Sunday, 17 May 2015

Going OPEN : Visitors from Invercargill, troughs, growth mindset & student agency

Going OPEN, is an authentic way to reflect on the resiliency of our systems and processes and ensure that engagement in deep learning continually underpins everything WE do at St Joseph's in Oamaru.
We have just completed our thirteenth week of going OPEN in our Engaging Learning Spaces (ELS's). Our ELS's evolved to meet the needs of our learners after several years of pedagogical exploration as a staff.  A desire to have our learners passionately drive their own learning has been the catalyst for our deep inquiries. It is the "WHY " for us.
If we imagine this "WHY" as being at the innermost heart of an onion, then we have spent the past few years peeling away the outer layers. WE are steel peeling away. WE are doing that together with each other, our students and their families. It is the WE that is important. WE are all committed to our WHY: To engage EVERY student in deep learning for success. 
How do WE move from I to WE ? How do WE ensure that WE are all peeling back the layers together. How do WE survive the troughs? 
Recently, we welcomed Deputy Principal Helen Kennedy @HKKH18 and colleague Carolyn Williams from Waverley Park school, Invercargill into our (ELS's). They visited during our twelfth week of teaching and learning in the ELS's and the very first week that we experienced teacher absence due to unforeseen circumstances. One of Helen's first questions was: "What have been your troughs?" Our visitors from Timaru a couple of weeks earlier, were also keen to know about our challenges. 
Adapted from images
Another word for trough within an educational setting is a learning pit. If we never find ourselves in the trough or pit, then we aren't being challenged in our learning.
During the seventh week of a nine week term, some of our staff found themselves in the learning pit. For team teaching to be successful, continual collaboration is a must. This is where our school values the 4 R's come in: respect, reverence, resilience and good relationships. We have to understand, apply and live out these values if we expect our students to follow them. Understanding that the quality of engaged learning that we are providing for our learners is amplified when we teach collaboratively rather than individually helps. Applying our values as we work closely as teams also helps. Luckily, deep reflection and collegiality supported our staff to climb out of the pit and we continued on until our next trough. 
This coincided with new part time teachers and relief teachers coming into our ELS's for very the first time this term. We thought that collaborative team teaching would make it easier for new personnel to teach in our ELS's. The children still have the consistency and familiarity of their regular teachers but we need to ensure that they aren't relied upon to carry the full teaching load. We need to actively support new personnel to engage proactively in the ELS's. Our teachers have worked hard to set up systems that allow space and flexibility for learner agency and engagement, within a respectful and well organised environment. Due to the fact that our ELS's differ in some ways to single cell, traditional classroom environments, we need to ensure continued success for our learners across the school. This has led to an induction process and some explicit guidelines around environmental expectations for relief teachers. 
All teachers have immediate access to timetables and planning on our public Teaching and Learning site. This site includes an overview of our school systems and process. This means that any relieving teachers can get a full understanding of the environment that they will be working in at our school. As a result of further reflection and our learning from the twelfth week trough, we have added in a section for relieving teacher to our site under the communication tab.
You can access these guidelines via this link
Growth Mindset
It's the resilient attitude that we apply during these times that helps us to move forward and deepen our learning. It's about having a growth mindset. 
Each of us our committed to the WHY. It is about our learners. It is about all of us believing that we are all learners : children, staff and families. We all have gifts and talents to share. We share these with humility, dignity, trust and respect. We are OPEN to new learning. We have a GROWTH MINDSET. We believe that our abilities can be developed through hard work and dedication. 
I first heard about the term growth mindset during a discussion with @MarkMoorhouseMM on my visit to Matthew Moss school in the UK. I explored Professor Carol Dweck's growth mindset work as part of my sabbatical study and included reference to it in this video.
Passion and a growth mindset feature in this video
It was a genuinely awesome surprise to be presented with Dweck's book:Mindset - The new Psychology of Success as part of an extremely thoughtful thank you gift from our Waverley Park visitors. As soon as I finish my ongoing reviews of OPEN: How we'll work, live and learn in the future by David Price I will devote some serious blog reflection time to this new book and share it with our staff and community.
A generous and unnecessary but greatly appreciated gift from Helen and Carolyn, our Waverley Park visitors
Having a GROWTH MINDSET attitude to the learning for all of us that comes from going OPEN and welcoming visitors from other schools, means being prepared. In order to ensure that the visit was well worth their while, I asked Helen to email us with exactly what they were hoping to get out of the visit. Waverley Park are also part of a Learning and Change network and Helen encapsulated their Big Ideas in this innovative poster.
Helen's poster captures Waverley Park School's Big Ideas for their learning environments 
Helen also shared the following: Brenda and myself have started teaching collaboratively this year with 60+ students.  We ability group our students for maths, reading and writing. We share the teaching for the arts, maori, fitness, PE.  Inquiry is an area that we will work on this term as a large group.  Because we have a traditional building footprint the students move between our spaces throughout the day.We would like to observe how you go about this in your school, looking at facets such as timetabling, movement of students between spaces, collaborative teaching and workshops,  student agency, groupings, collaborative planning, integration of ICT. 
To make the most of their time during the visit, our staff collaborated to create opportunities for our visitors to experience as much as possible from the above list.
Student Agency
I also asked if any of our senior students would be willing to share their thoughts about learning at St Joseph's in our ELS's with our visitors. Everyone was keen !! Joel (Yr 8) and Rhea (Yr 7) were given the opportunity to be interviewed by our visitors. 
Here are some video vignette's from the interview that capture student agency and deep engagement in learning.

                                     Joel shares about ELS's : 3 minute vignette
                    Rhea shares about google docs and inquiry projects : 1 minute vignette
          Joel shares about home learning and extended abstract SOLO learning : 1 minute

As part of our Whitestone Learning and Change network, we invited six of our Year 8's to prepare a slide show presentation to share with high school teachers at a combined staff event. I was fortunate to get to work with these students as we collaborated in real time together on a google slide show about their learning. We were able to adapt a slideshow prepared by our colleagues from Weston School who will also be presenting at the Whitestone Learning and Change event. 
I look forward to sharing the outcome of these presentations where student agency comes to the fore as students are given a chance to drive their learning. Where going OPEN, ensures that engagement in deep learning continually underpins everything WE do together at St Joseph's in Oamaru.
Our six Year 8 leaders working collaboratively on the presentation for High School teachers.

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