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A fence, a 9th grader, and pride!

Email: (from a HS Math teacher to the 2nd grade teacher and myself) 

Thought I would brighten your mornings with part of a reflection from a kid who has said all year how he hates school and finds every subject boring… “That I got to make my own fences…It felt really good and I felt proud of my self”

Apart from making my day/week, this little snippet has been playing on my mind. 

The 9th grade student who shared this reflection has been working with his class and the 2nd graders to design and build a picket fence. It is going to run along the perimeter of the Grade 2 kitchen garden. The 9th graders are working on Geometry, design, cost analysis and construction. The 2nd graders are working on perimeter and area, volume (of water when watering the plants), measurement (as the plants grow) and graphing (all the data they gather during the growing). The Art teacher will use the fence as a canvas for the Grade 2 students to decorate, illuminate, illustrate. I’m taking part as the Woodworking teacher, utilising the skills I learned in high school (and have refined ever since) to help build the fence.

That this 9th grader should highlight the building of a fence as a source of pride is funny on one level, and deeply significant on another.

“Why?” Is the question I am asking myself! What is it about this activity that has resonated for this student in a way that (seemingly) nothing else has?

Is it the fact that he/she is building something? Is it the sense of accomplishment having designed the fence, cut up the timber to create the pieces, drilled the holes and assembled it all? Is it that he/she is working with the 2nd graders and contributing to their learning? Is it that he/she is not sitting at a desk staring at a whiteboard of death by Google Slides? Is it that he/she is getting dirty, getting splinters, risking the amputation of fingers in the power tools, wearing safety goggles and generally making a lot of noise and banging things with big hammers? Is it none of this? Or is it all of this?

Or is it because this is different to what he/she has sat through every day, in every class since August 15 last year?

I intend to find out.

Because once I know, I will let his/her teachers know. And then, they can try to use that piece of information to change the way they teach him/her so that every day, he/she can reflect that his/her learning felt great and that he/she felt proud.

If our students cannot honestly share a reflection like this every day then we need to be doing a better job! Our students should not be coming to school to be bored!

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Do You Need To Change Anything?

Being a BIG proponent of reflecting, I asked everyone to complete a short survey reflecting on our recent Symposium II day of PD. Overall, the responses were positive, but like anything, you can’t please everyone.

Being completely anonymous, the responses were quite candid. One respondent answered, “It was nice to have a wide range of choices. I enjoyed learning with other teachers who I normally don’t have chance to hang around with.” to the What-went-well question. This was balanced by a What-could-improve answer – “Encourage inclusiveness vs. cliques by having beople [sic] work with those who are not in their regular social circles.”

There were some very positive comments – “The workshops offered were interesting, fun, and engaging. They helped us to get out of our comfort zone and learn things that we wanted to learn. It was also nice to be able to put on a workshop about something that we enjoy. Seeing other peoples’ talents also helped me to appreciate and admire the staff more as well.”

Some a little critical (from the What-could-be-improved question) – “Making sure that all teachers went to the sessions. I know of one teacher who skipped out and did grading instead of attending one of the sessions :(. It would be good to make sure all teachers are involved all day.”

And some very critical – “The creativity and fun aspect of the day is certainly a plus. But I question whether “remember what it’s like to be a learner” is a significant enough of a goal to spend an entire day this way. I wonder if the goal were something like “learning about other subjects with the goal of integrating,” it could lead to more valuable learning while maintaining the creative aspects. Then if we have sessions on art and dance and movie making and photography, teachers can learn those skills to better help students develop them and use them in their science and English and Korean and math classes. It might provide a better focus for choosing and developing sessions. And it might result in a bigger impact on teaching and learning. Also, it would have been really helpful if you had asked teachers their opinion about how to spend all three PD days AHEAD of time. Teachers really should be playing an integral role in the planning process of every single PD day at this school.”

My experience in developing these sorts of programs for faculty and staff across a number of different international schools over the past 15 years has led me to know that this range of opinions is expected, and even more importantly, is essential.

As an administrator it is important to know how things can be improved, what worked really well and that some colleagues felt the day was a waste of time. It is important to hear that the value I see in devoting a whole day to professional learning is shared by most, but not by all.

My (possibly controversial) reflection is this…

At it’s core, “Teaching” is about “Learning”. You cannot be a great teacher if you are not a great learner. We spend a lot of time (comparatively) learning about teaching (as expert learners), and in the process learn very little! (Generally, not a lot of our fundamental teaching practices change after a conference or a workshop!) We spend very little time (comparatively) learning about learning. This day of learning was designed in the hope that we would experience what being a NOVICE learner was like again. Because that’s what it is like for your students – EVERY day! Maybe EVERY lesson in a given day! Adults are rarely NOVICE learners. And even more rarely do they spend an entire school day being a NOVICE learner.

Before you begin to teach today, consider what it will feel like as a student to sit in your classroom to LEARN today. Do you need to change anything?

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Becoming a NOVICE LEARNER for a day!

Yesterday, after some careful planning and logistical tap-dancing, our full faculty enjoyed a home-grown professional learning day focused on passions. Teachers were invited to offer presentations on something they were passionate about to their colleagues.

Here’s the list of what we had to choose from:

  • iMovie Basics
  • Planning and Integrated Inquiry Unit
  • Sharing gratitude
  • Maximizing SmartBoard use with Notebook Software
  • Introduction to Lego Robotics
  • Cooking: Chinese Dumplings
  • Supportive and Investigative Teaching
  • Woodshop – Build yourself a stand!
  • Learn to Tie Asian Knots
  • Basic Drawing & Shading
  • Coaching the Mental Game
  • Tech-Infused Formative Assessment
  • EAL Resource Website
  • Strength training and conditioning
  • Photography 101
  • Cooking: Unrefined Sweets
  • Fitness Room 101 – Strength and Resistance Training for Beginners
  • Photoshop Basics
  • Let’s Bboy (and Bgirl)
  • Juggling 101  
  • Pumping Up Our Reading Culture
  • Jazz Dance Routine

It was one of the best days of Professional Learning I have participated in in nearly 25 years of working in schools!

For the first time this year, every teacher in the building was truly transported into the role of the student. The NOVICE learner. The student who truly knows very, very little about the topic and is expected to listen, learn and demonstrate their understanding at the end of the day.

There was struggle! For the life of me I just could not fold those Chinese dumplings right. Too much filling. Not enough filling. Clumsy fingers. Ugly Jiaozi!

There were teachers who for the first time were donning protective eyewear as they ran lengths of timber through a table saw. Noise. Fear. Danger. Sawdust. Triumph! The look of satisfaction on the faces of those same teachers who left with a wooden creation of their own making was so inspiring!

There were teachers who had always wished they could juggle but had never taken the time to try, standing up at the end of the day performing feats of juggling for their peers! The balls were dropping left right and centre but the smiles were so big that everyone in the audience cheered!

And there were teachers breakdancing. Yep, BREAKDANCING!

The juggling was led by an English teacher. The Woodworking was led by the Elementary Principal. The Fitness Conditioning was led by the Kindergarten teacher. The Jazz Dance was led by a Korean teacher. The Lego Robotics was led by the Biology teacher. The Breakdancing was led by the Chaplain!

It was truly inspiring to see so many of my colleagues stand in front of their peers and teach something they truly love doing, that previously we had no idea they knew anything about. I mean, a breakdancing Chaplain!!!

So what are the takeaways from the day???

  • Any school can run a day like this – your colleagues have secret talents!
  • For a teacher, becoming a NOVICE LEARNER for a day is a very, very valuable perspective shift
  • Our culture of learning just received an enormous boost
  • Professional learning is as much about “the act of learning” as it is about what is learned
  • Smiles. Everyone left smiling!

 

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