Close your eyes and imagine the school you would build.

Last week I was fortunate to meet and listen to Takaharu Tezuka who was an architect for the World’s Best Kindergarten. The reasons behind the circular building are many, including, physical activity (running in circles), a sense of family and belonging, equality: no segregation, simplicity, visibility, indoor/outdoor and creating relationships.

Other speakers at the conference compared school buildings to prisons. Square. Hallways. Classrooms with square furniture. Routines. Bells. Timetabled outdoor time. Fenced in.

In reference to the title of this blog, we were challenged by one speaker to ask ourselves, “Should we build a school? Are schools (as we know them) the best way to learn?”

I intend to…because…

As teachers we hear questions like this all day long…

“Can I work on writing?”

“Can I read a book?”

“Can I sketch in my art journal?”

“Can I use markers?”

“Can I go to the library?”

“Can I go get a set of headphones?”

We, the teachers, are constantly evaluating and making decisions for the students. We are doing all of the work and answering the questions with only part of the information. What if, instead, we taught our students to use,  “I intend to…because…”

What difference would it make? Keep reading. It is powerful.

“I intend to work on writing because I am almost finished my book and I really want to get it done to show my mom. I’ve been telling her about it every day.”

“I intend to read a book because I am really nervous about the swimming competition after school today and reading will calm me down.”

“I intend to sketch in my art journal because I want to practice drawing a mouth before I draw the mouth on my portrait. Every time I draw mouths I don’t like them. I need to figure out how to draw them.”

“I intend to use markers because the colours will stand out. The light in space is so bright, I think markers will  be better than pastels for this picture.”

“I intend to go to the library to get the next book in the series because the librarian told me it just arrived and I am so excited! I’ve been waiting a month for it!”

“I intend to get a set of headphones to listen to this video and I don’t want to disturb anyone else. Jack told me that this video had a lot of information about Kepler 186f, and I really want to know more about why it might be habitable.”

 

“I intend to…because…” is so powerful for many reasons. Here are a few:

  • The students are pro-active and take ownership of their learning, totally engaged
  • The students, not the teacher, think through and assess the reasons why they are choosing to do something
  • The teacher learns a lot about each student as they give their reasons for choosing a learning intention, their reasons are a segue into what they are thinking about and what is important to them
  • The students develop skills of self-management, critical thinking, evaluation, informed choices, and speaking with confidence

I intend to...

 “I intend to…” does not give a free ticket to do whatever.  For example, here is a possible scenario:

student: “I intend to play this Maths game because it is fun and I like it.”

teacher: “Tell me about what you are learning in the game.”

student: “I have to answer multiplication questions.”

teacher: “Is this a skill that you need to work on some more?”

student:”No, I know all the multiplication facts to 100 already! The game is easy! I always win!”

teacher: “So tell me about what you are learning in the game.”

student: “Hmm. I think I would learn more in the game about division. I still need practice with that.”

teacher: “Okay.”

If you, the teacher, are not convinced with the intention, probe (and guide) some more…

“Tell me more about the learning you will be doing.”

“Tell me about your plans to be safe.”

“Tell me about your plans to finish the assignment by tomorrow.”

“Tell me about your plans to…”

“Did you know that you could find out more about X by asking/by reading/by looking at Y?”

Asking the students to state their intentions sends the powerful message that we assume they are capable to make learning decisions. (see previous related post here)

We can teach our students to take control, contribute their full intellectual capacity and become healthy and happy leaders.

What do you intend to do?

(This post was inspired by David Marquet in his book Turn the Ship Around!)

(All examples of ‘intentions’ above were taken from the students in my Grade 4 class.)

 

Feedback

According to Hattie, feedback is one of the top 10 influences on student achievement.

Over these last couple of weeks my class has been making a great effort to ask for and offer feedback to each other. I first showed my Grade 4 students this fantastic video called Austin’s Butterfly.

They were so impressed with the results they wanted to try it out themselves. We started with their latest writing. They had been writing about their opportunities, the benefits, the costs and showing empathy to others who do not have the same opportunities. Immediately we started giving each other feedback and the students were receptive and determined to improve. Sometimes we set the bar too low and allow students to stop after the first or second draft. Students will rise to higher expectations if we offer them the opportunity. The students wrote, edited, requested feedback, edited, re-wrote, and continually assessed themselves through a rubric. It was fantastic.

Our second concerted effort with feedback was in our art class. Using chalk pastels, everyone was creating an image following a style from the book If The World Were A Village.  While working, the students would choose to place their artwork on the whiteboard ledge, ring a chime and ask their classmates for feedback. Wow. It was amazing. The kids were offering feedback (not judgement) and the artists were listening carefully and heading back to the art table (mini lesson: you receive feedback and then decide what you want to do with it, artist’s choice).

I wish I had taken photos along the way. The differences between the first draft and the final were stunning. Here are a few of the finished pieces, worked and re-worked after much feedback.

Overheard from the students:

“Wow! Feedback is great! It gives me so many new ideas and makes my work so much better!”

“It’s the details that make the most difference! I love feedback!”

photo 1 Feedback

Do Unto Others as They’d Like Done Unto Them

There is “The Golden Rule” (Do unto others as you would have them do unto you) and then there is the “Platinum Rule

Do Unto Others as They’d Like Done Unto Them

Years ago I read the book by Tony Alessandra and Michael J. O’Connor about the four basic personalities and how to see people differently, understand them better and deal with them in ways that they would want to be treated. It made a lot of sense, and honestly, it helped me understand my husband better – he wanted fast, goal-orientated interaction whereas I was slower paced and focused on harmony.  As soon as we both understood that we were treating each other the way we wanted to be treated and not the way the other person wanted to be treated, it made a world of difference. 

It is all about empathy. Understanding others. Here is a powerful example of how empathy is often misunderstood:

On the Leading is Learning website there is an interesting article about empathy. You may have read last winter the heart warming story of a police officer who bought a pair of boots for a homeless man. He bought the boots with his own money. A passerby saw the interaction, took a photo, the picture went viral and the story made national news:  An empathetic  police officer.

Empathy is often misunderstood.
Empathy is often misunderstood.

The officer had great intentions and he gave from his heart. He, however, misunderstood the need of the homeless man. A month after the gift of the boots a journalist returned to the homeless man to find him barefoot. When asked why he wasn’t wearing the boots, the man said, “Those shoes are hidden, they are worth a lot of money-I could lose my life.” (New York Times.)

This anecdote gets at a core challenge with empathy in leadership. Empathy isn’t about treating other people well. It’s about understanding that other people’s needs and expectations – what they mean by “being treated well” – might be very different than your own.

What does this mean in a school? Leading is Learning suggests that school leaders need to listen to their community and really understand the experiences of their clientele. Whether it is in designing the daily schedule, a new report card or the new cafeteria:

Innovative school leaders need to take the time to “play Anthropologist,” in the words of IDEO designer David Kelley. They need to understand what other people experience on a daily basis, and what values and norms they carry with them.

To a teacher, it means taking time to understand your students. Ask them questions, listen to their answers. What kind of day are they having? What are they worried about? What do they love to do? Where do they want to sit and why?

As teachers, we all wish the best for our students. It is who we are, that’s why we do what we do. Empathising with them, understanding their experiences, needs and motivations will help us, the teachers, help our students get what they need. This is compassionate teaching.

In the book I am reading now, Olivia Fox Cabane, offers these definitions:

Goodwill: wishing the other person well

Empathy: understanding the other’s experience

Compassion: Goodwill + Empathy

How would you assess your level of compassion in the classroom?

 

Connecting: So Many Great Ideas

There are many books and blogs about changing the way we teach. One of my favorite blogs is by my friend, Sonya terBorg. If you want to think about, read, watch videos or comment on the latest educational discussions, follow her blog. It will give you something to gnaw on.

I shared a book that she wrote called Imagine A School with our director and, in return he leant me the book Unschooling Rules by Clark Aldrich. I chatted with an MYP  (middle school)  teacher about the ideas and discovered that he too has been thinking, reading, talking and blogging about the same ideas. He  is starting an ASA next year called Find Your Element. Basically it will give students an opportunity to find a passion and delve further into it with teachers guiding and supporting but not ‘marking’ or assessing.

Islands of thought in the school are starting to float towards each other and connect. There is an educational revolution beginning to form. How exciting. As Sonya just wrote:

I’m intoxicated with the possiblity!

Passionate Oasis Time

A while back I wrote about teacher’s needing feedback too. And I got it! And I am so glad I did. While I thought things were going very well, they only got better.

The students and I have developed an even deeper respect for each other. I have heard them, I have listened to them and I have changed. And so have they.

I was reading Seth Godin’s book Tribes and in it he asks, “How was your day?” He suggests that answers like, “fine” or “okay” imply a passionless job. My answer to that question is almost always, “Great!” It most likely would be expanded with, “It was so busy.” or “It was fun!” or “I am exhausted.” or “I learned a lot today.” But never “fine.”

So, I know I have found my passion. Now, how to help my students find theirs?

Last year I read a book about Google and their 80-20 time. Since then I have read many blog posts and articles about the same. Some call it Oasis Time, or Free Inquiry Time or Genius Time. I am completely sold on the idea.

Last year, our Grade 3 team (two classes) started out by giving our students one period a week of Free Inquiry time and asked them to relate their inquiries to the unit we were working on (at that time it was a Forces unit so it was easy to link inquiries that way).

It has since evolved into an open inquiry time. Anything goes, as long as the question has been passed through me. It has been really interesting. The students LOVE it.

The other day some girls decided to make a seismograph (we are studying earthquakes) while another three boys went outside to test which ball could be kicked the furthest. Hmm. They needed a little guidance in that investigation (like how to make sure there is only one variable, how to judge what qualifies as a ‘good kick,’ etc.) but I know we will get there. Sometimes just playing around leads to a good question.

These kids are serious about their learning but not solemn about it. They like having fun. The passion and excitement I see in the Oasis Time is enough for me to realize we are on to something here. One boy went around and taught others how to draw an airplane. He is an incredible artist but not such a good English speaker so this was a huge confidence booster for him as he was getting so much positive feedback from his peers.

Two other girls have decided to write letters to the PTA to convince them to change the style of water bottle they have chosen. There are a few kids that wander around observing their classmates. And that is okay too. Sometimes we need to wait for inspiration. When observing they usually become involved by giving suggestions, offering feedback or helping out.

What I haven’t done yet but am planning to do next week is introduce the accountability factor into the inquiry. The students will explain their questions and their research to each other. I think this will refocus some students as well as start discussions and sharing amongst them.

These students are learning how to ask a good question, how to research it, how to fail, how to start again, how to go deeper, how to self-manage, how to self-assess and most importantly, they are learning how to be passionate about learning!