Wayfinder Learning Lab

"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong." Elkjaer.


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Clear is Kind.

I love this post from Brené Brown, adapted from her book Dare to Lead: “Clear is Kind. Unclear is Unkind.”

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:

Simple principles, easy to live by.

They have helped me mature and maintain calm over my journey so far.


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Middle Leadership: The Sponge

Squeezing the sponge. [gif made in GifBrewery]

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?


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Make It Easier To Do Better Things

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.

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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?


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Creating Cultures of Thinking: Summary Cards

COTCards-WABdangloid
Keeping it handy…

I love Creating Cultures of Thinking by Ron Ritchhart of Project Zero at HGSE so much, and refer to it so often, that I made these aide-mémoire cards and chapter summaries, and I carry them with me for planning, coaching and collaboration meetings. The front side has a visual and chapter line, and the reverse summarises the key subheadings of the chapter.

Of course this doesn’t replace a deep reading of the book. I find them a useful reminder and a tool for use in conversations. If you haven’t read the book (or taken part in a COT workshop or course), don’t rely on these for understanding. 

In my current role as learning & ICT coach, I use the cultural forces as a filter for thinking and development. They can be used to notice and name forces in a situation. Which forces are being influenced with this? Which force(s) might be in high or low resource? How can we make sure the influence is positive? How can we help make it easier to do better things?

Click here to download them as a pdf.

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Other COT resources I keep to hand

Most of these are hosted on Ron’s website.

“Children grow into the intellectual life around them.” 

(Vygotsky)

Our role as teachers and parents is to provide an intellectual apprenticeship for learners. As Ron mentions in the video below, via Howard Gardner, their time with us should be “time well spent”. This interview outlines some key ideas from the Cultures of Thinking project, and is well worth listening to.

More Resources

Since moving to WAB I have fallen in love with Libguides for curation and presentation of information and resources for colleagues and students. On this Pathfinder, I’ve compiled everything I can find for CCOT, MTV and other PZ resources.


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Making Learning Visible in Parent-Student-Teacher Conferences

“Children grow into the intellectual life around them.” 

(Vygotsky, quoted by Ron Ritchhart)

Screen Shot 2018-11-02 at 2.05.10 PMI really enjoy parent-student-teacher conferences. (I’d rather do more of these and less report writing, but that’s a different post.) Even with a limited time-slot (my last couple of schools have been 10mins), we have an opportunity to strengthen a home-school connection, build a relationship with families and really put the learner and learning front and centre.

I love being a science teacher, and parent-student-teacher conferences are a prime opportunity to share that. Just because it’s high school, doesn’t mean it needs to be too serious.

Over the last five years or so of teaching, I’ve set up recent investigations or phenomena for students to demonstrate, explain or solve for their parents. 

The conference begins with a warm introduction, a check on languages used and then the student demonstrates the phenomenon to their parents. I keep some prompts and visuals around the table, to be used as the conversation develops. I don’t prep students – I want to see how they go, and how much of their learning they can make visible to the parents.

In this part of the conference, the students and parents can communicate in their most comfortable language.

It’s important to me that this is a positive experience and gives me a couple of minutes to see how they interact. If a (rare) difficult conversation needs to follow, I know better how to judge my message. In most cases, we build on the observations, and follow our own little lines of inquiry. Occasionally I pick up some new science vocab in my students’ home languages. With multilingual students we always talk about how language development is supported in the class.

Of course, parents to come to conferences to hear how their child is doing. 

That’s great, and we work on the basis that if something was wrong, they’d already know; there should be no surprises in a report card or parent-teacher conference.

This means that we have the chance to have a growth-focused conversation about the learning:

  • How can they use our resources and rubrics for moving up?
  • Do they understand the best-fit approach and use of command terms?
  • How do our “feed-back feed-forwards tables” work for focusing on what’s important and what “note to self” is there for next time?
  • What are they struggling with and how can I help?
  • Where to next?

 

As parents we want to know our child is cared for and is learning. We want to know how we can support them, and we want to trust you as their teacher. 

This is how I feel as a parent-educator, and it is echoed in many interactions. Taking this opportunity to celebrate their child and their learning is more than just a little fun – it’s who we are. Occasionally I’ll provide parents with some online resources, or mention some of Ron Ritchhart’s “9 Apps for Parents” or “10 (+1) things to say to students every day” for “at home” discussions.

Next time I’ll put out some of the recent multilingual understanding map resources he shared as we reflect on the year in learning.


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Wayfinders: Respecting The Journey

After a decade acting in coordination/leadership/HOD/coaching-type roles, I think one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned – and want to encourage in others – is to respect the journey. This generates more questions in my head than most topics, as it is so nebulous and complex, yet so important.

Where I like to think of curriculum as a compass, not a calendar, in my experience so far the same rings true for developing people and practices. Schools, teams, teachers and students alike are all on a combination of shared and personal journeys to growth, with different starting points, strengths and needs.

We are all Wayfinders

Not all departments or individuals can be treated in the same way and they certainly won’t respond in the same way to standardised approaches. Sometimes – often – we need to go slow to go fast, to listen and respond accordingly. This can be challenging if we feel like there’s too much to get done.

As a community of wayfinders, it is important to respect the journey so far, and for it to be told in a respectful way. Large-scale change doesn’t necessarily mean that what used to be was bad, but the future direction must be good and be clear to all, built with the culture in mind. Being dropped into this culture on the move can be a shock the system as we try to find our place and role, especially if we were well established in our last role, and we might want to establish credibility early on.

So as schools what are we doing to “respect the journey” in transition? 

  • How can we best support and encourage the experience and expertise of new faculty, whilst enculturating them to the positive elements of “what we do here”?
  • How can we best support and respect diverse teams where everyone is working on varying degrees of expertise in terms of the vision or mission? Where some see the vision as aspirational and yet to others it’s already their daily practice?
  • What can we do to protect teachers from unnecessary burdens that become the blocks to forward movement? To “move your ‘BUTs’, in Teresa Tung’s sense?

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As I  move on I want to ensure that the stories of change here are passed on faithfully and respectfully. As I prepare to find my way with a new community going through its own changes I want to be sure to listen respectfully to their journey so far, and avoid as much as possible falling into the trap of “in my old school…”.

Exciting times ahead.

grandma-tala-advice

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The Buoyant Force of Continuum Learning

If you’re new to this blog – welcome! Ideas on here often build on previous posts or conversations, so I hope this make sense. To find out more, please visit my about page, with posts by topic.

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As I work on curriculum development across the subjects, I reflect on how easy it is for us to fall into the trap of backward mapping without considering the buoyant force of learners as they move up the continuum. 

Starting with the end in mind – backward design (Wiggins & McTighe) – is critically important in making curriculum decisions. What are we aiming for at the end of this great journey? What do our learners need from us? This helps us design schemes, units, assessments and instructional resources that meet whatever standards or outcomes we need to address. A great backwards-designed curriculum is powerful and engaging. By knowing the desired outcomes we can see the pathways for differentiation, interest and flexibility; the learner’s journey is rich and varied and the learner becomes more than the sum of the (instructional) parts.

Backward Design, Not Backwashed Demands

Ireductiverubrics_sjtylrnterpreting backwards design too inflexibly, however, runs the risk of stripping out the soul of the subject through a laser-focused aim on a narrow selection of terminal performance tasks:  “we need to get them ready for (exam/essay/other) by doing lots of (exam/essay/other) at every stage.”  Well-intentioned, though often stifling, “get them ready for…” creates the spectre of a future to worry about. As large-scale terminal assessments necessitate reliable (standardised) operations, they measure what can be measured easily – but do they get to its true heart? If we strip a subject down to the items on a list, what happens to disciplinary authenticity and deep inquiry over time?

Whilst keeping the end in mind, how can we really harness the present enthusiasm and inquiry and build on past excitement and learning to create the moving force of experience that carries learners upwards?

The Buoyant Force

The learners that walk into our schools are not blank slates. When they step into MYP from PYP, they are energised by PYPx and their many exciting experiences. If they step up from a strong PYP, they are already knowledgeable, enthusiastic inquirers. Similarly in the transition from MYP to DP, the tempered learner enters DP with a toolkit of ATL skills, disciplinary and interdisciplinary foundations. None of this is frivolous or superficial and they are not fixed empty vessels, waiting to be filled with a set amount of content.

bubblesThey are more like air bubbles racing to the surface of the water, expanding and accelerating as they go. When they hit the surface, they transition into the next phase: we launch them from school to the world. Along the way, however, there is the buoyant force, an upwards push that we can harness in curriculum design. It might sound cheesy, but run with it.

What are the opportunities and experiences that nucleate those bubbles? How can we catch the bubbles and keep those moving forces pushing upwards? When I reflect on things happening in our own context I think of a few examples:

  • The rapid evolution of our Design classes in many ways. Introducing 3D printers and Tinkercad was great – but even greater is that once the PYP kids got a hold of it, those initial MYP lessons have become redundant already. Now the young MYP designers are doing amazing things, with purpose and audience. The buoyant force of the early experience allowed for even more awesome things to happen later.
  • The revolution of PHE in MYP and the obvious and exciting enthusiasm of the learners as they move up the course. I’m stoked to see how they introduce more authentic data analysis and as a department they have created fantastic learning opportunities.
  • The young PYP writers, coming out of a workshop model into MYP are already equipped for mini-lessons, conferencing and lots of active output in authentic genres. They are ready to write, read and produce work for real audiences.

In every discipline, in all sections of the continuum, I see examples like this, and it is amazing. The buoyant force creates pressure on a backward-mapped curriculum. There is no surer way to burst a kid’s bubble than to approach curriculum with the view that “I know you can do [amazing thing], but we need to do [less amazing, but seemingly more ‘valid’ thing].

So as we develop vertically articulated curriculum, are we spending the care to think about the very best of what these learners know and can do already, and about how a rapidly evolving curriculum in the years below might precipitate a need for (r)evolution and reinvention in the years above? Do we think about it as a spiral, so that even if they encounter similar topics or concepts, they are truly building a stronger understanding through inquiring more deeply and with greater sophistication? Are we looking left and right for connections and experiences that can enhance the experience?

In the younger years are we thinking about how these bubbles nucleate, and how they connect to (and inspire) experiences in later years? When we teach a topic, are we taking care not to inflate the learner with misconceptions that rise with them?

In the older years, as we make changes or introduce new ways of thinking, are we surprised when it hits bumps? Or are we mindful of the possibility that that change might be a jarring experience for learners whose previous experiences have been very different? Do we expect the same to happen year after year or are we preparing for the younger learners to come up with a new energy, a buoyant force?

When we deal with transitions, do we focus on communicating the very best of the learners’ experiences? Do we ask the teachers before us “how do we keep them excited?” Are we creating exhilaration for what comes next, rather than anxiety?

What are the buoyant forces in your continuum?

If your learners were to “live fully, now” how would that create a moving force that drives them through the next stage?

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Animations:

Older version of the reductive rubrics gif:

Rubrics@sjtlyr