Saturday, 21 February 2015

Can you say yes to these 5 signs of culturally responsive learning environments ?

We are only three weeks into the new school year and have already held a Family Learning Hui ( Maori for gathering ), a Board of Trustees meeting and a Pasifiki Fono (Polynesian for meeting). We have our Filipino Pagsasama (Tagalog for gathering) also booked in and have plans for our first Chinese meeting during the first six weeks of  term.

Inclusive educators are reflective and pro active and willing to adapt to the evolving needs of their community. Valuing and respecting the immense taonga (Maori for treasure ) of people resources that exist within our own family groups are vital. Utilising these powerful human resources  can create invaluable support networks for our vulnerable, priority learners who are struggling to adjust to unfamiliar languages, culture and environments.

This is an example of such a network in action already this year.

A new child was struggling to settle into school. The school pastoral liaison person visited the family. The class teacher and the principal made contact with the school Pasifika parent leader. The planned Pasifika fono was immediately moved forward. One of the leaders visited the new family and personally invited them to attend the fono. At the fono, the principal was able to openly ask for support for the new child and family. A discussion was held in Tongan and a number of parents and other children were willing to offer support. The outcome was that the whole group wanted to help the new child to settle in. A meeting was arranged for two of the leaders to meet with the new parent and the class teacher the following day at school. One of the senior school children offered to be available to help and support the new child. Within the first three weeks of the new school year, a safety net of care and love with direction and purpose was activated from the taonga of people resources already existing within the school community. 

Culturally responsive checklist for educators. Can you say a resounding  yes to these 5 indicators ?  

Do you...... 

1. Connect with learners and build sincere and authentic relationships with them and their families ( smile, greet them in their own language, learn to pronounce their name correctly, make home visits, attend school cultural meetings, community gatherings and events outside of your own classroom or workplace ) ?

2. Ensure that all the learning spaces have visual connectors ( artwork, pictures,signs, maps, symbols, photos ) that learners from other cultures ( representative of all cultures within your class or school ) can immediately connect with ?

3. Include stories, texts, inquiries and projects that are inclusive with themes that relate to other cultures in your teaching and learning ?

4. Walk in your learner's shoes and see learning through their eyes and adapt teaching and learning accordingly. How would you feel, what would you think, hear and see if you were suddenly expected to adapt and learn or work in an unfamiliar cultural environment ?

5. Have a growth mindset and an open heart and are willing to embrace new learning from other cultures that can genuinely nourish and broaden your own life skills and values ?

Can you add to the list ? Please share more ways to create culturally responsive environments in the comment box below.

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Evolving ELS's for Powerful # Open Learning Experiences

We are only two weeks into our new school year and our vibrant "Engaging Learning Spaces" (ELS's) are already generating excitement, enthusiasm and engagement in learning for children, staff and families at St Joseph's.

After completing my sabbatical research in 2014, I challenged educators to actively engage learners in deep learning by creating dynamic, innovative learning environments in partnership with learners and families where passion, motivation and excitement for learning flourishes.

Link to sabbatical video
This year, we are putting into practice a concerted  school wide community approach to engaging all learners in deep learning for success. We have moved beyond the traditional "Open Door" approach to an "Open Learning in Education" philosophy.

"Open Learning in Education" is the theme of Chapter 8 in David Price's book "Open : How we'll work, live and learn in the future". I have reviewed Chapters 1 - 7 in previous blog posts. In Chapter 8, Price challenges us to reflect on "powerful and significant learning experiences in our lives." ( Page 157). For most of us, these experiences have taken place outside of school, like learning to ride a bike or learning to swim. They involved challenge, risk and learning from failure and forced us out of our comfort zones. Price points out that powerful learning experiences definitely don't come from completing worksheets. Powerful and significant learning experiences are taking place in informal social spaces outside of schools. The new concept of educational success has clearly moved away from " transmission of knowledge" to "nurturing of key skills and competencies". (Heng Swee Keat in Price,Page 166)

"Collaborative partnerships" are key to the success of this approach to learning. For several years at St Joseph's, we have focused on building quality relationships between teachers and learners.This has broadened to include families and between ourselves as educators. Every teacher is committed to working collaboratively with one or more teachers in "Learning Hubs" (shared spaces across 2-3 rooms) where there is an expectation that the progress and achievement of every learner is the responsibility of the teaching team rather than just one teacher. Last year we put a great deal of energy into supporting and involving our parents in learning and change. The extract below is taken from our school Newsblog after a recent Family Learning Hui and helps to explain how we develop "collaborative partnerships. "

Weekly Newsblog February 2015
Every student  Everyone engaged in deep learning for success
 Maybe we need to consider rewording our learning goal! We had a record turnout of families (about 100 participants) at our first learning Hui for 2015 and it wasn't only the students who were actively engaged in learning! We had parents, friends and staff all participating with the children in the learning activities. Everyone was learning together. We were participating in a social learning environment, supporting and challenging each other to open our hearts and our minds to new learning.

Having a growth mindset was the theme of one of our learning Hui's last year. This video link helps you understand the learning power of a growth mindset. If we are open to learning then age is no barrier to learning and change. It is only a closed mindset that can be a barrier to achieving our hopes, goals, dreams and ambitions. Being open to thinking in ways that may be challenging for us but move us out of our comfort zones as adults will help us grow our own learning capability. This video helps us to see the possibilities when we reverse our thinking.

This video helps us to understand that we need to create learning environments that truly engage our learners. We can't relay on technology alone but it can be used as a tool to support deep learning. Caring teachers effectively use the technology of today to help place learning in the context of the children's world. We are creating environments that inspire, engage and drive our students to be self motivated learners. Ultimately, we want them to drive their own learning. Strong self - management skills help our children to be active and independent learners. These are the skills that will support them to learn, achieve and succeed at high school and beyond.

Family Learning Hui questions - We have timetabled two learning Hui's per term as well as two open morrnings and set the dates for the year so that you can ensure that you keep these free.

1. Can the Hui's be at a different time? We tried the later time of 7pm last year but attendance was low (only about 15 people compared with 50 -100 ) for the 6pm time. The 6pm time slot allows a chance for working parents to get home and join if possible. The 6pm time also means that younger children can come and it's not too late for them to go to bed afterwards. Unfortunately we cannot suit the needs of all families. We are exploring a video option and also a live streaming possibility.
2. Can we have them on a different day? We have liaised with our Sports Coordinator and arranged Wednesday Hui's for Terms 1 and 4 and Thursdays for Terms 2 and 3 to best fit with coaching and sporting activities. 
3. Do my children need to come? No. You may certainly choose to come on on your own.The opportunity to bring the children means that you are not restricted by having to find a babysitter. You might decide that one parent comes with one child. It is your choice and there is no expectation from us.
4. Why should we come? It is a chance for you to understand and be able to support your children's learning in ways that are more proactive and insightful than in the past. We do expect that you as parents and caregivers accept the significant role that you play in your children's education. All of our teachers are expected to attend and will be there to learn alongside you and your families. We believe that learning at St Joseph's is a priority.

Teaching and Learning Site
We had a chance to explore our new 'go to' site at the Family Learning Hui. This site was set up to bring together all of the information that we were previously sharing in a range of places. You can access it here on this link. I recommend that you save it as a favourite on your bookmark bar so that you have easy access to it at all times.

This is where you can now access our calendar of events, class blogs  and all of our curriculum information. Most importantly, you have an insight into the planning and preparation that our teachers do for your children. You now have access to weekly timetables, learning workshops, long term plans and inquiry units. 
Now you have a chance to have informed learning conversations, discussions and reflections with your children based on this valuable shared information.
What did you do at school today? You won't need to ask this question because you can actually read about what the children are doing on a specific day. Instead you can take the time to say, "Share with me some of the statistical learning or where are you at with your book review?" You have the valuable opportunity to proactively support your child in their learning.

Our ELS's are continually evolving and support an "Open Learning in Education" philosophy. They lend themselves to powerful and significant learning experiences. I will share some of these experiences from a learner's perspective in a future blog.

Sunday, 1 February 2015

OPEN Ch 7 Pt 2 : 5 Commonalities of Innovative Workplaces

'The most innovative companies in the world regard work as learning'.

Learning environments that offer opportunities to explore, trial, play and collaborate allow innovation and creativity to flourish for all learners (staff and students). This was the focus of my post based on the first part of Chapter 7 in my chapter by chapter review of the book that Sir Ken Robinson describes as a 'revelation' - OPEN: How we'll work, live and learn in the future by David Price.
Screenshot taken from David's site: 'Engaged Learning'
So much change has happened in our workplace since I wrote that post a few months ago. When I made a commitment to share my chapter by chapter reflections about this powerful book ; I didn't foresee the immense and immediate impact that it would have on the way we work and learn in our own educational setting.

Although the book shares how we will work, live and learn in the future, the future has transformed into the 'now' for us. Our 'open' changes are clearly evident yet continually evolving. They are purposeful and dynamic yet fluid. Most importantly, everyone: students, parents and staff are key players and contributors in our redesigned playing and learning spaces. 

What have we done that is working for us ?

We have held on tightly to our why goal: To engage every student in deep learning for success. We have loosened the restrictions of agenda filled, frequent, business like staff ' professional development ' meetings and opened a window to let in fresh air, space and time to 'explore, trial, play and collaborate to allow innovation and creativity to flourish for all of us. This window of opportunity has now evolved into a large sliding door (metaphorically speaking only !).

Image from indYouth home decorating site
A sliding door in architecture and construction, is a large glass window opening in a structure that provide door access from a room to the outdoors, fresh air, and copious natural light (wikipedia)
What exactly does this mean for us as educators ? We have opened our minds and our hearts to the new learning and growth that comes when students, staff, families, parishes, networks of schools and global learning communities collaborate as one on an equal playing field.

In 2015 more than ever before, we are truly 'Open' in all that we do in our educational setting. Hubs of teachers are sharing planning, teaching and learning within collaborative learning spaces and online. Our Teaching and Learning Site is a public site that shares absolutely everything. There are no secrets. We use the SOFT (Sharing, Open, Free, Trust) values described in Chapter 3 to guide the way we work.

In Chapter 7 Part 2, Price shares examples of business workplaces that use the SOFT values as they move from closed to 'open' systems. 
Here are 5 commonalities of very successful business workplaces :
  1.  All decisions are made in a work culture using a 'living - systems lens'. This way you get leaders who approach change as if they were growing something, rather than just 'changing' something. (Senge 1999 via Price 2013 p140-141). This video expands on this concept and links to Wheatley's description of 'self- organising living systems that have the capacity to respond continuously to change'.
  2. Collaboration and team work are 'non negotiable'. Social media is encouraged and used in these workplaces. This 'is facilitating more face-to-face sharing than ever before.' (p143) 
  3. Personal growth opportunities and time to play as well as a culture that allows for 'freedom to fail ' (p150) leads to new learning and innovation opportunities.
  4. Trust provides the 'safety-net for innovation' and is the lead source of employee motivation (p151). 
  5. Institutions that share and expose what they are doing with the public improve, grow and develop the fastest (p155)
'The most innovative companies in the world regard work as learning'.

Is work regarded as learning in your workplace? How?

What about "Open Learning in Education"? That's the theme for Chapter 8 and my next review of OPEN: How we'll work, live and learn in the future by David Price.