As teachers we are so lucky. We know that when we come to school each day, each day will be different and interesting. We also know that to help students to learn, you need to be a learner yourself.
In the past few years the rate of learning for teachers like myself has soared due to social media. I recently read a post about a teacher in New Zealand who had changed her learning space. At the time I read it, I thought it was a great idea but was not sure how I would go about creating the change. I have always been interested in creating a culture of thinking and learning in my classs, where the teacher steps back and the children help drive the learning. It was for this reason that an epiphany struck me one day last term.
We recently had our school PYP Exhibition where my year six students presented their learning to the school and wider community. Throughout the learning process for the Exhibition, the kids in my class were creating their own spaces for learning. In setting up for the day most of our desks were taken out of my room and stored. There was suddenly all this space in the room that could be changed. I realised that for so many years I had worked on creating a collaborative learning culture in my room, but I was helping my pupils to decide who to collaborate with and where their learning should take place. Still a little uncomfortable about what I was going to do to change the space and how I was going to do it, I asked one of my colleagues about her thoughts. I asked myself the question, “Does Your Classroom Reflect What You Believe About Learning?” The short answer was “No”. While discussing it I became convinced and my excitement started to gain momentum.
So….. after the Exhibition I put the idea to my class. I explained that I had been teaching for so long and that teaching and learning has changed so much over this time. We spoke about being 21st Century learners in a learning space that was static. I asked them what they thought about the idea of changing our space and they were really enthusiastic. So we went about the school looking for alternative furniture to replace desks and chairs. We changed these for Ottomans instead. The whole atmosphere in my room began to change. The kids told me that a new Essential Agreement for this Flexible space should be created. They created one and constantly refer to it if things are not going so well.
Flexible Learning Space
Now that we have a shared flexible space when it comes to tidying the room a sense of “we” has emerged in the room rather than “I”. Everyone now helps to clean the space. We are still experimenting with the space and are now trying out different types of furniture that a kind furniture rep has agreed to lend us. The children are excited to be helping to choose their furniture. They give me feedback about it without me even asking.
I had wondered what would happen with this new found freedom in the room. How and if it would change learning. My observations are that children are now mixing things up and are learning and collaborating more than ever before. The children look more comfortable when they are learning.
As for me, I feel a sense of freedom too and am so glad that I took the plunge.
The decision to start this blog has come after much prodding and strong encouragement from one of my colleagues. She has told me that writing posts will help me reflect on my teaching practice and learning. So here it comes post number one, embarking on my personal journey of learning and practice.
I work in a school where professional learning is encouraged and valued. Over the many years that I have been teaching I have been to many professional development courses. I am always able to take something away from these sessions, however I often land up feeling disappointed and let down due to either lack of engaging content and/or the way learning is presented. This got me thinking as to what I wanted from PD and how I was going to get it.
As luck would have it earlier this year my colleagues and I were fortunate enough to Skype with with a teacher at an international school in Thailand NIST, through a connection made on Twitter. We were about to embark on our PYP Exhibition and we wanted some help and clarification. This was my second attempt at the Exhibition and I knew exactly what I did not want to be doing second time round.
So we Skyped with Sam Sherratt a Year 6 teacher at NISTand as the session progressed I knew I had stumbled on someone who spoke my language regarding learning. After an hour I came away inspired and relieved that the Exhibition could be achieved in a way that fits with my teaching philosophy and practice. A few months later Sam was invited to our school to share some of his ideas about learning. I hung on to every word and the wheels in my mind began turning.
During the Exhibition term I got onto Twitter, due to the push I received from my learning friend and mentor – another big step in the right direction. It was here that I continued to connect with Sam. I found his advice invaluable. It was then that the idea came to me. I still had PD days owing to me and I knew what would be the best PD ever – time in Sam’s classroom in Thailand. When I approached my Principal he was so supportive but as this was an unusual request permission was needed from all the heads of campus. Permission was granted….and so a learning journey was born.
From the moment I stepped into Sam’s room I was stuck by the life lessons that unfolded each day and the absolute engagement of the children. The learning was always real for them because it connected to them. The unit being covered was in the PYP Transdisiplanary Theme of How We Organise Ourselves and it was about a journey of personal growth towards independence.
Each day began with children walking into the room, independently looking at instructions for the start of the day on the Smart board. The day started with. Reading and often the children had to think about what they were reading and how they were reading it.
At the start of the week Sam would use a picture of rocks in a jar. On the rocks he put what had to be accomplished through the week with negotiation with the children. The children were warned not to put too many rocks in the jar and were encouraged to make their goals achievable. At the end of the week the children and teacher assessed if they were true to the goals set. The kids approached their teacher honestly and respectfully saying that they needed more time for some of the learning. This form of goal setting / what needed to be covered in the week was really powerful. It was incredible to hear the kids telling the teacher what they needed to accomplish. This is what we as educators dream of, independently motivated learners. In this classroom children’s ideas and opinions are highly valued as well as the teacher’s. It’s not all about the teacher, it’s about a learning community where all ideas are equal.
I think that I might have just completed the most powerful form of Professional Development in a long time.