When you know you’ve met an inspirational education leader! Vale Dr. Elizabeth Mellor

Last week Australia lost a true advocate for early childhood education. Doctor Elizabeth Mellor was a passionate driver for improved early learning for children and much of her recent work was in this area.

Having completed many professional development courses, there is still one standout for me: The Leadership for Community Engagement Program. Elizabeth was a co-presenter and one of those educators you meet and sense instantly that you are in the presence of a leader!

What did I learn from Elizabeth and the course about leadership?

I’m calling it YOU!

You, as a leader, will be different to a manager, you will be finding solutions, you will use your courage and confidence to influence others, you will speak a common language and find that common language so you can move forward. You will empower others and be an enabler so you can shift barriers. You will encourage others to ‘think big’ and work towards delivering transformational change. You will coach others on how to measure change, be respectful and a listener so you understand and collaborate.

You will not shy from anything and you will get in and learn. You will empower others to solve problems because you can’t fix it all. You will take risks and from taking risks you will gain experience to put into other aspects of your role. You will give others a voice and act on what they want and work side by side with them to achieve your common goals. You will be capable of ‘unlearning’ and not be judgmental. You will build a ‘treasury’ of good practice to help you evaluate actions and capture what has been learnt so you can measure the impact of changes and improvements.

And finally, you will deliver to every child and family. Your flexibility will be key to you being a leader, as without flexibility you will impede innovation. You, as a leader, must leave the profession in a better state and by building the capacity of others you should do yourself out of a job!

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Cheers Nina

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IB-PYP: Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn. Benjamin Franklin – Inquiry is an approach to learning not a method.

Inquiry as a pedagogical approach is not a method of doing something. It is an approach to learning which is about posing questions. Inquiry starts with a question, wondering, problem or idea which engages learners into investigation, the creation of knowledge and testing of what they know.

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Recently, a group of young learners ( 7 & 8 year old students)  asked me if they could spend time on their personal inquiry. Naturally I was excited that this group were personally motivated and wanted time dedicated. I decided to watch their progress and photograph their work. I also made a conscious decision to sit back and evaluate their use, and my teaching of the school’s Inquiry Process.

This group of young learners surprised me by their understanding of the process. They set about planning, focussing and preparing their inquiry. They were developing a central idea and had created a list of wonderings.  They wrote what they called a big wonder (How do wars start?) and had a number of key questions, some which they said they will park in the Parking Lot. The Parking Lot is a place where questions and wonderings are placed that are not part of the focus but may be answered later or as part of their learning.

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They discussed their questions individually and chose the big questions they wanted to investigate. Then they talked about how they would find information (Finding Information). I was impressed by their confidence and ability to talk about each part of the process.

This is where the learning process results in true Learner Agency- student choice, student responsibility for learning and actions, a meaningful curriculum and learning initiated by learners.

Cheers Nina

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IB-PYP: Maps – Gathering prior knowledge: Show me the way to your home from school. What did I learn? I should have known more about this student!

We’re learning about maps so I asked my students to show their way home from school. They could choose how they would show their journey. One of my students started drawing…. What did I learn? I know that how we ask children to show what they know is incredibly important and when gathering prior knowledge we can’t assume what a child knows. One of my very quiet 7 year old students started drawing their map.

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Can I find the way to my student’s home? YES How did this student know what they know? Would I have discovered what I now know about this student and their thinking if I’d presented my initial question a different way? QUESTIONS!

Cheers Nina

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The IB – PYP: That’s where we’ll hang our hat! Part 1 – At the grass roots…

This is the year of the circle.

My father always said children need something to hang their hat on and something bigger than them.

So what does this mean in terms of learning? Schools are our young peoples’ community, something bigger than them and where they can hang their hat. Primary schools exist for young learners, but they are also children (so keep that thought). A school has a greater responsibility than just teaching the 3Rs. Schools are where our young people learn about relationships, community and develop a sense of self.

My school is an IB-PYP school. So why be an IB school? It’s a question I’ve thought about for some time and relates to what my father told me. Children need something greater than themselves and so does a school! Schools are an important part of their local community, but where does a school hang its hat and be part of something bigger than it?

Example 1. Developing a sense of community: The IB Learner Profile.

The IB has developed a framework known as the Learner Profile. The Learner Profile relates to all learners, teachers, administrators and wider community members. The IB Learner Profile recognizes the broad needs of young learners and young people across the world.

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Let’s take a look at the IB – PYP at the grass roots – my Australian Year 1-2 classroom…

Example 2. Developing a sense of community: Being part of something bigger.

My students understand that we are a team and being part of a team has associated responsibilities. Our team is part of the school community, local community, government education system and IB World Community. Young learners (6, 7 & 8 year olds) need to grow their understanding of responsibility by being part of a community and the classroom is where they start.

Two Simple Diagrams:

Two simple diagrams underpin my students’ learning about being part of a team and managing relationships.  I bring everything back to the IB Learner Profile and attitudes. The picture below is our Learner Profile circle and ‘working wall’.

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The learner Profile represents our classroom essential agreements. My students know that as learners we make mistakes and learn from them, however, they also understand that being a member of the team is about demonstrating the Learner Profile through our actions. The Learner Profile is part of our daily learning. It’s not just a pretty display, it is a living and growing record of our growth as learners and young people.

Diagram One: The Team Circle

Sometimes someone may not have exhibited the Learner Profile and as a consequence moves to the side of the team. The young learner then has to develop the trust of the team to move back. Being a member of the team is very important to these young learners and they are incredibly supportive of each other. It has become a very positive approach to classroom management. It would require another post to explain how students learning self management is powerful for their confidence and learning.

Diagram two: Friendships and relationships

This one was developed to show how ‘he said, she said’ works. Two friends have an argument and involve others and rarely, but sometimes parents get involved. However, by the time the two best friends have sorted their differences, the outside circles are still arguing! This is where we learn CHOICE and my students are now thinking about the choices they make. They will help sort out problems but rarely become part of the problem. They are incredibly mature and honest! Simple diagrams but visible…

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Cheers Nina

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What Edna Saxton taught me! It’s OK!

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I BLEW IT – Cameron Paterson

I’m hoping Edna Saxton is ok with me posting this on my blog. Her recent post about her colleague Layla made me reflect and that’s what a great post does.

Layla, my colleague and friend, has retired very suddenly for personal reasons. Processing my sense of loss, I have this to say…

Would you like to work in a place where you have time to absorb and process one idea before racing on to the next? I’d rather work with Layla.

Would you like to work in a place where you have the space to just be, without disagreement and constantly being challenged? I’d rather work with Layla.

Would you like to work in a place where things are always crystal clear, precise and well mapped out for you? I’d rather work with Layla.

It’s easy to work with people who think in the same way as you do (or don’t think much at all) – You make a suggestion, they agree. They make a suggestion, you take it up. No argument, no raised voices… no progress?

New staff witnessing dialogue between Layla and me are often taken aback. We argue, we disagree, we force each other to examine our beliefs, clarify our goals and adapt our thinking. This is real collaboration and what grows out of it, is dynamic and exciting … often leading to meaningful change.

It’s easy to relax and go with the status quo, accept things because they are good enough or because they have always been done a particular way. It takes courage to constantly question and to fight for what you believe in, even if you upset people along the way.

I’ll miss my thinking partner. I’ll miss pushing her into a corner and making her explain her thought process, examine her motivation and justify her thinking. I’ll be looking out for someone passionate with strong beliefs about learning, who’s not afraid of change… because I need to be pushed in exactly the same way myself.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like being challenged, who doesn’t value debate, who isn’t able to take the seed of a creative idea and use your imagination to grow it yourself into something flourishing… then you might not miss Layla.

I know I will.

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My Reflection!

It’s OK!

It’s ok to have a number of things on the go!

It’s ok to have professional disagreements and challenge each other!

It’s ok to have ideas that are in their infancy and not crystal clear and share them!

It’s ok to have a voice!

It’s ok to discuss, debate and reflect to grow ideas!

It’s ok to speak up for what you believe in even if you upset someone unintentionally!

It’s ok to ask someone to explain their thoughts!

It’s ok to change what you’re doing!

So I’ll keep doing what I believe is ok because education needs to be questioned. Right? By the way this does not always make you popular. So if you want to be popular don’t question…. just sharing that! :)

Cheers Nina

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Making Thinking Visible: Building Understanding through Critical and Creative Thinking.

My thoughts after reading and article on Thinking Tools as part of my Harvard course.

Light bulb moment 1: ‘What kind of thinking does that lesson force students to do?’ When I read this question at the beginning of the article I had to stop and reflect. What kind of thinking are my students forced to do? Do I know? Have I planned the thinking connected to the learning outcome? Can I articulate the thinking I want my students to do?

Thinking and the quality/type of thinking can be planned and directed. I know this, however, when planning am I thinking about this? Am I planning the thinking that I want my students to do, or be forced to do? The answer is, I am thinking about the outcome, but not necessarily about the actual thinking or type of thinking my students can or could be directed to do.

Light bulb moment 2: The next part of the reading that stood out was ‘understanding is not a precursor to application, analysis, evaluating, and creating but a result of it ‘(Wiske, 1997). Therefore, understanding is a result of observing, explaining, interpreting, reasoning & evidence, making connections, perspective, making conclusions, wondering and questioning, thinking deeply and reflection.

Light bulb moment 3: When learning is visible, we are able to evaluate a student’s understanding, the process they went through to understand and any misconceptions. Being able to understand the process a student goes through to understand lends itself to planning lessons which cater for individual students and their unique thinking styles.

 Our Inquiry: Transportation systems are connected to the needs of the community.

  1.  Unpacking what the central idea means including vocabulary. What is transportation? What is a system? What is a community?

Thinking Routine: Explosion (modified)

Part One: The children were asked to draw a community and its transportation. The children drew the different types of transport for land, sea and air that they were familiar with.

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Part Two: I posed the following question: If I was at X how would I get to Y? We discussed systems. The children added systems e.g. roads, trains etc. to their picture and how they were connected and met the needs of the community.

Dictionary: System: a set of things working together as parts of a mechanism: Transportation systems are connected to the needs of the community. System:  an interconnecting network

 We need transport to live.

Thinking Routine: Headline

After completing the Explosion Routine the children were introduced to the Headline thinking tool. We discussed headlines. The children were given the statement (We need transport to live.) and asked to come up with a headline.

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Reflection: The students required greater frontloading and criteria because a number of students wrote long statements or questions. I have kept all their efforts and selected some for display. We will revisit their first headline attempt later after we have used this tool a number of times.

Routine: Claim Support Question Visible Thinking

CLAIM: We need transport to live.

SUPPORT: The children came up with a variety of statements to support the claim. Their support statements reflected different levels of thinking e.g. we would not be able to eat. We would not have ambulances to take us to hospital. Fires would not be put out by the firetruck.

QUESTION: E.g. How does transport connect and why? How will you get to far places if you didn’t have transport? How would I get to school if I didn’t have a car?

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Reflection: The questions reflected the level of thinking. This routine was new to the children and their thinking demonstrated this. The posters will be displayed as a reference for each new thinking tool introduced to the children.

Once these Thinking Routines actually become routine I can see many applications. And I know that many people who read this post will be far more familiar with these routines but I / we are all learners.

Cheers Nina

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Making Thinking Visible: Building Understanding through Critical and Creative Thinking.

I’m part of a team completing an online course at Harvard University. Visible Thinking… In the past I’ve completed a number of PD’s on Thinking Tools and used the tools from time to time BUT they never became embedded in my teaching. That’s changing! My goal is to understand each tool, be able to select the right tool and to make thinking visible for my students. I’ve already clarified my thinking. What have I learnt that I can share so far – basic but important!

  • No learning will happen without thinking. That seems very straight forward, but there’s more to this assumption…

  • So what is good thinking? Thinking and quality are related. Thinking therefore is more than a skill, it’s a disposition.

  • Good thinking does not happen in isolation and needs to be visible so the thinking can be reflected upon and used at a later time or as a base for future learning.

  • The culture of a school is crucial to developing quality thinkers and teachers need to be supported to assess using evidence grounded in student work.

Recently, my students and parents completed a thinking exercise. They were asked to reflect and record together their thinking about how driving a car is like reading and writing. Firstly, I wanted the parents to understand that thinking isn’t always recorded neatly in books. As part of a group assignment my team explored Connect – Extend – Challenge in our classrooms or in other school roles.

Following on the parent and student session, I used the same question to complete a Connect, Extend and Challenge in the classroom. My students’ thinking had developed from the initial session with parents and with a thinking tool for structure I was surprised by the further connections they were able to make. The children used sticky notes and all students confidently contributed.

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Examples of their thinking:

CONNECT: There is a beginning, middle and end in a story and on a journey. Red lights are a big full stop. When you are driving you read a map. Concentrating on the road is like concentrating on your writing.

EXTEND: Writing on a line is like driving on a line. There is a problem in a story and there can be a problem on a road. The yellow light is like slowing down or a comma.

CHALLENGE: Having you car on the right track and having your writing on a line. Forming letters is like driving a car because you have to go the right way. Focusing on the road and focusing on the writing. How can I write smoothly? What will the middle of my story and journey be like? How can I check I’m going the right direction?

Lot’s to learn and improve upon but you’ve got to start somewhere!

Cheers Nina

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