ron Ritchhart’s Creating Cultures of Thinking (graphic by me) can be considered. Note the call to “authentic intellectual engagement”.
Transition years can be full-on and exhausting. New country, new role, new friends, kids, colleagues, tech, language, environment, expectations, opportunities. Embracing the new and trying to avoid old traps. Parenting through transitions and creating new memories. Overcoming challenges when things go wrong or culture shock hits.
We’ve been fortunate to land in a city and a school racing towards the future. Beijing five years ago was a hard no, but we tracked the environmental data, learned from friends and have arrived at a time when I think the transition is easier than ever. It is getting cleaner, there are technical solutions to almost all communication, transport and shopping issues (WeChat and Microsoft Translate are awesome). People are friendly and there are loads of things to do. The only thing static about Beijing is the air.
It is very, very dry.
Sadly one of the things we loved we’d had to leave behind in Japan was the ocean. And for a family like us that has been a challenge. The move overall has been great and I needed to make a dramatic change in work-life balance and stress. I think we’ve been doing OK with that and need to protect it with the new role next year. Breathing sea air is not much use when you’re too stressed and burned out to jump in.
So it was brilliant to get back to Indonesia for a week, for a megadose of vitamin sea. The last time we visited Lombok, almost 15 years ago, I was just finishing up as an ESL teacher. Hesty wanted to learn to dive, and I had a question to ask. I spent everything I had (it was not much) and took her to Gili Air. She learned to dive. We got engaged. I left for the PGCE, she finished her degree.
Soon enough I was back in Indonesia, in a new IB school in Jakarta. We saved up, got a proper ring, got married and had Anya. Moved to Bandung and had Samudra (“Ocean” in Indonesian, via Sanskrit). Seven years in beautiful Japan and now Beijing.
Fifteen years since I last dived went by in a heartbeat. We made it back to Lombok with kids big enough for an adventure. One Bubblemaker, one Junior Open Water diver, three surfers, four ocean lovers. We saw turtles and corals and spoke lots of Indonesian. We learned about the work of the Gili Shark Conservation team and helped out on a beach clean. We were encouraged to see that although so many years had passed and development had inevitably taken hold, the changes were not too dramatic. Lessons are being learned from Bali and there is a swing towards more sustainable choices.
This is where our heart is. We will be back.
A few quick visual posters for elements of Creating Cultures of Thinking. I made these as we work towards some of our goals in the WAB HS and in parallel with my role as a coach in the #CCOTOnline course.
Printable A3 versions and a copy of the Chapter Summary Cards are in this Drive folder. Of course, these are just summaries and tools – to get the most out of them do make sure you read the book and/or attend a workshop.
Global Thinking Routines
Connected to this, here are four global thinking routines from Veronica Boix-Mansilla’s (@VBoixMansilla) Global Thinking Bundle. Click here to read the full Global Thinking guide, and here for her piece in Educational Leadership Magazine on How To Be A Global Thinker. I also love her IB blog post on “bringing international mindedness to life” with portraiture.
Follow the conversation on Twitter:
More COT resources
A simple mantra, but one I hold onto as a learning/tech coach, leaned on as PK-12 Director of Learning and will cling to next year as MYP Coordinator. It was the “key concept” of my #HackTheMYP IBAP Conference session in 2017 and over the two years since I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
When I think about past and current successes in the supporting role of a coordinator or learning coach, I think about the naming, noticing and nudging that helps teachers take the necessary small steps towards our goals. When I think about the flops, it’s the “too much, too big, too soon” effects of a loss of teacher agency. It’s a delicate balance between being directive and being supportive. And it so often comes down to making it easier to do better things, so I’ll unpack with some guiding questions I keep in my head.
Is there anything making it harder to do basic things?
With so much that we just have to get done in teaching and learning, are we aware of the systems, practices or ambiguities that make it harder just to get to the starting line? Are our teachers worn out by low-level decision-making or inefficiencies? How can we help and what’s under our control to cover foundations from which we can launch? Does this necessitate ‘managing up’ as we advocate for the teachers in the classroom to those who make the decisions?
Can we define & justify the better things?
We don’t know what we don’t know. Some teachers might be excellent at what they do – is it in alignment with what we need? How do we honour their expertise whilst nudging towards the better thing? Can we articulate clearly what the alternatives are and why they will be better for student learning? If we can’t do this for that teacher at this time, can we do it for someone else, to build a model of what could be?
Are we making it harder to do the better things?
What are the barriers to success in implementing something new or nudging someone along? Are we aware of any mixed messages we are sending in terms of thoughts, words and actions? Are we aware of the pragmatic realities that stand between a teacher’s current state and the goal? Are we asking teachers to make the right decisions – or too many decisions? How do we know? Do our systems and resources support the goal of the new learning? What do we do if they don’t?
How can we make it easier to do better things?
Once we’re clear on where we’re going, are we ready to take action? Do we have our resources ready and the right people in the room? Can we show models of what it looks like or share experiences of successes and failures? Can we clearly connect current practice to the next step? Are we clear?
Over the last few years of working in coordination and coaching, learning through creating cultures of thinking and cognitive coaching, I’ve become more attuned to working with intentionality and purpose. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I’m thankful always for the experiences of working in inspiring places and reflecting on experience. I wish the same for you.
A few things that work for me…
Keep everything a click away. This MYP-at-a-glance took a couple of weeks to build but it is an example of “investing time to make time” and I have it open all the time and can spring across the MYP in a moment. Similarly, for school documents, useful tools and resources, organise your bookmarks toolbar to become your dashboard for your role.
Organise things clearly and standardise where you can. Present information clearly. Pay attention to design. Link, link, link. It saves so many questions and saves teachers’ time as they don’t need to keep recreating things.
Go visual. Anyone who knows or follows me knows I love to go graphic, especially with the IB’s proliferation of documentation. Flowcharts and cycles really help me work through a process with kids and adults.
Actually listen. “Listen first to understand, then to be understood.” Try to tune into the true message in the conversation, even if it seems aggressive or rambling. It can be hard but what’s the true issue? If you get a chance, learn and practice cognitive coaching or similar.
Avoid pseudo-consultation. There’s nothing worse than having time eaten away by loose “what do you think?” when there is already a pre-determined outcome. Let people know what decisions are made, what need to be made and where the input is needed.
Have examples. How quickly can you move from the hypothetical to the concrete? Teachers are busy, get past the fluff. Test things to see if they work and predict the realistic implications. Have you heard of dogfooding?
What works for you?
This year I jumped the Great Firewall and landed in China, in a new life and new role as High School Learning & Technology Coach. It has been a great learning experience so far, and as a techy learning nerd, I’ve been able to try out new tools for learning and supporting teachers. I’m not easily impressed by EdTech products, but over the last couple of years some great stuff that focuses on learning (not just ‘more tech’) has been coming out.
Here are some of my favourites – they’re not all new, but some were new to me and of course they need to be China-friendly.
Over the last decade I’ve been creating, curating and sharing through my i-Biology.net site and on here, powered by WordPress. I love this platform, but over the last few years have been tinkering with other tools to make collecting and sharing easier for me and for others.
Inspired by Nadine & Jeri, the teacher-librarians here at WAB, I’ve really got into LibGuides. It’s huge, amazing and (I think) pretty pricey, though as I’ve been getting settled here I’ve been building my own TigerTech group and resources on there to support teaching and learning. It can embed almost anything and with a little tinkering can look pretty cool.
I have a lot to learn from my colleagues, but I am loving this tool!
Wakelet and Padlet Backpack
Two simple but great tools. Wakelet has replaced the functions I used to use Diigo and Twitter bookmarks, and has potential to take the place of Storify in archiving Twitter chats and events. See Tanya LeClair’s Wakelet about Wakelet here for loads of ideas. I use the mobile app a lot for quickly saving things to read for later, or categorising them for use in different parts of my job.
Padlet Backpack ($$) is the schools version of Padlet, with teacher and student accounts. Great for collecting up group responses, student ideas, resources and comes with a range of different layouts and privacy settings in the school domain.
Both Padlet and Wakelet can be embedded easily, and they both seem to work fine in Libguides, Moodle & Google Sites.
Equity Maps (iPad)
I love this iPad app and have tweeted about it a lot since I came across it after reading Alexis Wiggins’s Best Class You Never Taught. Taking the Spiderweb discussion/ Harkness table method and turning it into a simple, data-informed tool for empowering group discussion, Equity Maps makes the learning community responsible to their own data. It exemplifies the cultural forces of interactions, expectations and language, and can work really well in a range of discussions. I have used it in meetings as well. It’s one of those rare EdTech apps that goes beyond gimmicks & flash and focuses on making the learning visible.
This is a brilliant social reading app, designed by a teacher for teachers and great for gathering student reflection, questions and comments on a shared reading. Very simple, very powerful – try an example here.
If you are interested, use this link to sign up for a free account (referring five people will give a free year of Edji).
This is super cool. Microsoft translator allows for translation through your device with typing, talking, tap-and-talk conversations and scanning. It also facilitates group translations, where participants can join in a conversation or presentation online, using their own language. Very neat. Give it a go here.
This iPad app is useful for grading and note-taking on the go.
A Few More Technoids
Here are some more recent #EdTech highlights for me, shared through Twitter.