Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Our Engaging Learning Spaces (ELS's) spiral into their second year

When we transformed our teaching and learning environment into ELS's in 2015 in response to our community focus "To engage every learner in deep learning for success", we began to operate within an authentic, living inquiry of practise. We naturally moved away from the individual class "teaching as inquiry" model to a collaborative holistic whole school inquiry. Our adaptations to our ELS's during the first year were based on learner, staff and parent surveys, videos, reflections, observations, discussions and professional readings. We were and still are open to learning and change in order to create an environment conducive to the best outcomes for all learners within our community. We believe our environment is organic and reflects the environment referred to in a video developed for the Learning and Change Strategy in 2014 where "self organising living systems have the capacity to respond to change".

Some recent work with the MOE drew my attention to the "Spiral of inquiry". You can read a succinct account of the paper entitled A Framework for transforming learning in schools: Innovation and the spiral of inquiry written by Timperley, Kaser & Halbert (2014) on the MOE Educational Leaders site at this link.
Spiral of Inquiry Source: Timperley et al, 2014
Here are my own thoughts around this framework for leading authentic learning in the context of our ELS's.

The new framework involves learners, families and communities and a shift from student voice to learner agency (p5). 
Our ELS model seeks feedback from all involved. We aim for learner agency but need to keep refocusing on this in practice.
 A mindset of curiosity and genuine inquiry into what is going on for learners is vital and leads to hunches (p5,6).
We have to continually remind ourselves to be open to change and be willing to action this.
 It is a collaborative process and involves a highly motivated and energetic team (p6).
In 2015 we moved away from single teachers making decisions around teaching, learning and evaluation to the ownership belonging to energetic, inquiring teams.
 It is grounded in OECD emerging knowledge and reflects the 7 principles of learning (p5).
We incorporate the 7 principles of learning naturally. We need to specifically relate to these.
 It is ongoing inquiry of learning leading to innovative action (p6).
This is how we operate naturally within our school wide ELS’s.
 Any change needs to involve working out what will work in the context of your own environment (p6).
As a Catholic school we are aware of ensuring the context of our environment reflects holistic innovation.
Continually checking what is working and not working well is essential (p6).

We do this across teams and as a whole team and involve all members of our community. Video evidence recorded on blogs grounds our practice.
Box 2 on page 8 of the framework has questions related to each of the 7 principles of learning.

In the different phases of the spiral, trust and engaging learners and their families are a recurring theme. Here is a brief summary about each phase of the spiral:
Scanning (p7- 9): This is about digging deeper, going underneath the data to get an understanding of the experiences of learners to drive change. Teacher observations and surveys of social, intellectual and emotional engagement are valuable. Using the questions in Box 2(p8) of the principles helps to get a bigger picture for the learners.
Focusing (p10-11): This is determining which area to concentrate on to start to make a difference. It's about asking the question - What's going on and how do we know ? It's about talking with the learners too and identifying a common area many people can buy into.
Developing a hunch (p12-14): Intuition and hunches, together with evidence, inform scanning and guide focusing. We all take responsibility for the areas we have influence and control in and have the confidence to share ideas where it is safe to question our own behaviours and beliefs. Checking assumptions for accuracy is important before moving ahead.
New learning (p14-16): Motivated by and connected to changing the learning experiences of learners and understanding why new ways of doing things are better than previous practices. Supporting and sustaining learning over time.
Taking action (p17-19): Informed actions. Learning more deeply about new ways of doing things, informed by a deep understanding of why new practices are more effective than others. Evaluating the impact on learners.
Checking (p19-21): Have we made enough of a difference as a team? Evidence seeking about high expectations. Providing information on the impact of actions and setting the stage for what will come next.
This process is based on a rich understanding of what is going on for learners. Success with small change leads to more radical changes and transformation takes place. Evidence - informed, systematic inquiry becomes a professional way of life as one inquiry leads to another within the spiral. A shared collaborative inquiry approach provides coherence within schools and across schools and is recognised as curiosity- driven change.
Applying the phases of the spiral to our ELS's at St Joseph's in 2016 will provide coherence to our existing living inquiry. We will be able to refocus our school wide inquiry process around a recognised framework for transforming learning and continue to innovate our practise to meet the diverse and challenging needs of all learners.

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