Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Swing thoughts*

LC4 has 43 children, 3 Learning Advisors, a range of support staff, a wider network of parents & whanau, organisations that we use in a variety of ways and a supporting cast of many. We also have a large number of visitors to the school that drop by, observe, question, reflect and participate in the learning space.

Recently, I took pause to reflect on just whose space is it?  Predominantly, it is the student's space and must reflect their learning, emotional and behavioural needs, this was discussed in a blog post by my colleague Amy at the start of the year. The learning design requires considerable thought, far more than a few colourful tables or bean bags and is the topic of many visitors to our school. But it isn't just the formal planning that takes place. Another integral component are the discussions that take place every day, but there is also a layer of individual/personal choice that is part of the learning design.

Let's consider a recent two-part conversation I had:
Colleague 1 : "We could do goalfish"
Me: "no sounds a bit naff"
Colleague 1:  "it worked last year & the kids loved it"

Later on, this conversation was continued...

We were talking about how many of our learners are requiring more support with following their plan and meeting their goals, this shifted to the deprivatisation of our learning space, a display was mooted:

Me: "We could display but just not the goalfish"
Colleague 2: "I like the idea"
Colleague 1: laughing
Me: "you don't need my permission, it's not my space, it's our space".

That conversation was the catalyst for this blog post. I have wondered a lot about "permissions" this year, within the context of a shared space it seems relevant. Bear in mind, no one is asking for actual permission but there is a genuine need to be considerate. Many of the visitors to HPPS ask a similar themed question: In a shared space who decides the pedagogy? If you want to do something different to your colleagues, is this allowed/tolerated/reasonable?

How would you cope if all of a sudden you shared your present learning space with someone else? Who gets to decide on the pedagogy, management styles, planning frameworks, timelines and everything else that is part of the teachers domain? I'm not referring to your principal, team leader or mentor teacher either. I refer to another teacher in the same learning space as you, each with their own experiences, preferences, styles, strengths and weaknesses. How would you cope?

Swing Thoughts*
(Picture sourced from
At this point I must point out that these thoughts are NOT the ramblings of a teacher experiencing discontent. Merely the thoughts which are bouncing around in my head needing to find their voice. Thoughts which I raise with my colleagues and feel the need to share more widely.  

These wonderings may materialise in different aspects of the day:
  • Teachable moment - how do you run with it? What is the impact on the space/other teachers/overall plan? This means it might be parked for a later date by which time the kids may not care anymore (if they don't care was it worth pursuing anyway?).
  • Reading aloud - Scarcely done but was an integral part of creating a reading culture in other classrooms. Can you sit and read to a group of students, what if it impacts on other colleagues?
  • Innovation - How might we select which innovations should be pursued? Who judges if it is successful? If it hasn't worked for someone in the past does that mean it shouldn't be tried by a different team member?
  • Time management - What if a workshop/conference takes longer than planned? How does this impact on the rest of the days plans? How does this impact your colleague?
  • Workspace - Which space should I/we use for a particular workshop? Do I need to tell my colleague if we are heading to a different space (gym/outdoors/library/boardroom/music room/ foodtech etc).
Many of these thoughts can be dealt with effectively by considering three simple ideas.

Responsiveness: What are you responding to with any learning experience? Is it student voice? Learning needs? A suggestion/feedback from the school community? Curriculum coverage? Your own personal passions? That's The Way We Always Do It?

Collaboration: Are you adding value to the learning space? What if this is duplicating effort from your colleague? How does your learning experience/activity affect the learners as they move between teachers in the space or elsewhere in the school? Are you creating habits/expectations that may not be followed elsewhere in the school?

Permissions: Does it conform to the vision/values for the learning space/school? Is your learning activity well considered? Does it meet a need? Are you prepared to reflect on the activity honestly?

Answering questions with more questions might not seem helpful, its not meant to be. But when an opportunity/teachable moment or pedagogical shift might be on the cards I can't just act like I'm the captain of my ship. I need to consider the impact on those around me.

The cognitive load for any teacher is substantial, its certainly not lessened by being in a shared space given the deprivatisation, collaboration and sheer numbers of children. I won't claim to be a perfect teacher in a shared space (that would be extremely dangerous to believe) but I'm very proud to contribute to the many conversations that drive LC4 as a collaborative and responsive learning space. There are daily reflections, shared observations, wonderings and suggestions for how we move forward together to meet the vision and values of our school. But these all serve to contribute further to the many thoughts that bounce around inside my head!

*In golf, there are considerable moving parts to a efficient and effective swing. Unfortunately, too many thoughts about technique when taking a shot actually serves to confuse the brain resulting in a poor swing. Generally, a better technique is shown when the mind is more relaxed and in flow.  The questions and wonderings I share here are my "swing thoughts"when I'm teaching. 

Wednesday, 5 August 2015

Ask the question!

Collaborative teaching can be a scary journey! The deprivatisation might not be your idea of comfortable but it is ever present and places you in a position of constant observation by your peers, at the same time you are privileged to be able to observe them as they go about their teaching. In this environment it becomes easier to be more reflective about your own development and naturally this often takes the form of asking your colleague for their thoughts, observations, opinions and feed forward. Asking questions requires bravery and is relatively easy, being prepared to listen to the answers demands trust and professionalism.

Last week my colleague Lisa and I sat down to discuss how we might proceed with immersion and the next round of projects, we'd just conducted some eAsttle assessment of measurement and geometry and were contemplating whether or not we wanted to run one more week of immersion. I was quite excited about our ability to be innovative with the teaching of measurement but we were mindful that taking another week for immersion most likely would mean a week less for the next immersion/project phase. We both considered the timing and decided that spending a week on some measurement inquiry would benefit our learners as we can excite them about maths again.

Thursday afternoon, I spoke with another colleague, Erin, who teaches in our space 2 days a week to outline some of my ideas: Gardening, Fundraising, Garbage/Recycling and Fitness Activities/Trails. All four could be presented as problem based learning for a mini inquiry throughout the week, in my mind there would be lots of opportunities for us to observe real measurement learning and could lead to lots of responsive workshops for teaching. I got positive feedback and based on this we designed a Reggio-inspired provocation for measurement. I was still slightly concerned that three of these problems did have the potential to become more like a design thinking process though.

Friday morning, actively seeking feedback I went to share my ideas with Lisa. Her response was 'warm but demanding': "I challenge you" to look for something where there will be more DATs / explicit teaching not just an open ended exploration.  For a split second, I did feel personally attacked, but this was my own problem and wasn't in Lisa's tone, delivery or body language. I had gone seeking feedback, not reinforcement and a 'warm but demanding' response had been elicited. Shortly after I was comfortable with the challenge, I don't quite have the answer to Lisa's challenge but am feeling "comfortable with discomfort".  I have spent some time looking for better provocations and activities where there will be explicit teaching, supplementing these will be the observations that will lead to responsive workshops.

My thoughts were leaning towards using some YouTube videos and hands on activities such as building a water clock. But I'm still feeling some dissonance.

As it turned out I wasn't at school Monday ("Man Flu!" You might cry). Lisa had provided work investigating Translation, Transformation, Escher Art, Rotation, mixed with StudyLadder & Khan Academy modules and some teacher led workshops. This was a perfect model of balance for what we were after, exciting our learners about mathematics and providing room for explicit teaching.

Finding that balance can be difficult when planning for learning, sharing a learning space with other colleagues can add further pressure that translates into additional planning time. Its not a competition but it can certainly feel like it. Rather than getting caught up in destructive self-doubt, I believe that careful questioning of my own teaching and planning, should allow for deeper reflection and development. I need to bounce ideas, wonder aloud, share my observations and invite others into my thinking. But if I'm going to ask questions...

I better be ready for the answers!