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The Road to Recovery: Mental Wellbeing, it’s not your fault and your not alone!

Screen Shot 2563-03-19 at 08.20.18It has been just over a year since my last blog post, although my ‘write’ page is filled with dozens of half finished, just begun posts. My reason for beginning again has been inspired by a recent post by Sonya terBorg in which she explains her reasons for taking a break from blogging and her battle with Imposter Syndrome. There was a lot in the article that resonated and gave me the push to write this post and maybe complete the dozens of unfinished posts. This is a post I have been meaning to write for sometime now but needed that little push and courage.

I think back to the educator I was just over a year ago. I was motivated, driven, inspired and with a huge self-confidence in my approach to teaching and learning but even then not all was right. I kept myself extremely busy and had probably the most productive year of my career to date working as Homeroom Teacher, Team Leader, Chair of Committee for NEASC and IB self-study, football coach and much more. From the outside I seemed like a very driven colleague but on the inside things were not so bright. I began to feel anxiety, frustration, unappreciated, unsupported and many more self-pitying emotions. It felt like that no matter how much I tried the people I really wanted to make proud, or acknowledge my work, didn’t seem to notice or appreciate my efforts, or in the ways that I expected anyway. The more these negative feelings increased the harder I worked driven by a mission to prove some point.

It was around this time last year that I had accomplished all my assignments, the self study was finished, football tournaments over, curriculums and documentation completed as much as possible for my team and there was nothing in front of me, nothing to distract me from myself. It was at this time self- doubt crept in. I tried to keep things going but the motivation and drive was gone. I started projects but then could not complete. Things that would have usually been so easy turned into a mammoth task. My head was spinning and with it I spiralled into depression, self-doubt and shame. I started to compete with my old self and the more I tried, and failed, the deeper I seemed to fall. In my head was a voice that screamed, ‘why is no-one helping!, and I was too scared to reach out and admit I needed help. Or in the times I did I felt that the right kind of support was not there. For many we continue to suffer in silence and put on a brave face. That brave face becomes a weight and is so tiring to maintain.

The more things increased the more isolated I became. Social anxiety became I huge issue as my self-confidence no longer supported me. I began to hide away with feelings of being a fraud. I stopped blogging, stopped socialising, became quieter and afraid. I stopped answering messages and participating in chats as I felt afraid of being exposed. All my support and connections were falling away and I was soo tired all the time. All I could think about at times was when I could get my next sleep and how long for.

Education can be a scary place when educators feel like I did or do still at times. The vision of an educator is a driven, motivated, confident and sociable creatures. A problem solver, curious, creative, independent and collaborative but there were times when I was none of those things or at least not the way I was. During the last year I continued my fitness routine, ate well, slept well but nothing seemed to lift the haze.

What has changed? Well the simple fact is I have become to recognise that I had a problem and needed help. I could not do this on me own. I became more open about my feelings to those close and leaned on them when I needed. This was the greatest challenge, opening up, being able to say that I need help. The more I opened up to friends and colleagues the more I felt my burden shared and more surprisingly there are a lot of us out there experiencing the same things. We are not alone and that in itself is comforting. We all need support at times.

The good days are beginning to become more frequent but I cannot be naive, it is a process. I need to continue to open up when I need to, look for help when I can. I am not invincible. I can feel the change in my mindset and aspects of the old me beginning to return. Even writing this post I can feel a new sense of motivation and drive, a new beginning and who knows, I may even finish those posts I started. I must state that the purpose of my blogs has never to gain recognition but it was an excellent way of self-reflection, a way to improve practice and make connections with like minded educators.

For those that read this, I spent a lot of time debating whether I should. I didn’t want it to come across as self-pitying but as a way of getting things off my chest. It is quite scary to expose myself in this way but I feel better for doing so. Sometimes you have to forget about others and do whats right for you.

Final thought: I believe that schools and school leaders need to do more to support educators and let them feel safe that it is ok to need help. I know some schools and individuals try hard but we still have far to go. To everyone, not just teachers,  social and emotional support is something that we should continue to be proactive about and not reactive. Is it the saying it is much easier to fix broken children that fix broken adults? We need to all work hard to ensure that things don’t get broken in the first place and if they do then there is a community there ready to support them. All it sometimes takes is a smile and a good morning. The recognition that you care.

Agency Driven Curriculum.

The most dangerous experiment we can conduct with our children is to keep schooling the same at a time when every other aspect of our society is dramatically changing.” ~ Chris Dede

‘Is it our curriculum that allows for the scope of student-agency or is it student-agency that should drive the curriculum?’ This is a question that I have pondered on considerably in the past several months. I believe the distinction is important and has implications as to how we approach the curriculum and how we manage our time. The answer may also suggest what we value within education.

Through conversations with educators it seems that the current trend is that many are still working with the curriculum and timeframes that they have had previously. Within these already fixed curriculums and timeframes they are looking for greater opportunity to allow for student-agency. It is amicable but in this scenario student-agency may occur but it is very limiting and arguable unauthentic when the scope and timing of learning has already been predetermined by the teacher? This approach to the curriculum creates an unnatural learning environment, drastically limiting the opportunities for agency to flourish. We not only increasingly limit the choice of the learner but fail to recognise student voice and ultimately ownership of their learning. 

I would argue that rather than developing a curriculum that allows for agency we allow student-agency to develop the curriculum. If we dictate the how, when and where of learning we are sending a clear message that our learners are incapable of making these decisions on their own. As we follow our set path of learning objectives and routines we are sending a clear message to our learners that their wonderings, interests and self-inquiry have less value than the learning objectives of our curriculum.

I don’t think the answer is re-inventing the curriculum rather than re-imaging our approach to it. I believe that it is more about breaking it down and co-creating it with our learners in a way that is meaningful and purposeful to them. Creating a less structured curriculum that allows for flexibility of learning, authentic inquiry naturally leading to authentic student-agency. A more flexible approach to learning, coupled with strong academic advising structures allows our young learners to find their strengths and interests, and to change direction if needed. Flexibility does not mean that teaching isn’t without structure. Our learners are still dependent on their teachers for providing some element of structure so that they can put in context and make sense of their learning. What we are doing is transferring ownership so that you are working for the learners and not the learners working for you. Being flexible allows educators to respond to different learning abilities, needs and interests. Authentic learning environments should be in constant motion, filled with disruptions, discussion and new ideas. The more flexible a teacher’s approach, the better they are able to adapt to the room and the higher the chances are of increased student participation, engagement and ownership creating a more natural learning environment. It allows students to naturally explore subjects through their own questions, ideas, previous knowledge and level of intelligence. Real learning rarely follows a predictable and clearly linear pattern.

Please read my previous blog posts on how I have worked towards creating a less-structured and flexible approach to the curriculum:

From Learners to Leaders.

Adopting a Flexible Approach to the Curriculum

Teaching Learning Behaviours and Why the Process Matters.

Student agency is nurtured when teachers see learning as layers of choices that are made increasingly by students as they develop their ability to use the information in front of them to make them.Sam Sherratt

They see or seek the possibilities for layers of choices and providing the time, space and resources to ensure the layers are accessible to all.” Tania Mansfield

We often limit students’ agency and limit their imagination due to our own logical thinking. We are adults who come with our own culture, our own background and the wisdom of our world view. We often don’t recognize this as we plan provocation and provocative learning engagements.” – Kristen Blum

Developing a less structured approach to the curriculum is more than just an experiment but also has some grounding in research:

Consistent with Vygotskian developmental theory and programs that build on that theory, such as Tools of the Mind, less-structured time may uniquely support the development of self-directed control by affording children with additional practice in carrying out goal-directed actions using internal cues and reminders. That is, less-structured activities may give children more self-directed opportunities. From this perspective, structured time could slow the development of self-directed control, since adults in such scenarios can provide external cues and reminders about what should happen, and when. Findings offer support for a relationship between the time children spend in less-structured and structured activities and the development of self-directed executive function (EF). Children who spent more time in less-structured activities displayed better self-directed control. By contrast, children who spent more time in structured activities exhibited poorer self-directed EF. Executive functions (EFs) in childhood predict important life outcomes. Thus, there is great interest in attempts to improve EFs early in life. Time spent in less-structured activities would give children opportunities to practice self-directed executive functioning, and lead to benefits.’ – Less-structured time in children’s daily lives predicts self-directed executive functioning.

 

An Enhanced Mindset: Principles to Practice

“With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility” – unknown

Screen Shot 2019-02-22 at 5.28.52 PM“Exciting times for education,” is a common phrase I have enjoyed using in recent times.  I feel positivity in the air and can feel the winds of educational change blowing across my face. The likes of Sir Ken Robinson has called for a ‘learning revolution‘. I for one am firmly convinced that the revolution is already in full swing. With learning communities around the world at various stages of readiness for the implementation of the Enhanced PYP, moving from ‘principles to practice’, I believe we are on the verge of a monumental shift in educational thinking, and philosophy with regards to the direction and purpose of education. A new generation of educator is asking more than ever, ‘What if’ with regards to what education could, should or ‘must’ be.

The changes won’t be easy and will feel uncomfortable for many community members, educators and learners alike. It will involve a cultural, social and structural change within many educational institutes. In the storm of this re-organising will come the inevitable re-distribution of power and responsibility to all stakeholders and members of the learning community. A reassignment of roles and  none more so than to the learners themselves, and with it will come great responsibility. The burden of power and responsibility can no longer be shouldered by the few but must be carried by the many. Throughout this process and beyond the concept of ‘learning community‘ becomes increasingly important and vital in establishing and maintaining the values, beliefs and culture of learning within all schools.

Education is a social or collective endeavour and a benefit to the community as a whole, as well as to the individuals within it. Everyone in the learning community has agency; they see themselves as contributors to its ongoing strength and success, and take action to bring about change.’ The Learning Community in the Enhanced PYP, May 2018

As the monumental shift in practice is a social and collective endeavour then the success or failure depends on the engagement of a collective learning community. It is my belief that the greatest challenge to any learning community will not be their ability to implement change on an immediate and superficial level but to ensure that the change becomes part of school culture, touching the hearts and minds of all learning community members, creating learning partnerships that are supportive and inseparable from each other.

Establishing partnerships among all stakeholders, and recognizing what each member independently and collectively brings to the community, is the first step in building relationships. Through these partnerships, members of the community come together to develop and to support a shared vision, mission, beliefs and values. The Learning Community in the Enhanced PYP, May 2018

I believe that the importance in sustainable and positive change is not just about a ‘shared vision, mission, beliefs and values‘ it is much more than that. It is about a shared mindset. The creation of an ‘Enhanced Mindset’ within all members of the learning community that not only recognises what we are doing but ‘WHY’ we are doing it. In short, and not to be understated, we have been given an opportunity to develop an educational system that benefits the whole of humanity by the creation of generations of autonomous learners self-driven by curiosity and a love of inquiry. As Warren Berger has recognised, ‘curiosity and inquiry’ will be the attributes most valued in the future world. It will be the ‘WHY’ that will be the question that drives positive and sustainable change within learning communities. Without really understanding and appreciating the the ‘why’ our actions can never really have true purpose or any real sustainability.

Screen Shot 2018-08-26 at 7.16.49 AMTo be able to support the development of a shared and ‘Enhanced Mindset’ amongst all learning community members it is important that the journey from ‘principles to practice’ not be rushed. The process of change must be organic and it must be allowed to develop and grow at its own natural pace. We should be going through a process of planting the seeds of change and then tending to them carefully over time. The process should provide enough opportunity for different members of the learning community to become involved, to digest, understand, and recognise the “Why’ at each stage of our preparation. There must be time allowed for all voices within the learning community to be heard, from staff, student, family and community partners. All these community members have a shared power to make a change and a shared responsibility to support the emerging values and beliefs of the school. To be able to achieve this it is vital that all members have an ‘Enhanced Mindset’ of what we are trying to achieve and more importantly, ‘WHY’. These voices must be heard throughout the process if sustainability the values and culture are to remain. Community members not working in isolation but as part of a unified learning community in which each and every member is fully aware that they are they agents of change and the power and responsibilities that brings. Over time the principles that we hold so dear will naturally become practice within our learning communities.

Teaching Learning Behaviours and Why the Process Matters.

“Imagination is more important than knowledge” ~ Albert Einstein

A revolution in modern education has brought with it an increasing change in mindset amongst many educators in regards to the purpose and direction of learning. Having broken away from the shackles of a traditional mindset in regards to education I have found myself questioning and evaluating my purpose as an educator, driven by the questions, ‘How can I best serve my learners?’, and ‘What if?’

During the last academic year in particular I have been inspired by my classroom neighbour and friend @artwithron. Ron is our school’s visual art teacher and a strong advocate of the philosophy of teaching artistic beviour (TAB).

‘Nothing in education is more powerful than authentic, student directed, student centered learning experiences constructed from the bottom up. The TAB art education concept allows students opportunities to take ownership of their art experiences from conception to completion with teacher acting as classroom manager, environmental designer, art expert, facilitator, and student mentor.’ Clyde Gaw

Having been a regular visitor to Ron’s classroom I have been witness to the whole process and outpouring of independent creativity and exploration of the students. Ron spends less time teaching the specific skills of art rather than allowing students to recognise themselves as artists. The students were completely in control of the process from idea to creation. I began to wonder if these same principles could or should be transfeered to other areas of the curriculum e.g. spend more time exploring the process of becoming a writer rather than specific skills involved. In particular skills that had little significance or importance to the creation of writing.

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 2.10.45 PMWe were provided an opportunity within the year to allow the students to create and design their own learning environment. We discussed the various areas of learning and the resources that we would need. This provided the chance I needed to allow the students to see themselves as part of the process rather than a passive bystander. A writing table was created with discussions around what resources we would need as writers rather than what resources we would need to learn. Most of these would have been the same but it is how we approached the problem that was significant. It allowed the students to see themselves as writers and involved in the process rather than just learners. Yes we would need letter sound cards and displays, yes we would need whiteboards to write but these were now resources that we would require as a writer rather than just for learning. We were encouraging the students to develop the mindset of a writer rather than just as a learner. For myself in particular this is a very important point. I believe that when we are discussing changes in modern education the most important step is the change in mindset of both educators and learners and how we approach stituations rather than complete change. A change in values and of what is important to the learning process. These would obviously be different when considering the individual learner so it is vital that we create flexible learning opportunities that allow for personalised goals.

With development of technology within the modern world it is clear that the acquisition and demonstration of traditional skills is becoming increasingly less important than the adoption of positive learning behaviours. When developing these learning behaviours it is therefore important that the students become part of the process, mapping out, recognizing and implementing what is important to them. Involving the students within the process allows opportunities for them to personalize and take ownership whilst developing a natural curiosity and motivation to learn. The process and the active participation within it therefore becomes much more important than teacher expectations. There should be no end goal in learning other than the joy of learning. By helping to develop positive learning behaviours within our students we are helping to support a life-long learning journey.

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 2.12.23 PMIf we take creative writing as an example we clearly see that correct letter formation or even a good understanding of letter sounds can play little importance in the grand scale of things in the creation of a classic novel. In fact I am sure that if Oscar Wilde or Lord Byron had become preoccupied with handwriting rather than a creative outpouring then much of the creative endeavour may have been lost. This is not to say that good letter formation or spelling play their part but arguably play an insignificant role in the creation of great literature compared to creativity. Unarguably great literature would survive messy handwriting and bad spelling but without the love of writing or the spark of imagination it would be lost.

It is not the writers main concern to produce neat and accurate spelling but the story or idea itself. This is only part of the process as the work then goes to draft, numerous editing before the final piece is made available. This is not to mention the increase and availability of auto-correct and voice recognition technology that allows writers to create great work without the need of neat writing or correct spelling. So what do we really want our learners to become? Creative and imaginative writers or part of the editing team? The answer matters as the skills required for each position are different.

The acquisition of knowledge and skills should no longer be the driving force of modern education but the development of a love of learning. Forced conscription to traditional ideals can quickly dissolve the love of learning but if a love of learning is developed then the acquisition of knowledge and skills will occur naturally. Desire to learn should come naturally and motivation should be intrinsic and seem from deeper roots. If the children enjoy what they are learning they need no artificial motivation. Conformity to learning only leads to conscription and will not lead to authentic student action. Teaching skills as standalone and outside of the learning process develops a mindset of conformity. It also does not support the transfer of skills to a real-life experience. Allowing our learners to become part of the process rather than passive observers of it creates a learning environment that allows personalization, ownership and creativity of learning to happen. This in turn supports our learners in taking positive action.

Quality learning is risky and stressful and requires much more energy and effort from students than the passive learning that is so common in schools’ (Baird & Northfield, 1992).

Adopting a Flexible Approach to the Curriculum

Edna Sackson – ‘What if we liberate ourselves from the traditional curriculum prison and explore new vistas?’ 

Tania Mansfield – ‘What if we were brave and daring? What if we put learners and learning before curriculum and standards and paperwork?’

This blog post has been inspired by conversations I have read online recently regarding ‘time’, or the perceived lack of, and the development of flexible units of inquiry. I have come to believe that these conversations are closely connected with one directly effecting the other.

I have especially been interested by the conversations surrounding Edna Sackson’s blogpost, Liberating the Programme of Inquiry, and Tania Mansfield’s response, Those Beautiful Questions. Both these educators are asking some truly ‘beautiful questions’ that are pushing the boundaries and challenging the traditional ideas about our approach to education. Both represent a growing number of modern educators that are beginning to ask ‘What if…’ with regards to teaching and learning. It is an exciting time to be an educator as traditional barriers in education are being seen to be taken down. We seem in the midst of an educational revolution led by educators and administrators that dare to ask, ‘What if….’. It is a time to be ‘brave and daring’.

‘Time’ seems to be a continual challenge for many educators. The beginning of each school year signals the start of a new race to meet numerous deadlines of learning outcomes, expectations and assessment. With all the other distractions that school life brings (e.g. holidays, sports events, celebrations etc) it seems that we are in a constant race against the hands of time and many of us feel that we are always on the losing side. This yearly up hill struggle provides needless stress for both educators and students alike. I was once part of this yearly struggle but things became much easier when I came to the conclusion that ‘time’ is not the issue but rather how I approached the curriculum. Authentic learning is not somethings that we can compartmentalize into convenient timeframes and boxes. To attempt to do so creates an unnatural learning environment.

The timetable below represents my traditional approach to inquiry. As you can see the 4 units of inquiry have been placed neatly into set timeframes. Approaching inquiry in this manner also has an effect on the specific subject learning within each of the inquiries e.g. Maths and Language etc. So not only are we putting self imposed timeframes on the inquiries themselves but also to the other areas of the curriculum that are connected to each specific inquiry. Are we really saying that authentic inquiry and learning has a clear start and end date? This approach seems too neat, tidy and regulated for any real authentic, deep or personalised learning to occur. Approaching the curriculum in this manner also begins the clock ticking on many of the self-imposed deadlines.

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I feel our traditional approach to teaching and learning has always been to neatly arrange our curriculums within specific blocks of learning. If we are continually working within a set timeframe we are placing unnecessary pressure on both educators and our students to complete tasks and meet objectives. We are also restricting authentic learning and exploration as our students learn at an unnatural time and pace. We create timetables that are ‘repetitive and predictable’ allowing little flexibility for new and authentic inquiries that may occur.

The arrival of the Enhanced PYP has gone some way in offering some flexibility in the implementation of the programme, but it is going far enough?

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The PYP states, ‘Greater flexibility on starting points and time frames for your units of inquiry will create a range of learning opportunities, for example, one unit could run throughout the whole year, while others could be revisited once or numerous times, with some overlap where appropriate.

This year I have made greater attempts in creating a more flexible approach to inquiry. This has been my third year working with this specific curriculum and each year I have been able to make moderate changes to allow the inquiries to flow more naturally and offer greater opportunities for student agency. Many of these changes have so far only been able to occur on a personal level as we are still to have these conversations on a whole school level.

Below I have placed an example of my own implementation of the inquiries for this year.

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Even this approach seems to suggest a beginning and a start time to inquiry when in reality the inquiry for many of our students has already begun long before they enter the classroom and will continue long after. If we take ‘How We Express Ourselves’ as an example. I would be naive to believe that most, if not all, children had not developed a sense that stories are a means of communicating meaning and that they can be told in a variety of ways. In most instances they may not be actually aware that they acquire this information but it is there. In all sense and purposes their inquiry has long begun and it will continue long after the date that is penciled into our yearly calendars. So what are we need to ask ourselves what we are actually doing within these timeframes of inquiry. We need to consider that we are using these time periods to assess, develop and push our students understanding of subjects that may be all too familiar with already. We need to be clear that we are not the ones that have started or will finish our students personal journeys of learning but are on hand to steer and support when the time demands it. This is also the case for each of inquiries for the year. 

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So if we begin to think more in terms of continuous inquiry, rather than ones with a beginning and an end, then our curriculum begins to look at lot more similar to the image above. All transdisciplinary themes, all inquiries and all learning running simultaneously throughout the year. This will in turn allow for a flexible curriculum that allows for new opportunities for learning. Approaching the curriculum in this manner provides the opportunity for our students to choose the when, where and how they learn. It is important that for modern education and the need for student agency that we provide our students with these flexible systems that allow for choice in learning.

From Learners to Leaders

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I had been eagerly awaiting my new unit of inquiry for sometime. Since changing the Central Idea and Lines of Inquiry from the previous year I quickly recognised that the new inquiry was a perfect opportunity to allow student-agency to flourish. Like many I have been impressed with many of the approaches to teaching and learning already demonstrated by many schools that have allowed student-agency to flourish. I have been looking forward to an opportunity to implement, adapt and create these kinds of opportunities within my own practice. It has not been an easy decision working within an early years setting. What changes were possible? How would the children react? I also needed to be clear of how the changes would benefit the students rather than using this as an opportunity to experiment.

In the end I am a committed believer in the necessity of student-agency to flourish and the benefits it brings. And so, I made a commitment to both my students and myself that I would allow the new inquiry to be driven solely by student-agency allowing for changes in systems and structures that would remain for the rest of the academic year. 

Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 6.31.02 PMThe central idea to my new inquiry is ‘A School Community is Organised to Meet the Needs of the Learner. I had changed last years Central Idea from being concerned with the local community to being centred on our school community. One reason being was that due to traffic in Bangalore and the location of the school it was quite difficult for us to engage with or visit many of the places that I would have traditionally taken my class e.g. hospital, fire stations, libraries etc. Due to these circumstances, and the early finish of my students, it was difficult to create authentic engagements with many aspects of our local community. It is important for the students to learn through doing rather than just by pictures and books. I also saw the change in the central idea as an opportunity for the children to recognise their place as learners within the school community and to develop greater independence and responsibility for their learning. I saw the ‘Why’ of our inquiry as the children beginning to recognise themselves as learners and the processes they went though.

Screen Shot 2018-10-27 at 8.38.07 AMIn the week before our school holiday and a week before we were due to start our new inquiry we had begun to discuss what the children enjoyed about our school and our learning environment in particular. We thought about what a classroom Must, Should, and Could have. These would become the driving choices throughout our inquiry and also provided a pre-assessment of the children’s knowledge and understanding of their learning environment. The children’s ideas were then written on different coloured post-it notes with the intention that they could be re-visited and moved throughout the inquiry and provide a visual record of the children’s changing perspectives with regards to their learning environment. The work could also be used as a reflection during future learning experiences.

Working within an IB World School I have been motivated by the increased importance of student-agency within our curriculum. Believing that agency is something that cannot be given but only taken away I have increasingly thought about the barriers within my own practice that are restrictive to student-agency. Since the start of the school year I have been fascinated to watch other educators begin their year with an empty classroom and allowing students to create their own learning spaces. This would have been something that I was eager to do from the beginning of the year but I considered that it may be too challenging for such an approach within an Early Years class. I believe that with our young learners it is important to develop relationships and make connections before we can move on. And so I waited until my second inquiry before attempting such a bold move. We even waited until the Friday of the first week back to completely empty the room. We had started to take down displays and move other items throughout the week which worked quite well. It helped to develop conversations and discussions as the children started to notice the changes. Throughout these discussions we were able to reflect back on our previous thoughts about what a classroom must, should and could have and develop our ideas.

Screen Shot 2018-11-18 at 7.30.29 PMAnd so after days of clearing the classroom item at a time the children arrived to school on the Friday to find a completely empty classroom. We had removed all the furniture and resources to the garden outside. We had thought that if we had simply moved everything to one side of the classroom it would have influenced the children’s decision making with regards to the new organisation. We thought that it would be better to start with a blank canvas.

Throughout the day we engaged in conversations and decision making about how to best to organise the classroom. It was really interesting listening to even our young learners making decisions based on logic e.g. “We can’t put that there because we won’t be able to see our board”. It was also a wonderful experience as we explored our classroom resources. It provided an opportunity to explore each of our resources and how they could be used to support learning. In the past, without such an investigation, many resources would have remained on the shelves due to either the children not knowing we had them or not knowing how they were used.

Even though I had been excited to begin our new inquiry I did have some reservations. It would require us all to really step outside our comfort zone by beginning from scratch months into the new year. I suppose if we always do what is comfortable we would never do anything of value at all. I also had concerns about the children creating a classroom environment that was difficult to work in and had visions of weeks of rearranging furniture and resources as we re-evaluated our choices. Now after several weeks being in the newly organised classroom I have been pleasantly surprised with the arrangement. A lot of the worries I did have were needless.

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 2.10.45 PMOnce the children had finished organising our classroom we began to think of the specific needs of the learner. We started by asking questions like, ‘What do writers do? What do readers do? What do Mathematicians do? For each of these questions we concentrated on the process of each rather than the specific skills needed. Through these discussions we created specific learning areas to support the needs of the learner. We have had a wonderful response from the children. They began to think of themselves as writers, readers, mathematicians and enthusiastically engaged in independent and guided learning activities. They clearly demonstrate greater pride and accomplishment in their work in a setting created by the students for the students. True ownership of learning was happening and it was exciting to be a part of.

Screen Shot 2018-10-29 at 2.12.23 PMI have since been talking with our schools visual art teacher who follows the teaching strategy ‘Teaching for Artistic Behaviour’ (TAB). The concept being that students learn about art and the art world by assuming the role of artist and directing their own learning. I wondered if this strategy could explain the success that I had been witnessing within my own class, especially within language. The children have learned about writing by assuming the role of the writer and directing their own learning. By the results I have seen in the classroom I would strongly argue this was so. Students learn best and work harder when they are excited by what they are working on. And when they design their own work, they understand why they are doing what they are doing and engage much more deeply with their learning. The time taken to allow the children to create their own spaces as proven to be extremely beneficial and developed an increased sense of independence and enthusiasm.

Screen Shot 2018-11-21 at 2.43.16 PMAnother important aspect of learning is goal setting and reflection. As our inquiry was being driven by student-agency we also wanted the children to take ownership of these important aspects of learning to but how to make this appropriate to an Early Years setting? We revisited the roles of writers and readers and asked the children to reflect on their own ability. We then supported the children in choosing their own learning goals e.g. Do they want to develop their Screen Shot 2018-11-20 at 6.31.21 PMunderstanding of letter sounds? Write words? or even sentences? A lot of our discussion had been around next steps. What are we confident about and where to now? Soon I found myself having really meaningful conversations about goals and next steps that I had not found possible with an early years class before. Especially after the initial setting up of the area many of the children were enthusiastic about demonstrating their knowledge and understanding. So when they approached with their papers containing lines of scrambled letters we discussed the where to now with reflection on our learning goals.  This has been a work in progress and we are looking at ways to improve the idea with a view to extend this into other areas of learning.

Screen Shot 2018-11-21 at 2.55.27 PMSince the beginning of our inquiry I think that one of the biggest game changers in allowing agency to flourish has been our approach to our daily timetable. In the first week of the inquiry we had given ownership to the children to choose when they did specific learning activities like Maths or Language. We felt that this too was still restrictive and they needed greater ownership of their daily routine. We changed our daily timetable to follow our choices of Must, Should, Could. The first creation of our new timetable was completely teacher driven as we wanted to model how the new timetable would work. We discussed the restrictions to allowing complete freedom e.g. we must go to specialists, certain activities outside our control and as a teacher there are certain things that I must do. Then there were the activities that we should do to support specific learning outcomes e.g. we should spend time developing or writing or counting. There are also other activities that the could do to develop their understanding of the world that may not have specific links to our daily learning e.g. use block to build a castle etc. After the first week of the new modelled routine we allowed the children greater choice in its creation. The timetable has now become more visual to support the Early Learners and the children are able to express their opinions of activities that can be included in both the should and could. Eventually we would like to give full control in the daily schedule, with teacher guidance of course.

The inquiry will now continue until the end of the year and we will continue to modify and change our practice to benefit our learners. We will also continue to search for more opportunities for student-agency. This is just a part of the journey but it is clear that the journey has certainly begun. The experience has demonstrated excellent results so far in terms of student engagement, independence and enthusiasm for learning. They are clearly beginning to understand how they can express their choice and voice to make a positive impact in their ownership of learning. They are quickly making the transition from learners to leaders of the learning, recognising their own contribution to the process.

 

 

What if Agency was our only approach to learning?

Screen Shot 2018-10-27 at 8.38.07 AMI have recently begun a new unity of inquiry with my Early Years class, Central Idea, ‘A School Community is Organised to Meet the Needs of the Learner’. It has been an inquiry that I have been looking forward to for some time. I have watched with interest as other educators have begun their year with an empty learning space and allowed their students the opportunity to create and develop the space for themselves. I had contemplated the idea at the beginning of the year but considering the age of my students decided against. Maybe it was my own insecurities but I thought that maybe with the age of the children they needed to arrive at a place that was already prepared and could begin to make connections, familiarity, feel settled and develop routine. I held off with my ambitious plan until our second inquiry which presented the perfect opportunity to take risks. I could hear Taryn BondClegg’s rally cry at the end of Summer that ‘This was the year to take risks!’

I believe the ‘Why’ of the new inquiry should be to develop the children’s understanding of themselves as learners within the school community. Developing a sense of how, where and why we learn. Students beginning to recognise themselves as independent and responsible learners who can take ownership of every aspect of their learning experience. Placing themselves at the centre of their learning.

What if instead of pre-planning approaches to learning I allowed student-agency to be the sole driving force of our learning? Reflection of learning has to be at the centre of our practice so throughout our inquiry there will be ample time to reflect on the specific skills used, needed and supported within our activities but they will no longer be the driving force, student-agency will. Surely throughout the course of the inquiry all the skills will be addressed in a more natural way rather than being prepared and planned for at the beginning of the inquiry? 

Screen Shot 2018-10-27 at 8.37.44 AMAnd so with student-agency being the only driving force we have begun our new inquiry. After completing our first week I have been pleasantly surprised with the level of ownership that has already been achieved. From an empty classroom the children have made huge progress in developing their learning space. Communication, thinking and social skills are evidence in abundance. The class conversations and decision making when creating their space has been impressive. To listen as the young learners voice their opinions and explain their thought processes has been a wonderful experience. 

Screen Shot 2018-10-27 at 8.41.32 AMThe students have also been given ownership on how and when they learn. They had originally been given choice of activities based on a more traditional timetable. After some discussion we came to the conclusion that even this was still restrictive to the children’s learning. We have since created a new approach which will provide greater opportunities and choice for the children to take ownership of their own learning. A central theme within our inquiry is that choices can be made on what we must do, should do or could do. We have then decided on creating a timetable for the day based around these choices. Our next step in our inquiry will be developing the children’s understanding of setting personal goals. There is so much more to go with this inquiry but I was just to excited to share our learning journey so far. It has been amazing to witness the children demonstrating so much ownership even at these early stages of our inquiry. Who knows where it will lead but it will definitely be student-agency that will be leading they way.