Incorporating Student Voice in the Classroom

Chrissy Talbot
General Education Teacher

Providing students with a voice is an important tool in creating an engaging classroom environment. As an elementary teacher, I’ve noticed that when my students feel that their own voice is valued they are often more willing to take academic risks. Below I’ve listed three practical ways you can provide even your youngest students with an opportunity to have a voice in their own education.

 

1) Morning Meetings & Entrance Tickets:

One way to provide students with a voice is by giving them a platform to express themselves. This can come in multiple forms. You can set up a morning meeting where students have the opportunity to discuss things they are feeling or events happening outside of school. A safe space for students to engage in honest conversation should never be underestimated. Or, if you want something less time-consuming, you can create Google Forms or entrance tickets that ask students to suggest topics for class discussion or their thoughts and opinions on the curriculum. Of course, you can modify these ideas to meet your specific grade level. Starting your day off with an opportunity for students to have a voice sets a tone that their opinions and thoughts matter in your classroom. They are valued.

 

2) Choice in Projects: 

Student voice can also come in the form of choice. This might mean giving students the opportunity to express what they have learned through different mediums. Would they rather make a diorama of an ocean habitat or create a video complete with sound effects and narration? Sometimes it can be hard as the teacher to release some control to our students but by doing so, we are showing our students that we trust them and that we accept them as individuals who may not always learn the same way. You cannot have student voice without student choice.

 

3) Student Surveys:

Lastly, you can promote student voice simply by asking for it. Give students an opportunity to drive your instruction and tell you how they learn best. Student surveys at the beginning of the year are helpful to get an understanding of how our students learn. We can then decide if we need more group projects or technology or visuals in the way we deliver instruction. But the surveys shouldn’t stop in the fall. We need to continue to ask our students for feedback. Would students like to see more videos or do more hands-on experiments? Assessments give us a lot of information about how much a student has learned but they don’t give us insight on the student’s learning experience. I believe learning experiences should count for something because, after all, aren’t we trying to foster a love of learning in our students? I think the best way to do this is to give the students a voice continuously in the way we deliver our instruction and the way we assess our students.

 

These are just a few strategies you can employ in your classroom to help lift up your students’ voices and make them feel heard.  Sometimes it’s easy to overlook or forget about the importance of this work but it’s so important for building long-term relationships with our students. We owe it to our students to show them that their thoughts are valued.

 

To learn more about Social-Emotional Learning and access additional resources to support a SEL environment, click here.

 

This article was originally published by Savvas: https://blog.savvas.com/incorporating-student-voice-in-the-classroom

 

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Chrissy Talbot

“My name is Chrissy and I am a creative, hard-working, and passionate teacher. I’ve been teaching second grade for the past four years on Long Island, New York. I’m currently the general education teacher in an inclusive classroom environment, and I LOVE it! I received my BA in Elementary Education from Stonehill College in Massachusetts and later earned my Masters in TESOL from Touro College in New York. When I’m not lesson planning or making anchor charts for my kiddos, I am reading books on my couch, planning my latest travel adventure, or spending time with my friends and family.”

Embracing democratic dissent in a data-driven age

Stephen Chatelier, Mark Harrison and Elke Van dermijnsbrugge

 

Introduction

We teach in a pre-service teacher programme that prepares students for a teaching career in international schools. In one of the courses, we discuss models of teacher appraisal and teacher effectiveness, their purposes, and how different schools approach them. We ask whether or not student performance data should be part of these processes. During the discussion, it is inevitable that one of the students will argue that data must be used because, ultimately, the most important concern of a school is the learning of students.

 

During our time as schoolteachers and in our ongoing conversations with colleagues, we have heard this same argument, in different forms, many times over.

 

How dare you – it’s all about student learning!

These days, we often hear that the student – and student learning – are more important than anything else, and should be the yardstick for all that happens in schools. The problem with this is that it seems impossible to argue against. Who in their right mind is going to say “the students aren’t really the most important” or “hmm, I don’t think student learning is really at the centre of what we do as a school”?

 

The view that student learning is the aim of schooling might seem obvious, but has been challenged, perhaps most notably by the academic Gert Biesta who argues that education is a much broader enterprise. While the claim that student learning is all that matters is itself problematic, it is also used all too often as a “shut down” to alternative voices.

 

If you’ve ever tried questioning the latest initiative focusing on wellbeing, resilience, growth mindset, or “soft skills”, you’ve probably experienced “the shutdown”! If you’re thinking of being that person, good luck!

 

The ‘research shows’ argument

Perhaps you’ve been in a meeting about increasing the quantity of reporting. The school leadership is arguing that parents should get more regular feedback, as well as more detailed end-of-term reports. As concerns about the increased administrative requirements for teachers are voiced, the reply comes: “research shows that formative feedback and home-school partnerships are key to student improvement, and surely that is our primary aim?”

 

The argument here is not only that student learning is the only thing that matters, but that ‘the research’ undeniably supports the particular initiative being proposed. In this sense, ‘the research’ is often quoted in a vague and ‘handwaving’ manner to justify an initiative. After all, who can argue with ‘the research’?

 

So, just like the ‘student learning’ strategy, the ‘research says’ declaration is too often used to quash dissenting voices.

 

Democratic education

The dissenting voice, however, is central to ensuring a democratic education.

 

Put another way, the data-driven, evidence-based discourses in schools risk undermining the various forms of education that prioritise students’ responses to the world around them, inquiry and the construction of knowledge, and engaged citizenship, all elements of a broader vision of education than one which simply focuses on ‘learning.’

 

When teachers become focused on the numbers and the data, they are more likely to engage in practices that primarily focus on that which can be measured. That is, teachers are more likely to do the equivalent of ‘teaching to the test’. As a result, we start to value what we measure instead of measuring what we value (Biesta).

 

Given that many international schools claim to provide exactly the kind of education that guides students in becoming responsible members of a global society, it is important that we consider the implications of focusing on data and numbers.

 

Dissenting voices

In fact, if we really believe that the best education for our students is that which ‘draws out and opens up’ rather than ‘narrows in and closes down’, then we ought to be more, not less, sceptical about educational agendas which flatten and standardise practices.

 

And we ought to be willing to embrace dissenting voices from teachers as well as students.

 

But while we make the argument for allowing dissent, it is important to note that this is not the same as mere complaint. Dissent, it can be argued, is more closely aligned to democratic education, not because it allows the community to simply say whatever they want, but because it involves giving account for one’s position.

 

Dissent emerges from genuine concerns – whether philosophical, practical, political or pedagogical – and can, therefore, play an important role not only in critiquing the way things are, but in contributing to different and innovative ideas for education.

 

Embracing alternative views for education

The start of a new school year is the time in which new initiatives are proposed with energy and enthusiasm. School leaders are often keen to ensure that they push something through, before the grind of the daily and weekly routine sets in. As such, it can be tempting to resist the dissenting voices by invoking ‘the research’ which is, in actual fact, always contestable, or the centrality of student learning.

 

Managed well, a genuine invitation for dissent is to see any proposal of a new initiative as an educative opportunity itself. It is an opportunity for the community to genuinely inquire into, grapple with, critique and imagine alternatives. It is an opportunity to ask: what does the data actually tell us? What does the research not address? And, are there other factors – outside the data or the research – that perhaps ought, nevertheless, to carry more weight in making a decision?

 

A school that breeds a culture of genuine engagement with ideas, and leaders who genuinely listen to dissenting voices, model something of the kind of democratic education that so many international schools claim to promote. In embracing this culture within the staff, the effects will be felt across the school, including in the classrooms.

 

So, next time we are tempted to shut down debate by blithely stating “learning is the most important thing” or “the research says”, perhaps it is worth thinking about what this says about our perspective on the role of education.

 

Stephen Chatelier, Mark Harrison and Elke Van dermijnsbrugge have all been teachers and leaders in international schools. They now work in the Department of International Education at The Education University of Hong Kong, where they teach and conduct research on critical aspects of international schooling.

The Power of Community and Masterminds – creating connection and empowerment during our world crisis

 

Becky Carlzon
Co-creator of LearningPioneers.co and Letspressplay.co

 

If there’s one thing for sure, our shared recent world crisis has rocked the world. In many ways, this has had devastating consequences – lives have been lost, businesses have crumbled, people have been isolated.

 

In other ways, we have had to learn to pivot – to think on our feet and think up creative and innovative ways to solve problems; most closely to our hearts as teachers, this has involved developing effective online learning programmes whilst juggling home lives, navigating new technology and, if we’re lucky, getting out of our pyjamas, ready for our 8am maths lesson, trying to maintain the focus of 30 children surrounded by siblings, pets, and, in one of my calls, a feral bat!

 

Although this has been a challenging process, perhaps there are some gifts too – some silver-linings to the cloud of COVID. For me, one of these gifts has been making space to reimagine.

 

Here are a few ways I started to reimagine after online learning:

 

  • I wonder what learnings I can take forward from developing lessons remotely? What new technology can I incorporate? How might I be able to plan for more cross year group learning? How can I deepen relationships with families and therefore impact more on learning?
  • Can we build connection and community, even when isolated in our own homes?
  • Now that we can’t invite in consultants for staff training, how else could we develop effective professional learning opportunities?

 

It was these final two wonderings, that led me to develop online learning communities and Masterminds. Here were my “what ifs” to make that happen:

 

  • What if we could create a safe space for hungry-to-learn practitioners to connect?
  • What if we could run regular “Mastermind” sessions where we could troubleshoot best practice together?
  • What if we could collectively write a list of “dream” speakers and co-create questions for them to suit our individual needs and contexts?
  • What if, by doing this, we could connect practitioners, philosophies, curriculums across the globe and, in doing so, open our minds to new possibilities?

 

Well, that’s just what we did – We built an international community called “Learning Pioneers” committed to learning from and with one another, powered by the world’s learning minds. Since I have worked closely with Professor Guy Claxton, this began as developing our practice in Learning Power. Since then, it has expanded to exploring any ideas and approaches that empower students and ensure learning is meaningful, purposeful and joyful. So far, we have co-created interviews for speakers including Kath Murdoch, Professor Guy Claxton, Trevor MacKenzie, James Nottingham and David Price OBE. We have learned and implemented effective strategies in, amongst others, assessment, learning environments, growth mindset, agency and challenge.

 

And, now, a year after having got this started, we are really starting to understand the impact of developing a learning community like this. Research into teacher collective efficacy, shows that continuous professional dialogue over time can have a 4-fold impact on learning (Hattie). A GTCE study in 2007 found that effective teacher learning involves sustained interactions and interventions over time, teacher choice and influence over their learning and learning within a collaborative network – turns out, we have all three.

 

So, now I am wondering:

 

  • How can I empower others to set up learning communities of their own? Our focus is on the most impactful and meaningful learning. Other communities could be set up around STEM, best use of technology, oracy, inquiry, student agency, SEND provision … The possibilities are endless!
  • How can we go even deeper in our Learning Pioneers community? For example, Dr Kulvarn Atwal, who has a PhD in developing dynamic learning communities, will be an integral part of our learning next year.
  • What would this look like as a whole-school approach to professional learning? Not only are whole schools signing up to Learning Pioneers, but I have developed a new learning community called “PressPlay” with Kym Scott, Early Childhood Consultant, dedicated to supporting and empowering schools to take play beyond Early Years.

 

And I am wondering about you too.

 

  • What have your greatest challenges been during our world crisis? Did you get better at overcoming them as time went on?
  • Were there any silver linings to your clouds?
  • What are your thoughts on online learning communities? If you were to set one up, what would you like to investigate and learn about with others? Which speakers would you invite in?!

 

I would love to hear the answers to these questions! Imagine if we could all connect with like minds across the globe to learn and grow together? We could fire up education and learning from the ground up and, quite frankly, change the world (or at least our part of it!).

 

You can link with Becky via Twitter @beckycarlzon  and via LinkedIn.

 

And find out more about her learning communities via:

 

Learningpioneers.co

and

Letspressplay.co

 

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Becky is the Co-creator of Learning Pioneers, with a focus to make our classrooms as exciting, impactful and purposeful as possible. You can find out more at learningpioneers.co.

She is also the co-author of Powering Up Children, which is bursting with tips and techniques to get students learning muscles stretching from a young age. The book is designed for busy primary school teachers who want to get started on the LPA journey as well as for those who have already made good progress and are looking for fresh ideas.

Better Than Before – 3 Practices That Should Be Part of Our New Normal

 

Jessica Werner, Ph.D.
CEO, Northshore Coaching & Consulting

 

It is summertime and there are currently a lot of conversations happening around what the new normal will be in schools come this fall. Clearly, the teaching conditions we endured for the last year and a half were decidedly not normal. At best it was innovative, and at times it was simply survival. COVID was a once in a century pandemic and teaching through it wasn’t always pretty.

 

Though we know there will be a ‘new normal’ for schools, it may take a few school years for us to feel comfortable in this, let alone thrive in it. Yet, it is important to remember – teaching is hard during non-COVID times, and our ‘new normal’ should reflect that. Here are the top three aspects of our new normal that I am advocating for:

 

Keep wellbeing a priority

For everyone in schools – administrators, office staff, teachers and students.  In many schools where I work, the focus on academic achievement shared an intentional space with a focus on wellbeing, social-emotional learning, and self-care this past year. Teachers were offered CPD opportunities for wellness, which came at a crucial time as many reported feeling burnt-out as early as mid-September. The schools that did this deserve to be commended, yet it would be a mistake to discontinue this type of support in the future. Schools must continue to nurture the health and wellbeing of their staff as much as they focus on the social and emotional needs of their students. We know from research that happy, engaged teachers are less likely to transfer schools or to leave the profession entirely, just as we know that these teachers report higher academic gains in their students.

 

Encourage continued innovation

When the pandemic forced immediate school closures in early 2020 everyone working in education was forced to adjust, more or less overnight. It was extremely difficult, and this cannot be understated. This sudden, unprecedented shift ultimately led to new thinking, cooperation, and innovation in almost every school I have worked in and visited in the last 18 months. Educators have flipped the way of doing business on its head and this should continue to be the way schools operate post-pandemic. School administrators must encourage continued innovation by investing in CPD opportunities for staff, particularly those that are personalized to meet each individual’s growth goals.

 

Continue appreciating educators

Early in lockdown, Shonda Rhimes, an American television producer, went on social media after one hour of homeschooling her six and eight-year-old children, and said “teachers deserve to make a million dollars a year. Or a week,” and many people expressed agreement. Teaching is hard work. We educators have always known this, but it was nice, for these months, to hear this sentiment expressed by our non-educator friends. Despite this hard work, educators often feel taken for granted. At my daughter’s school, the parent community provided at least 20 lunches for the school staff throughout the year as a ‘thank you.’ Teachers also received a small stipend to reward them for their hard work during this extraordinary time. These displays of appreciation were absolutely warranted, and they should not stop when COVID concerns are behind us. Roughly 50 per cent of educators leave the profession in the first five years, and nearly 10 per cent quit every year after that. That is significant turnover, even in ‘normal’ times. One of the top reasons teachers quit is due to not feeling adequately respected or appreciated.  Therefore, I propose that we must continue to show educators that we respect and appreciate their hard work. Let’s try our best to keep amazing people in this profession. Through lunches, stipends, or simply a kind word or note here and there, letting your child’s teacher or your teaching staff know you care can mean a lot and help boost morale.

 

As we transition to ‘post-pandemic thinking, let’s focus on what actually worked well during pandemic teaching and consider how we can integrate these positive outcomes into our future work.  No doubt, COVID was a challenge for all, and especially for those in education. Let us remember that during this challenging time educators rose to the occasion and continued teaching, an act of resilience that will not soon be forgotten by millions of grateful students and families.

 

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.

 

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jessica Werner, Ph.D. is the CEO of Northshore Coaching & Consulting. NSCC partners with schools worldwide providing professional development opportunities for teachers and school leaders that focus on both performance and wellbeing. Dr. Werner’s personal expertise lies in helping teachers establish a positive classroom culture, develop SEL skills, and improve their instructional practices. She teaches Assessment courses as a Professor of Education at the University of Notre Dame and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her family.

Living with Asperger’s – an interview with SEN professional Beverley Williams

 

Aimee Haddock
Marketing Executive, Real Group Ltd.

 

 

Beverley Williams is a former delegate of Real Training. She has had an expansive career, influencing the lives of many young people with SEN. Not only has Beverley completed multiple courses with Real Training and gained a vast amount of professional knowledge through SEN and safeguarding roles, but she was also diagnosed with Asperger’s at around 50 years old. We thought it would be useful to share Beverley’s story, not only for those delegates looking to have an impact but also for those with Aspergers who may be looking for some advice.

Discussing Beverley’s early life, there was a common challenge that she faced almost every day – being able to build meaningful friendships and understanding how to behave in certain social situations. During her time at primary and secondary school, Beverley found herself feeling exhausted by social politics. Something she also experienced in some of her job roles in later life. She acknowledges her personal daily struggle with this and now understands this to be part of her Asperger’s. Explaining how she felt after her diagnosis regarding those social challenges, Beverley said,

“It has been really releasing on a personal level… I don’t feel I need to explain things to other people but it explains to me why I find situations hard.”

Since her diagnosis, Beverley has felt a lot more confident in building relationships, explaining that now she knows what she is going to find tricky, she can prepare herself and put certain strategies in place to help her deal with different situations.

I wanted to understand a little more about how Beverley thinks her experiences in early life influenced her approach whilst working with SEN children. She explained that she has always resisted stereotyping young people and children by their diagnosis. She explains that not everybody with the same diagnosis has the same limitations, behaviours and challenges. Her focus remains on the individual and she is highly conscious of the social isolation of SEN children, constantly working to combat this. Through her work, Beverley has noticed her ability to acknowledge each individual, recognising those who are on the edge of the social group and understanding that they may be happy there. Highlighting that this approach is strongly influenced by her experiences.

Following her own diagnosis, I wanted to know if Beverley felt her approach was influenced or changed in any way. Beverley explained the biggest alteration was a new awareness of females, acknowledging the likelihood of masking – not just Aspergers but all kinds of challenges. She feels this made her look more deeply into triggers and behaviours and spend more time getting to know each individual.

Beverley’s learning journey with Real Training has seen her complete CCET and NASENCO. She is also currently working on the Autism Spectrum Conditions module. After gaining knowledge through her lived experiences with Autism and her varying professional pathway, Beverley continues to expand her knowledge. When asked about her time studying with us Beverley said,

”My NASENCO tutor was fantastic. I explained about my Aspergers and she was really supportive. That gave me quite a lot of confidence to go onto the next course. I acknowledge that her support helped me to keep going and gave me the encouragement I needed. I never felt that she was making allowances nor do I think she was, but I did feel my tutor had an understanding of how I work best.”

I asked Beverley to provide us with some of her top tips, not only for other delegates working with SEN children but also for young people with Autism, highlighting the kinds of things she wishes she knew in her younger years. Although Beverley had not yet been diagnosed while she herself was at school she now understands, through her diagnosis, why she found school hard.

Beverley’s Top Tips for working with SEN children

  1. Don’t stereotype people on the Autistic Spectrum, they are as individual as everyone else.
  2. Provide a range of strategies to mirror the range of people.
  3. Give students the opportunity to work in a calm area, avoiding sensory overload. Always tailor these strategies to their individual needs and preferences.
  4. Look for those on the edge of the group who don’t feel they fit into any specific group.
  5. Focus on an individual’s interests and strengths and then build these into your learning strategies for them. In my experience, people on the Autistic Spectrum are more likely to be engaged in their learning if you encourage them to go deeper with specific interests instead of broadening their general knowledge.
  6. Understand, if you can, that what is important to you may be totally irrelevant to someone on the Autism Spectrum and they, therefore, may not see the point in learning about some things, which may seem trivial and pointless to them.
  7. It is often exhausting for children on the Autism Spectrum to comply with expectations. If they comply at home, they might not have the energy to comply at school and vice versa. Provide opportunities for the individual to restore and refresh using whatever strategies work for them- don’t make assumptions about what these are.

Beverley’s Top Tips for young people in education with Autism

  1. It’s ok to be different, everyone is!
  2. You don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not. It’s exhausting.
  3. Find a teacher or other member of staff you can talk to.
  4. Ask for a quiet area you can go to if you need to take a break from the noise or light, etc. If you feel embarrassed to ask for this perhaps you could find a ‘job’ you need to do.
  5. Don’t let people ‘pigeon-hole’ you or put you in a box to fit their expectations.
  6. It’s ok to make a mistake because it’s all part of learning. Getting something wrong isn’t a failure, it simply means you have learned something new.

Many thanks to Beverley Williams for her insightful thoughts.

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Aimee Haddock is the Marketing Executive at Real Group Ltd.

Leveraging student voice for a new world

 

Marta Medved Krajnovic
and Stephen Taylor
Western Academy of Beijing

 

This article first appeared in the June issue of International School Leader.

At a recently hosted TEDx at Western Academy Beijing (WAB), eight students shared ideas that were informed or inspired by the coronavirus outbreak. Topics ranged from innovation in biotechnology to music production at home, to learn more about what we are as humans and how we react when faced with a global crisis.

 

Research is confirming that being empowered, having voice and choice, and working together increases not only engagement, motivation and learning, but also student well-being. It is not just special events that create the opportunities for student agency to drive the learning in our schools. That journey of ‘students in the centre’ started at WAB through our founding values and, over time as an International Baccalaureate continuum school, we have incorporated it into all stages of our teaching, learning and school development.

 

Student voice and choice in daily learning

Even our youngest learners in Elementary have choice and voice, from how they connect with a unit of inquiry to the opportunities to co-create their daily schedule. In Grade 3, students engage with a prompt, “what did I do well this week and what do I need to spend more time on”, and then based on their responses they allocate part of their schedule to focus on this area. In Middle School, our student surveys have become a continuous collaborative effort with the Middle School student council. They work with school leadership to co-create the questions and analyse the results. Questions cover teaching, social-emotional support and inclusion, and the responses inform our planning for the coming year. In the Middle and High Schools, we have a nine-day rotation in our schedule. On Day 9 students have full freedom of choice on how to build the most inspiring and helpful day for them. Choices include academic, social, physical, leadership or creative options. Students also have the opportunity to lead workshops for their peers and teachers. Another example of student agency is Grades 6–9 Maths. During these lessons, students can choose whether they want to work in groups or individually, the space they think is most conducive to learning and whether they would like self- or teacher-directed instruction.

 

Student voice events at WAB

TEDx is not the only event where students have the opportunity to share their voices. When planning our global conference, students have played an integral role. At the Future of Education Now (FOEN) 2019 conference at WAB, students were supported with a facilitated stream over the three days where they could join workshops and speaker sessions. The conference culminated with a student-led closing keynote where they shared their vision of the future of education.

 

Student voice in the design of space

As spaces at WAB are changed to better support learning and well-being, so our students have a voice in the design. For their new Middle School playground, the student council surveyed and ran focus groups with fellow students on what they would like. Their feedback resulted in a tailor-made space that is used not only for play but also as a dynamic learning environment.

 

“We are facing not only a public health emergency with COVID-19, but also an economic and climate emergency… I can’t vote for another five years, and neither can my friends, but my family, teachers and politicians can invite more of us into their conversations about how we envisage our world. So, before you ask us the question “what do you want to be when you grow up,” ask us the question, “what kind of world do you want to live in.” We need everyone, adults and children in this fight for a better future and the only way to do that is together.”  – Jeremy. Grade 8 TEDx speaker

 

“Perseverance has become almost like a ‘hello’ part of our daily conversations. But contrary to its usual connotation, our constant need to persevere has shown us that we can transform it into creativity, wellbeing, and fulfilment. With our speakers and audience spread across the globe last year, we took on the challenge to host an online event. Despite the physical distance, it brought us as an organising team closer, and showed us how we can transform our stress and fear of the unknown into a movement for empowering student voices and learning. We turned our resilience into passion, which has, in turn, become a part of our well-being.” – Katarina. Grade 12 TEDx leader.

 

In our High School, a Design in Service (DIS) student group has been working with the leadership team to redesign the outdoor spaces of the campus and to purchase new furniture. As part of the refurbishing of the High School, a sample classroom was set up and students and teachers tested furniture and gave feedback. Their feedback was the basis on which the final decisions were made.

 

Student leadership and voice in strategic planning

In 2016, in the process of creating the WAB 2017–2021 strategic plan and envisaging our innovative education strategy (later named FLOW 21), students across all school sections were already quite articulate about what kind of school experiences they would like to see. They wanted greater control over what, when and how they learned; they wanted their work to be meaningful and relevant, and they wanted passionate and engaged teachers.

 

Five years down the road, in the midst of a global pandemic, and with the complexity, disruption and grief it has brought, we feel an even deeper urge to engage our students in interdisciplinary, transformative, creative and joyful learning that will help them better understand and navigate a complex world. However, isn’t it presumptuous to think that we are the ones who can help students understand the world around them? Maybe they are the ones who can help us understand it better and discover what we need to learn and do to help our students “find their voices to create a world as it could be, should be, might be, what we hope it will and what we hope it won’t be” (Steve Sostak, Inspire Citizens).

 

Guided by that thought, from being only one of the voices in our strategic planning five years ago, this time around our students are leading WAB 2021 strategic planning and engaging the whole school community – their peers, their teachers, their parents – in designing ‘Portraits of WAB Alumni’. They are change-makers that will leave WAB with a sense of agency and empathy, voice and confidence.

 

Giving students voice and choice can be uncomfortable as we cannot predict what student voices will raise, what choices they will make, what disruption will happen in some of the ways we approach teaching and learning. Nevertheless, at WAB we firmly believe that the synergy between student agency and our school mission, and our willingness to listen and learn together, are our best guarantee that WAB alumni are future-ready.

 

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

Dr Marta Medved Krajnovic is Head of School and Stephen Taylor is Director of Innovation in Learning and Teaching at Western Academy of Beijing.
Connect with them on LinkedIn: Dr Marta Medved Krajnovic and Stephen Taylor.

Integrating core values to improve team culture and character

 

Luther Rauk
Middle School PE Teacher and coach, The American International School of Muscat

 

After attending the Way of Champions Coaching Conference in Denver, CO in the summer of 2019, The swim coach, Cori Lee, at The American International School of Muscat, Oman decided to implement a strategy she learned about Core Values with her swim team.

 

While at the conference, Jerry Lynch spoke for several sessions about the importance of identifying team core values to help intentionally develop character on sports teams.  He gave the coaches an opportunity to reflect on 20 core values he thinks are important.  Each coach whittled that list down to 10 after the first day.  Then in the next session, coaches spent time choosing the four most important values to them as it relates to the role of a coach and leader of a group of student athletes.  Lynch then gave a framework of how to implement this with their teams and get their athletes’ input on what was important to them.  Here is our swim team’s story.

 

 

At the first team meeting of the season, Coach Cori Lee introduced the 10 core values she thinks were important for her team’s success this year.  Then in age group divisions, they spent 20 minutes deciding which one of the values most resonated with them.  The dialogue was intriguing because each group had to come to a consensus on just one core value to share with the rest of the team.  It was also interesting to see what different age groups valued most.  Though most groups had overlapping core values on their top three lists,  none of the age groups had the same core value as their top choice. When this was all said and done, Coach Lee combined the team’s values with her own to land on six core values the team would focus on this season.

 

At daily swim practices, Coach Lee wove each of these values into her talks and conversations with the team.  Each week one core value was chosen as a focus for the team. At the beginning of the week, Coach Lee would lead a brief dialogue around how the value applies individually, as a team and specifically to swimming. Later in the week, the HS swimmers shared a quote they selected that connects with that week’s value and how they live the core value as a swimmer. Team captains led the way and also shared personal stories from their own training to illustrate the value and importance of living the team’s values.

 

Coach Lee also created posters to hang on the pool deck and locker rooms throughout the season.  Core values were also embedded into each of her email communications highlighting specific examples of ways the team was living out their core values.

 

One striking example came from a long time member of the team (and captain) who thought the idea of a Love Box would help the team to create strong bonds between them.  She made a simple box where swimmers could drop a note into about a fellow teammate.  Each week the kids would open the box and team captains would share aloud or deliver the messages.  Imagine the feelings of the students when a positive and caring message was read about them.  Think about the impact on those swimmers who wrote the notes, knowing they made someone else on their team feel special.

 

Coach Lee was able to use these core values when having a conversation with a group of swimmers who were having some social distractions on the team. They were able to revisit the values each of them agreed to and compare that with the behaviours they were exhibiting in the middle of the season. This was a very powerful tool to help them talk through and make changes to their behaviours and improve the relationships between them.

 

During the end of season SAISA swim meet held at The Lincoln School, Kathmandu, Nepal, Coach Lee displayed the Core Values in all of the team areas as well as on spirit bag tags for each swimmer.  This helped the athletes to focus on things they could control throughout the swim meet and work to do their best at each event.  Through the hard work of the swimmers and coaches, the team was honoured to take the first place team trophy and many members swam personal bests at the meet.

 

Here are a few responses from the swimmers when asked about their team’s core values.

 

How did the core values shape you as a teammate?

  • It showed me things I should focus on to help contribute to the team. When we came up with it I knew it would be really impactful.
  • As a teammate it made me more excited and motivated to train as hard as I could because everyone else lived by these core values.
  • They helped me to remember what was important and why I was doing it.  It also taught me to show love and commitment towards my teammates and coaches.
  • It brought out the “togetherness” and joy for the sport. It made me both a better swimmer and a better teammate altogether.

 

How did the core values play a role in your swim training and your performance levels at the SAISA meet?

  • It made me feel so much joy. 100 percent joy. Because not only did the perseverance and competitive part help but it felt like I was part of a family and that was what made me swim my hardest and try to win the title for my family.
  • Personally, some of the team core values that we focused on were already strongly implemented within my swimming and day to day life like Competitive, Integrity, Commitment, and Perseverance. However, with the values of Love and Joyfulness, it was a reminder for me to also be able in swimming (especially at conferences) to take a step back and remember why I am swimming and who I get to swim with. I thought that each of our core values was significant in helping each swimmer do their best in the pool and be the best teammate.
  • I was able to realize that it wasn’t about winning, it was about persevering, being committed, having integrity, being competitive, showing love and being joyful. This helped me to be less nervous because I knew that people would be proud of me whether I won or lost.
  • Exclusively performance-wise, I don’t think they made me drop time, but they helped me experience SAISA in a much more positive way. I wasn’t only focused on winning a dropping time anymore, but on being there for my teammates, supporting them. This positive mindset helped me be less anxious about competing and satisfying my own expectations, which, now that I think about it, could have made me more relaxed and perform better.

 

What will you remember most about the work you did with your swim team core values that year?

  • I’d say the aspect in which we all fully dedicated and put the core values to heart. We all persevered “when the going got tough”, we all were very committed to the sport and team, we all maintained integrity when or when not we were supervised, we were very competitive and loved that aspect to swimming, we loved the sport, each other, and became a family through it all, and finally, we enjoyed it. We enjoyed the time we had together and enjoyed working and getting through things together. Swimming brought us close and I will never forget the family that originated from such a simple sport — swimming.
  • That year really solidified some of the realisations I’d been having about swimming for a long time. Over the years I realised that competing and performing well was not the most important part of swimming. Although it crushed my childhood hopes of taking the sport to a higher level, I realised that the most valuable experience was not winning or dropping time, but rather the connection that we had as a team. Nearly all of my closest friends I’ve met directly or indirectly through swimming, and I will always be grateful to Coach Lee for offering this new perspective on the sport, which places more emphasis on things like joy, compassion, and love, instead of competitiveness.

 

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Luther Rauk is currently a Middle School PE Teacher and coach at The American International School of Muscat, Oman.  Originally from Minnesota, USA, Luther has also lived and taught in Thailand and Bahrain.  Luther spent four years as the Athletic Director at TAISM where he developed a passion for learning how best to help coaches do their important work with kids.  A desire to make real connections with students again led him to return to the PE classroom in 2018.  To connect with Luther please follow him on Facebook, twitter@lutherrauk or email him at raukl@taism.com.

Action Research Supported by Online Observation

 

Alice Jackson
Science Teacher, Leysin American School, Switzerland

 

I consider myself to be a reflective practitioner driven by continuously improving my practice. Although evaluative observations may have their place in schools, their apparent focus on inspection and control of classrooms may not best serve the development of the teacher. I propose that observations are most useful when they support the action research cycle; identify an issue, collect data, and reflect with a colleague to improve my practice and student learning.

 

One student in one of my science classes was frequently making poor choices. He was disrupting other students’ learning, lacked motivation, and was not making good progress. I felt that I had done everything that I could for this student; I believed that I was being positive, scaffolding appropriately and that I had been imaginative with visual cues and had set consistent expectations. Yet the situation was not improving.

 

 

A colleague offered to observe the class, remotely, through Google Meet, to trial a coded observation tool. Together we set a framework for what I would like him to observe: the student’s behaviours, my teacher behaviours, and the behaviours of the seven other students in the class. We agreed that the observer would note his observations every five minutes using a coding system and write any other comments he felt were appropriate throughout the Wednesday afternoon lesson. As part of this pre-observation conference, I shared my goals, the lesson content, and a little background information. It was easy for my colleague to adapt existing data gathering tools and changed the descriptors for our needs.

 

There were eight points in the lessons where the observer noted the activity of the people in the room. In the majority of observations (fifty-nine of the sixty-four data points) the students were on task, either solo, communicating, or teacher-aided, at no point was anyone observed to be off-task and disruptive. It was cause for reflection that for four of the eight observation points, I was working with the key student. At no point in the lesson was I observed to be simply listening to the students as they worked. The result from reflecting on the data points is that I would like to build the independence and confidence of the focus student to be able to work independently, perhaps with an expert partner, to allow me to distribute my time more equitably.

 

 

My colleague noticed in his extra comments that the key student was constantly moving and craving praise. While I did give the student praise, he would often blurt out during the lesson that he wanted to show me something. If I was talking to another student and did not give an immediate response, the focus student would feel discouraged and no longer want to share his work or idea, for example cleaning his whiteboard of the correct answer. Finding a way for him to understand that I care about his work and that he is deserving of praise is critical perhaps with a hand for five, an agreed system of showing him my palm to ask him to wait five seconds for me to respond. This will be a challenging task for a student who struggles with their own self-moderation. This non-verbal cue would prevent me from disrupting my conversation with other students and allow me more frequent opportunities to praise the focus student.

 

Nine negative choices were observed to be made by the focus student during the lesson. In response to these, I gave a positive redirect in three cases, a negative redirect in two, and chose not to respond or did not see the behaviour in four cases. I found this very surprising, I felt that I had been consistently positive with the student, so this was a really useful reminder to be mindful of my tone. I simply would not have considered this to be an action step with only self-reflection on my practice. I hope that by trialing the hand for five systems, the focus student will have less reason to feel discouraged and likely to make a poor choice and I will have more opportunities to share praise.

 

 

Sharing my reflections with my colleague in the post-observation conference I felt empowered to create meaningful action steps, this formative observation tool felt like a move towards a collegiate system with a focus on growth and improvements; a far cry from the evaluative, inspection, and control model which seemed to focus on compliance and supervision.

 

The success of this peer-to-peer observation structure hinges on two critical ideas. Firstly, the observed teacher must be genuinely open to improving their practice, as I was surprised at the comments that I was given about my negativity, there is a danger that a teacher may not choose their genuine weakness and this type of observation becomes cosy and not developmental. The second critical point is that both colleagues in the partnership must have the ability to formulate helpful criteria for the observation, a consciously (or unconsciously) incompetent new teacher may not develop fastest using this observational style.  Accepting these critiques I found that this observation tool supports my own development and reinforces my action research cycle

 

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

 

Alice Jackson is a science teacher at Leysin American School with a physics specialism. She is originally from the United Kingdom and is finishing her fifth year of teaching.

Find a Space for Every Language

 

Susan Stewart
Head of Multilingualism at The International School of London and ECIS MLIE Chair (Multilingual Learning in International Education)

 

What do international teachers and students bring to our schools? In general, they come to us with a wide range of literacies, that is, they can express themselves, and possibly read and write in multiple languages.  These teachers and students are also a rich source of cultural experiences.  And possibly a more important question to ask ourselves, is in what state do these members of our communities leave us a few years later as they go onto a new international school or possibly returning back to their home country? Do we explicitly leverage our students’ linguistic and cultural resources for both their own academic and socio-emotional development, as well as enriching the school community?

 

Let us consider three (intertwined) questions:

  • Why is it important to monitor our discourse and practice around languages and multilingualism?
  • Why is this so important for our students and our schools?
  • How can we take simple, cost-free steps to create a linguistically inclusive environment?

 

One of the most common statistics you will hear regarding international schools, and quoted on all our websites, is the number of nationalities present within a school. Whilst an interesting fact and an indication of the level of diversity, we cannot assume that a passport holder has proficiency in the nation’s official language or indeed any of the related cultural references.  We have all met students who have spent little or no time in the country of their passport. I dream of the day in international schools where we no longer hear the question ‘Where do you come from?’ This question can perplex a large percentage of international school students and many a teacher.  Indeed, it is an impossible question to answer for many people without using a ‘but’.  How about we rather ask two simple questions: ‘Where have you lived?’ and ‘What languages do you speak?’.  Further questions as to the type of school attended and the medium of instruction can allow us to build up a language portrait of the student which will be a lot more nuanced and accurate than ‘Where do you come from?’.

 

 

Another question we could consider avoiding is ‘What is your mother tongue?’. The term ‘mother tongue’ is confusing as it implies first of all that mothers are better sources of parenting languages than fathers. It also sometimes carries the assumption that it is a person’s strongest language, which is very often is not.  And finally, the term mother tongue assumes that the child only has one language spoken within the home, which is not the reality for many of our students.  How about adapting the question into ‘What languages do you speak at home?’ and then drilling down further to ask which language is spoken between mum, dad, and siblings, and any other member of the household.  It is here that you will uncover more interesting facts, such as the child being spoken to in Fulani, but responding back to the parents in English.  In fact, it is only when the family goes to Guinea in the summer that the children actively use Fulani, with the grandparents.

 

 

Parental attitudes towards languages are passed onto children but also find their way into the school ethos. A language that is claimed to be ‘just a dialect’ or ‘not useful’ (which most often means ‘not as useful as English’) will become a second-class, low-status language within the linguistic landscape of the school. A question to ask ourselves here, is ‘what is the moral responsibility of the school to correct these statements?’ as we would if we were to hear similar statements around gender or ethnicity.  There are hidden languages in international schools, languages which our students use to express themselves on a daily basis at home, to build family ties and conceptual understanding, which are left at home or in the car park. Can we only rely on parental advocacy for home languages, or should we, as experts, also play a role in defending our students’ home languages?

 

Let’s also think about how we use flags and other symbols in our schools in association with languages. Seeing a red, white and blue tricolour flag with a friendly ‘bonjour’ outside a Kindergarten class is a wonderful way to welcome a new French student at the start of the year. But what does that same image do to the other French-speaking students, staff, and visitors to the school who might have grown up using French in Benin, Congo, Guinea, Algeria, Ivory Coast, and the other 29 African nations who use French alongside other languages, as well as Belgians, Luxembourgers, and Canadians? You can see a similar use of flags to label books in a school library.  Here we are sending a message to the school community that certain varieties of a particular language are the standard, highly desired form of the language, and thus superior to other varieties.

 

 

The same can be said for the frequently heard parental requests that their child acquires a so-called ‘native-like accent in English in our schools. Just as we have little power over how a student looks physically, so it should be of little interest that we dwell on a student’s accent.

 

Inadvertently creating a hierarchy of languages or varieties of a particular language can only reinforce other negative attitudes towards certain members of a school community.

 

Something else to consider is the place of the host country language in your school?  Is it even taught within the school? If so, is it because you are mandated to do so, or because you believe as a school that it is important to connect with your host country?

 

Which languages do you offer as acquisition/second languages? Is it the classic French, Spanish, and possibly Mandarin we seem to see in schools all over the world? Are there other languages that could afford more interesting opportunities for students to engage in authentic language exchanges either within the school or within the local community of the host country?  At the ISL, we offer our Grade 6s the opportunity every year to study British Sign Language, which opens their eyes to a language within the host country.  When this same group of students was recently asked which languages they would like to know more about, an overwhelmingly large number expressed interest in Japanese and Arabic. Why?  Because we happen to have a relatively significant number of Arabic and Japanese speaking students in our school. This was a heart-warming example of linguistic curiosity and respect.

 

 

Why is it important to reflect on the need to find a space for every language in our school?  The first principle is that we should never view a student through a narrow lens, though the lens of only one of their languages.  Imagine if you, with your teacher qualification, possibly a Masters or Ph.D. also attached to your name, as well as countless years of experience in international schools in Europe and North America, imagine you went to work in a school in Asia, where you needed to work in the local language, within the local expectations of teaching and learning.  Your Ph.D. is not recognised in this new school as it does not conform to local requirements.  You are learning the new language, but you are not allowed to use English at all to build an understanding of how the language works.  Everything is explained to you in the new language. And so, you are left with no other choice than to work really hard to become proficient and literate in the new language and new ways of teaching to be able to function in this school. By ignoring your literacy in English as well as your expertise in education, you have not only been disregarded as someone who could offer new perspectives on things but also put at a disadvantage as a language learner.

 

What can schools do to move towards the creation of an equal space for every language? The first would be to ensure you have at least one expert linguist on staff who can work on creating a language policy that is put into practice across the whole school community.  This should be evident when families have their first contact with the school in the admissions office, as well as in the staffroom, in the classroom, in the playground, and in all recruitment meetings.

 

Secondly, within this language policy, agree on common terminology around languages. Buried within an IBO document entitled ‘Ideal Libraries’ is possibly the best terminology out there, one which can capture the nuances mentioned above.

 

We can distinguish between:

  • personal languages – languages that you speak without thinking too much, that are part of your everyday life, that you have a good degree of fluency in
  • academic languages – you have literacy in these languages. This means that we can recognise that a student might have verbal or oral fluency in a language spoken in the home (a personal language), but not necessarily have literacy in that same language.
  • functional languages – languages in which you can function (make yourself understood, order a drink).

 

These three terms allow us to speak with more nuance about a students’ language portraits, as well as recognising how their portraits change over time, for example, they might start at school using English as a functional language, which later becomes a personal language and an academic language.

 

The next thing to do would be to do a visual and auditory audit of the school environment?  Is what you see or hear around the school contributing to languages being put in a hierarchy – are they being ranked in any way?  In a recent initiative at ISL to display student-produced multilingual signage around school, it was interesting to see which languages students chose, which was sometimes a language they use in the home but also included some students advocating for their classmates and producing signage in Behasa, which is one of our hidden languages. Another student asked for permission to text her friend in her former international school in Nepal as she wanted to have a sign in Nepali on our walls. Giving such simple opportunities to students can open up new conversations about languages and increase a school’s respect of their linguistic diversity in interesting ways.

 

Our students come to our schools with complex, fluid, and dynamic cultural and linguistic repertoires. Let’s harness this richness for the benefit of the individual, the school community, or let’s be ambitious and think about what this could bring to the global network of international schools.

 

This article came out of a presentation delivered at the ECIS Leadership Conference in April 2021.

 

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

 

Susan Stewart is Head of Multilingualism at The International School of London and ECIS MLIE Chair (Multilingual Learning in International Education).

She has lived and worked in Thailand, the UAE, South Africa, Belgium, Oman, Sweden and the UK. She holds a degree in French & Linguistics from the University of South Africa and is currently completing a Masters in Applied Linguistics & Communication from Birkbeck, University of London. Susan’s role focuses on developing an understanding of students’ languages and cultural experiences, and then developing these further within and beyond the curriculum. Susan is the chair of the ECIS Multilingual Learning in International Education (MLIE) committee.

Perseverance and Resilience: How to land on Earth in the Covid19 era

Eleni Armaou, Student Oriented Services (SOS) and Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Coordinator
Metropolitan School of Frankfurt

 

Perseverance and Resilience: How to land on Earth in the Covid19 era and Learn Effectively in an International School 

 

…and touchdown confirmed!

This past week Humanity has witnessed a great achievement in Space Travel which took eight months to be completed. The Perseverance vehicle reached the surface of Mars. The name of the vehicle is so important, so distinctive, for us, earthlings, living in the era of the 2021 pandemic, of social and political upheaval, and of financial insecurity.  It takes time for important decisions, crucial steps, and successful milestones to be reached, in life, in work, at school.

 

Since NASA’s Perseverance touched down on Mars on 18 February, it has been researching the atmosphere, rocky formations and rocks, air and chemical composition of the planet. Ken Farley at NASA’s  Jet Propulsion Laboratory ( JPL) in California, during a presentation at the virtual Lunar and Planetary Science Conference on 16 March 2021, reported: “We had no major technical issues…The rover’s first drive on 4 March-which lasted 33 minutes and covered about 6.5 meters-demonstrated that it can, in fact, rove, and the other tests are going smoothly as well, he said. Perseverance has a microphone, which has allowed us to hear the Red Planet for the first time. It recorded more than 16 minutes of audio as it drove around Mars on 7 March. And Dave Gruel ( JPL) stated:  IF I heard these sounds, I would pull over and call for a tow. But if you take a minute to consider what you are hearing and where it was recorded, it makes perfect sense.”

 

 

Such a great adventure undoubtedly took a lot of time and will require even more in order to be completed and provided Scientists with the answers they are looking for.

 

But Time is only one aspect, one dimension. The other ones, the most paramount, are Perseverance and Resilience, our IB AtL skills, which can help us to go one step further and not to quit under the pressure of everyday hurdles, personal obstacles, and work or family predicaments.

 

In our students’ life, there are a lot of challenging, rocky moments and great barriers. But at the core of learning, at the absolute heart of every learning experience, there is failure or error or miscalculations which help us immensely in locating the correct way ( even if we only discover 1000 ways that do not work as Thomas Edison’s quote goes: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”) in finding the right mental and thinking route and in reaching our Learning Goals.

 

In our journey to discover the limitless universe of our capabilities and skills, resilience, perseverance, adaptability, spirit, curiosity, and ingenuity are our vessels.

 

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to have your thoughts below.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

Eleni Armaou studied Psychology and Philosophy and holds a MA in Special Educational Needs from the University of Leeds, in UK. She has worked in IB Schools in Istanbul, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt and is now the SOS and ALN Coordinator at the Metropolitan School of Frankfurt.
Eleni is passionate about AI, Robotics, Space Travel, Quantum Physics as well as Human Psychology, Inclusive Education, Leadership and Management Studies, Negotiation Skills, and Conflict Resolution. Websitehttps://eleniarmaou.wixsite.com/inclusiveducation