The holidays are always a great time for reflection.
As I start thinking ahead to what 2019 will bring, I take myself back to when my journey began; what the motivation was to start a journey, why it was important, and how I can inspire my current colleagues to join me on this journey (which I now realise will be never-ending).
‘Journey’ is such a cliche word but it really is the only word to describe the last 5 years and, I realise now, the time which lies ahead. The dictionary defines a journey as travelling from one place to another usually taking a rather long time! What I do know now is that this trip will be long and quite possibly will not ever have a final destination. It has taken courage to continue to swim against the tide though.
My journey was initiated by boredom. Five years ago I was not excited about what I was doing in the classroom; and if I wasn’t how could I expect my kids to get excited about learning? I was encouraged to start some study towards my Post Graduate Diploma in Education (Teaching and Learning endorsed).
So I did.
From that moment, I have continued to seek new understandings about why we need to change the paradigm and how we can do it.
The concept of student agency is one which I embraced very early on as I became consumed by students’ motivation (or lack of) for learning. I blogged about engagement HERE, and reflected on Passionate Learners HERE, and reflected about my initial efforts of kids Finding Agency HERE . Through the study I did and all the reading I immersed myself in it wasn’t long before I happily let go and passed over some decision-making to my students; knowing that giving ownership would go some way to improving motivation and engagement and reduce the boredom!
I found this change of paradigm exciting and easy. I was not threatened by the idea that I, the teacher, was not the fountain of all knowledge, it was not going to bruise my ego to show my vulnerability and give up some authority in the classroom. I had always felt discomfort at being thought of as the person who knows everything. I was always of the belief that I was not the only person in a classroom who had something to offer. But as teachers we were always looked upon as the one who knows everything there is to know. And this is how the students had always viewed us. Because that is the way it has always been; we are there to tell them what and how and a good student would just do what we told them to – never to have to think for themselves! It was a culture built on compliance. Lots of kids learnt how to play the game of school.
Thanks to @MonteSyrie and his #MyRoomMessage for this picture which he tweeted out recently. It really does sum up what I am about in my classroom too.
And so began the journey of discovering what my new role in the classroom was. To create a culture of empowerment meant my role as a teacher had to change. Some decision-making needed to be handed over.
It also meant the role of the learner was going to change – I was more than ready for that.
I built great relationships so I could learn to trust these kids with making their own choices but also so they would trust me. I understood that these kids needed to unlearn and relearn a lot of stuff so they felt safe to make these decisions which had always been made by the teacher. I also accepted that these kids would make wrong choices sometimes or make decisions which may not be the ones I would have made for them. But this was part of my new role – to be there to help them learn this stuff. To help them understand that making mistakes or wrong choices gives us opportunities for learning. To help them learn to learn! It is about building their self efficacy so they believe they can be in control.
I was always aware how important it was to understand the why.
To make sure I wasn’t changing my classroom set-up because it looked better for me, or bringing in an old couch because it was cool, or having students teach others because I didn’t have time, or getting kids to decide some of their timetable because i hadn’t done it … these were all changes which had purpose. These were changes that were being researched and written about. This was the shift in paradigm which was going to result in my classroom becoming a place where we all were teachers and learners together and more importantly where everyone was taking part in thinking.
It was the shift from a teacher centred classroom to one which was learner centred – me being a learner alongside the kids.
I quickly learnt that this type of classroom was going to look and sound different. It was exciting.
I got rid of my teacher desk (which resulted in a heap more space for my learners – and meant I immersed myself in the learning with them)
I got tables to replace the individual desks (which encouraged collaboration instead of competition – discussion rather than silence)
I introduced Growth mindset (which meant my kids began to learn about challenge and perseverance – and this resulted in risk-taking and moving out of comfort zones)
I started to view my kids as the individuals they were; all with different needs, abilities, strengths, and weaknesses (which resulted in a more personalised learning environment not a one size fits all – but a more culturally sustaining practice)
I began to understand that a more personalised pedagogy meant planning was going to be a lot different (it was more spontaneous and retrospective at times). This was often difficult to explain as planning was another one of those things ingrained into us during our training – planning every lesson of every day right down to what questions we were going to ask!
Personalising learning meant teaching was going to look different (I was teaching more responsively – just in time rather than just in case – and this allowed me more time than ever before with individual students)
Personalising learning meant learning was going to look different too (it was often messy, kids were doing different things at different times, kids were learning different things, kids were discussing, sharing, and collaborating, kids were creating and doing).
Personalising learning meant kids were going to have to use their initiative and start thinking for themselves! This is the paradigm shift from student to learner.
Many of the kids embraced this empowerment and thrived while some needed more scaffolding – and that will always be how it is. I was sometimes told “this type of learning doesn’t work for everyone” – but I would always think about that and my inner reply was “and the way we have always done it doesn’t work for all kids either”. We can cater for everyone – that is the craft of pedagogy!
HERE is an overview of the pedagogy I developed.
At various times along my journey I have encountered ‘rips’ – conflict in the flow of the tide!
Those who viewed our focus on agency as a free-for-all whereas in fact this pedagogical change, when done right, is highly structured – a classroom just doesn’t look the same as it always has – and neither it should!
Those who questioned the absence of homework – my belief is that if we maximise our time in class then we shouldn’t need to set it. But this is not to say that learning at home isn’t encouraged – continue with something you are working on in class! I have blogged about homework HERE and HERE
Those who queried the curriculum coverage – for example, when students timetable their own maths learning at a different time to the rest of the school – were they in fact doing it? Of course! The kids were selecting when it suited them best to do it. This IS the letting go which needs to occur.
Those who found it hard to accept the absence of groups – throughout my training (and others of my generation) we were told to make sure we were grouping our learners so we could better meet their needs. Over time, I have seen the negative impact of grouping – kids are not silly – they know which group they are in. This does nothing for their self efficacy not to mention the expectations then placed on students by the teacher. Mixed ability grouping has taken off as a way to negate this and is a technique I have used. But the ideal is to personalise. Start with the who instead of the what.
As I begin a new part of my journey I am ready to share what I have learnt from the last 5 years. I have seen the difference it makes to learners when we commit to changing the paradigm. They have told me (and so have their parents).
Read about more success HERE.
Student Agency is a complex notion and is a lot more than providing choice and voice. But agency is at the heart of what we are endeavouring our kids to reach …
That place where they are intrinsically motivated to follow their own curiosities which come out of what we are doing in the classroom – the ability to learn how to learn on their own. Asking questions not just answering them.
The metacognitive skills which enable them to think critically and reflect on the learning process – accepting challenge, problem-solving and learning in the pit.
The initiative to create and collaborate – in class, locally, nationally, and globally.
The belief that they can take a lead and help and teach others.
Kids learn how to manage their time and accept responsibility for their own learning.
These are lifelong skills
As we move into 2019 I am excited to have been placed in a flexible, innovative learning environment with a new colleague who is as excited as I am about the challenge ahead. I will share what I have learnt and continue on this journey of no destination.
Some key things for me …
Culturally sustaining practice has us viewing all students on a continuum of unrecognised to unlimited potential – we need to remove the barriers.
Culturally sustaining pedagogy is focused on collaboration and communication rather than competition and comparison.
And creativity has wide-reaching consequences …
ACTIVE LEARNING STRATEGIES are at the heart of my pedagogy.
The things learners pay attention to have changed – so we must change how we provide learning experiences. We can take time to think about these …
I think this video below is worth watching to prompt us to understand WHY we need to rethink what the important skills are which our learners will need for their futures. We need to accept that the skills we needed for our future were different. Thanks @hktans for writing THIS blog post where I found Adaptable Minds.
How are you learning from your own teaching? Are you helping your learners become their own teachers?