Building the pathway to inclusion

Patrick McGrath, Education Technology Strategist, Texthelp

Building the pathway to inclusion

If there’s one thing we can say with confidence this year, it’s that education has become increasingly dependent on technology for teaching and learning. As learning evolves, we are finding new ways to engage, motivate, assess and teach students. We’ve jumped headfirst into tools like Google Classroom and Microsoft Teams. We’ve suddenly found ourselves in live video lessons and discovering the power of polls and analytics. We’ve struggled too – from the repetitive cry of ‘unmute’ through reducing distractions to figuring out how best to support differentiation when technology is an increasing portion of learning time. But, no matter how the ‘where’ of learning occurs in the coming months and years, we know that technology will continue to become increasingly central to all that we do. Why? Because with all the challenges we can see the upsides. We see new opportunities for engagement and for helping our students express their learning. It’s about the balance of putting teaching and learning first and skillfully using technology to underpin solid pedagogical strategies.

There’s a second thing though. The diversity of the students we teach stays the same – everyone with a differing approach to learning, and many requiring additional help and support to ensure that they continue to receive equity of access and stay included. For most students, as teachers, we only ever see the tip of the iceberg – the 10% of everything that contributes to our students being who they are. We don’t see the impact or challenges of home life, challenges around language or their mental health and wellbeing, and this is never more apparent than when students learn remotely.

Consider individual needs – statistics show that on average, around 5% of our class is identified and supported as being Dyslexic, yet the stark reality is that on average 17% of all students struggle with Dyslexia. The move to technology can not and must not forget this, and it behoves us as educators to ensure that the tools and supports that were in place inside our classrooms continue to be planned for and provided, wherever learning occurs. We need to rethink our notion of diversity and we need to start to redefine what it means to be inclusive, and how technology can reach and support every student.

Diversity stretches across language, culture, ethnicity and individual needs. It must, though, also include respect of the fact that research shows us that our students have an almost infinite path to learning. It’s their very differences that make them unique. Technology is inherently flexible, and when used well can and does support students in enabling a personalised, tailored approach to learning that can support this uniqueness. We all need to make a start, but how?

As, always, it starts with learning. The Universal Design for Learning (UDL) framework is based upon the simple tenet of universal design – it’s aim is to make learning accessible to all by recognising that each and every student is unique and the learning community they are in is truly diverse. It seeks to encourage the provision of pathways for educators to adopt basic, practical approaches to designing learning from the outset, by focusing on designing learning for the margins and not the centre-ground of the student experience. In doing so, it postulates that we can reach every learner in an almost endless variety of ways that are personal to them.

We can start to embrace UDL by rethinking how we approach learning. Instead of objectives, we can focus on goals. Why? Think of it like skiing. Head to the top of any slope and there is one simple goal – get to the bottom. Every slope has its map providing alternate routes to reach that goal – at various levels of challenge and difficulty. As a skier, you take the route that works best for you or choose to stretch and challenge yourself with the more difficult path to your goal than the last time you tried. If we move to goal-orientated strategies, we open up the paths to our diverse learners to reach their goal in a multitude of ways.

The key then is to create these paths, and this can be achieved in many ways – not least of which today is through the effective application and use of technology tools. Once integrated into learning design and technology platforms, these tools can be used by everyone to ensure content, knowledge, expression and understanding is available in countless, unique ways across digital platforms and devices. As an example, tools like text-to-speech provides students with specific needs a way to support comprehension and understanding but also support high achieving students to prepare for effective answering for exams. Simple forms provide a quick way to monitor progress and understanding or provide fast, effective feedback for every student. Providing the right range of technology tools delivers multiple paths to engagement and expression, and in turn, expands accessibility for all students.

To embrace the opportunity before us, we have to be more deliberate, more flexible, provide more opportunities and take more risks. We need to endeavour to remove more barriers by shifting our focus to providing the widest range of tools and paths to learning if we are to support every student.

The technology journey ahead will give us the ability to innovate, to engage with and to support students like never before. If we embrace it, the result is that every learning experience can be representative of, and tailored to, the individual.

The goal is inclusive education, wherever learning occurs. It’s time to build the pathways to achieve it.

 

What do you think about the points raised in this article? Please share your thoughts below.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Resident Education Technology Strategist at Texthelp, Patrick is a passionate educator, and an accomplished international speaker, panellist, blogger and contributor across a wide range of media. His content is engaging, inspiring and motivating – focused on how technology can make a real and meaningful impact on teaching and learning for all. An Apple Education Mentor and Google Certified Educator, Patrick received the UK Digital Leader 100 award and was appointed an Honorary Fellow of the University of Ulster (School of Education) in 2016. His specialisms include literacy, inclusion, assessment educational vision, leadership, and change management.

Is your school assessment approach effective and efficient in promoting learning?

Jamie Scott, Evidence Based Education

Is your school assessment approach effective and efficient in promoting learning?

How do you know?

 

There are, arguably, three key pillars of education management: pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. For too long, the third of these has been both under- and misused; the potential for assessment to be a powerful learning process, as well as an accurate barometer of learning itself, is often not realized. Assessment is inextricable from teaching, and the quality of the latter is – in many ways – dependent on the quality of information derived from the former. Great assessment, the type that helps improve teaching and learning, is not a single entity, but it leads to a single point: a meaningful decision which has positive consequences for students’ learning. It is purposeful, manageable, efficient and effective. Great assessment is lean and valuable. It is used thoughtfully to achieve specific aims, ones for which it is better suited than any other tool or strategy a teacher has at their disposal.

 

Every school has their assessment policy and framework, but is it fit for purpose? Schools use assessment daily, and it can be difficult to stop, step back and review our approach to ensure it is fit for the purpose intended. So, in the spirit of reflection and self-evaluation, here are five questions to ask of your school assessment framework to help determine its efficiency and effectiveness.

 

  1. Are we using assessment to measure important aspects of the curriculum?

Assessment, pedagogy and curriculum are inextricably linked and, when the best of these are brought together well, they form the backbone of effective teaching and learning. When assessment is sharply focused on the curriculum, and used as a tool of good pedagogy, teachers can maximise its value to improve the responsiveness of their teaching. After all, how can we know what to teach tomorrow, if we do not know what has been understood today? Effective assessment needs to relate to the curriculum ‘map’, strategically challenging pupils to recall and strengthen the right pieces of learning, understanding and skill.

 

  1. Do our assessments measure the things we intend them to measure? Are they fit for purpose?

Form should always follow function in assessment. We must know what we want to measure and why in order to select the right tool to achieve our purpose. An assessment that is ideal to measure progress might be a poor choice for identifying strengths and weaknesses to inform, plan or adapt your next lesson. To assess better, we need to be explicit about purpose:

 

  • The construct: What is the specific knowledge, skill or understanding that we intend to assess?
  • The end use: What do we want to do – the interpretation, the decision or action – with the information generated by the assessment process?
  • The best tool: What is the most appropriate, effective and efficient way to assess in this instance?

 

  1. Are we assessing learning or performance of short-term memory?

What is learning and does every teacher and school share the same understanding? Let’s define learning as both the long-term retention of knowledge, understanding and skill, as well as the ability to transfer these to novel contexts. As such, teaching needs to address and promote learning which is retained and transferable, and assessment needs to be designed to gauge students’ long-term retention and transfer to novel contexts. Does your schools’ assessment approach allow you to reliably demonstrate student knowledge and understanding at the point of initial assessment, and that they able to retrieve that knowledge and understanding 6 weeks later, 6 months later, or a year later?

 

  1. How can we be sure that progress is, in fact, real progress and not just measurement error?

Measuring progress reliably is difficult. All forms of educational measurement contain a degree of error and so assessment is less precise than often it is perceived to be – whether that be national tests, classroom quizzes or teacher observation. It is a complex and time-consuming exercise to create an assessment that is sufficiently sensitive to be able to reliably measure progress in a relatively short space of time, so teachers need to understand error in their assessment measurements to make accurate judgements about the needs and progress of pupils.

 

  1. Are you using assessment to create learning, not just record the residue of it?

Assessments or tests have traditionally been used to measure learning. However, a constantly growing body of research demonstrates that high-quality tests (think recaps, quizzes and termly tests rather than just past papers) are better learning opportunities than repeated study/revision.  One example of such research is Roediger III, H. L., & Karpicke, J. D. (2006). Test-enhanced learning: Taking memory tests improves long-term retention. Psychological science, 17(3), 249-255. The research evidence indicates that the act of responding to questions thoughtfully strengthens a student’s learning; practice testing using well-crafted questions can actually promote learning, making assessment into more than simply a tool for recording data about learning.

 

Evidence Based Education are the creators of the Queen’s Award Winning Assessment Lead Programme, Assessment Essentials and the new Science of Learning Programme. Trusted by schools around the world, they provide engaging teacher professional development and school improvement services, to improve learner outcomes worldwide and for good.

 

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear what you have to say.

 

CONTACT THE AUTHOR

 

Jamie Scott, Director of Partnerships & External Relations
Evidence Based Education

LinkedIn

 

VUCA: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity

Paul Magnuson, Director of Educational Research, Leysin American School.

Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity. We hear a lot about VUCA. About how we have to deal with it now and about how we as teachers need to prepare students for a world characterized by it.

 

Not everything is VUCA, of course, but I agree that we are better off preparing students to handle unpredictable change than to hope it’s not necessary. It is necessary. You might say our whole world is having a bit of a VUCA test right now. How well are school administrations handling the unpredictable shift and ongoing uncertainty of the pandemic? Maybe we, they, all of us could have used a bit more practice with VUCA as students?!

 

When we were in school – at least for the overwhelming majority of us – we probably got a lot of  practice with SCSC: Stability, Certainty, Simplicity, and Clarity. That is how the curriculum was set up for us. And the schedule. And the teaching. And the assessment. And and and. Is that what we should pass on to the next generation?

 

Let’s think a bit about SCSC. (Okay, I know this acronym will never catch on. It’s nothing compared to the power of VUCA with its dark vowel and the voiceless velar stop that thuds with such certainty. VUCA is serious. SCSC is, well, just an acronym to make a point here.)

 

In general, curriculum is a prescribed list of certain things to know, brought to students through simple and clear instruction, with stable assessments and reporting mechanisms to allow comparison of growth over time and across groups. There are many things about this mindset that work very well. What we might want to consider, however, is that this SCSC mindset not only teaches the published curriculum, it also teaches the SCSC mindset. The students learn the content to some extent, yes, AND they learn the underlying assumption of how the world works and what it means to learn.

 

I believe this is similar to Marshall McLuhan’s phrase “the medium is the message.” When the content of school is nicely delivered in SCSC mode, the underlying assumption of a simple and orderly world is the medium that we are communicating to students. We are teaching the medium as surely as we are teaching what the medium is intended to teach – the curriculum content.

 

I suppose this is also captured in the concept of a hidden curriculum. We always pass on cultural values that are not explicit in the curriculum, whether it be ways of knowing, sanitized histories, or prejudice. In this context, we can think of McLuhan’s medium, which I’m trying to say here is the mindset of SCSC upon which school is built, as a cultural value that is part of the hidden curriculum we unwittingly teach.

 

The outcome? School is not a great place to prepare students for VUCA. Our underlying assumptions about schooling hamstring us. To prepare students for a VUCA world in a SCSC culture (our schools) can only have limited success – unless we allow for some VUCA in our curriculum, our instruction, and our assessment.

 

The good news is that I think we can all make some progress here. There is room to shift within our current structures, at multiple levels, whether it be a single activity in a course or an alternative program in a school. To start shifting we do have to realize how un-VUCA we are, I suppose, and what it would mean to allow a bit more VUCA without slipping into chaos. Perhaps there is guidance for us in the Cynefin Framework, which plays with transitions between simple, complicated, complex and ultimately chaotic situations. Check it out.

 

I’ll start with one example of what we might usefully change from each of these areas: curriculum, instruction, and assessment. I encourage you to think of additional examples.

 

Curriculum. Let there be some space in the lists of content to cover. Introduce some air in the system. Tawan recently introduced two hours weekly to its curriculum, during which students work on independent projects. In other words, it’s possible for most if not all of us to create space in the curriculum that isn’t so heavily pre-programmed, if we want to – even at the governmental level.

 

Instruction. When you consider how you’ll teach concepts and units, build in team projects as you are able. Identify a simple framework to teach the students to manage the team themselves. Provide them the end goals but back off a bit – where you are able – on how they are going to get there. Let yourself believe that some of the off-task behavior is actually necessary. Those off-task minutes aren’t always lost instructional time – they might be necessary social positioning time, or creative idea-generating time, or otherwise valuable.

 

Assessment. When you have a choice not to assess a particular task, don’t. Or at least, look for a way that students can get feedback on what they are working on that doesn’t feel like the adult is passing judgment. Hiding behind a rubric isn’t enough here – set up structures for feedback that are teacher-free. Help students learn to give each other respectful feedback. We borrowed the “learning circus” from the highly innovative Tiimikatemia approach. Students not only get feedback on their work, they practice giving and receiving feedback without relying on the teacher.

 

The result of implementing these shifts – and those you think of – is a learning environment that is a little less SCSC and a little more likely to allow students room to practice thinking and acting in manners that our world will require of them. We learn, after all, what we practice, so allowing time to practice in a safe environment in a VUCA way is, for my money, the only way students can actually prepare for the VUCA world.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Magnuson is the director of Educational Research at Leysin American School and adjunct faculty for the International Education Program of Endicott College. His interests include student agency and self-regulated learning for students and teachers.
pmagnuson@las.ch

Forget Rote-Learning, Kids Can and Will Change the World If Given a Chance!

Kiran Bir Sethi, Founder: Riverside School, & Namrata Jajoo

 

Design for Change (DFC) was born in 2009 from the conviction that children are not helpless, the optimism that change is possible, and the belief that they can drive it. Here’s a look at what this initiative entails for empowering and equipping children! 

“I now know that I don’t need permission to change the world.” 

In a small village called Labana in the desert region of Rajasthan lives 10-year-old Bindi. While she comes across as a simple and shy student of Satya Bharti school, she and her friends showed extraordinary courage in taking on the centuries-old practice of untouchability (mandated by the caste system) through organising provocative rallies and hunger strikes. 

Students in Kolkata noticed that young children were starving on the streets while restaurants had a significant amount of food going to waste, so they designed and implemented a delivery system to collect unused food from hotels and restaurants, and bring it to undernourished children in the city’s slums. 

A team of 10-year-olds in Varanasi noticed that much of their community was illiterate and developed a series of solutions to “learn and develop the habit of reading” – from setting up libraries in elementary schools to teaching their peers about library management and setting up newspaper stands outside schools so that adults could develop the habit as well. 

These are just a few of the amazing 22,000+ stories crafted under the Design for Change (DFC) initiative by children from across the world! 

Source: Facebook 

My submission to you is that today’s ‘Superheroes’ are not from the Avengers or the Justice League, but rather they are these courageous children, who are unleashing their superpowers of imagination, creative problem solving, empathy, leadership, and collaboration. 

What could have inspired these children to become such amazing problem-solvers and change-makers? Let’s explore the origin of this ‘I CAN’ mindset. 

Consider this – In the first two years of our children’s lives, they tell us how amazing they are at exploration and finding solutions. They go about navigating the world from crawling to sitting to standing to running to speaking – aren’t they then, the masters of the art of problem–solving? 

Since these problem-solving capacities are innate to them, and they are engaged in such activity right from birth through adulthood, shouldn’t children simply become better problem solvers with age and experience? 

Now, take a moment to reconsider what happens when the child (with his/her innate problem-solving capacities) starts going to school. More often than not, highly enthusiastic parents and teachers aim to help children develop to the best of their abilities, but unfortunately also to feel, think, and behave in prescribed ways. 

The child is directed and advised about the many things ‘they can’t’ or ‘should not do’, thereby changing the child’s vocabulary from ‘I CAN’ to ‘CAN I?’ Across the world, so many children are told that they are too young to solve problems and should let adults take care of the issues they face. 

This narrative dis-empowers children, making them fearful of making mistakes and developing a lack of confidence in their own ability to make decisions and choices. 

Through this article, I seek to unravel the fabulous journeys of children who have developed creative confidence in their capabilities and capacities to take ownership of their world and also to take action towards building a more desirable and sustainable future. 

Here’s how it all began: 

It was the year 1996. After a long day at school, my six-year-old son Raag and I sat perplexed and confused, staring at the big red mark on his English notebook. Apparently, he had failed to memorise and write an essay verbatim as instructed by the teacher. 

He had used his own imagination and vocabulary to frame the essay and was clueless about the reason for the rejection of his work. I soon realized that something was clearly amiss and that it was actually the schooling system that I was up against. 

My conviction that prevalent education practices were failing to give my child an identity grew stronger by the day, so, I decided of taking my son out of school, and rolled up my sleeves to start ‘Riverside’ on the banks of the River Sabarmati, in the land of Gandhi. 

What inspires me most about the Mahatma is his amazing stamina, sense of humour, and shameless pursuit of his goals against all odds. 

These have also been the key ingredients in building Riverside over the last seventeen years. 

The Birth of Design for Change (DFC)

Design for Change (DFC) was born in 2009 from the conviction that children are not helpless, the optimism that change is possible, and the belief that they can drive it. 

I initiated the ‘Design for Giving’ School Contest in 2009, as a national challenge for school children to change some aspect of life in their communities. 

The challenge spurred young children to solve real-life problems in their immediate environment while building a sense of empathy, confidence and responsibility. 

Today DFC is a global movement with footprints in 65 countries and has helped to cultivate the ‘I Can’ mindset in more than 2.2 million children. 

With empathy at its core, this framework nurtures the problem-solving mindset via four steps of Feel, Imagine, Do and Share (FIDS). 

We call this FIDS for KIDS! 

This simple four-step framework helps schools foster a learning environment using the ‘both, and’ model, nurturing both Content and Character, both a Passion for work and the Compassion for the community. 

The DFC curriculum is accepted all over the world because of its flexibility and non-prescriptive nature. The most critical feature of Design for Change is that it is not only simple and practical but also open-source, accessible, adaptable, and replicable.

(see www.dfcworld.com to know more and try out DFC in your setting). 

 

Time-tabling For Design for Change 

 

 

Today, student success requires skills for collaboration, creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving. Many schools around the world still design and implement curricula with the premise of “one-size-fits-all”, with a disproportionate emphasis on subject excellence alone. 

The central tenet of this mindset is often that we are so hard-pressed for time to complete the subject content that we do not have the liberty to invest in any additional activities. 

This often leads to focusing on the transmission of theoretical knowledge but misses out on the development of vital capacities like empathy and creative confidence.
Change happens when design thinking is perceived as desirable and almost indispensable skill-set. 

By intentionally time-tabling on a weekly basis for DFC activities, our partner schools have been able to seamlessly integrate it into their mainstream curriculum. 

 

How DFC is Impacting Children 

 

  • FIDS helps to develop much-required skills and attitudes in children, builds their social and emotional competencies, and promotes employability skills.
  • DFC’s tool was evaluated by the Harvard Graduate School of Education and documents clear improvements in student empathy as well as in enhancing problem-solving abilities.
  • Research conducted by The GoodWork Project has reaffirmed the impact of the DFC curriculum on the development of skills like collaboration, creative thinking & empathy.

Our future will depend on how much we believe in the power of our children today. The only thing that we have realised is that sometimes we need a little help, a little magic formula to ensure that every child can! 

 

Thoughts to share about this article? Let us know below.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kiran Bir Sethi is an Indian educationist, designer, and thinker. She founded the Riverside School in 2001 and since then has infected millions of students and educators with the ‘I CAN Mindset’ through her design thinking framework of ‘Feel-Imagine- Do- Share’ (FIDS). Learn more about the Riverside School.

Ecosystems for Innovation

Paul Magnuson, Director of Educational Research, Leysin American School.

I just stopped in our school garden, built on a hill as everything is when you live in a ski village, and climbed up to a newly installed bench to test it out.

 

It’s a simple pleasure sitting on a bench, in a garden, taking in the view. Disconnected for a while, just lots of green growth and a pond with fish, clay pots of seedlings everywhere, a few shovels and a pitchfork leaning against the fence, white and brown chickens a couple levels down, two picnic areas and a swing set further down still. Behind and above me is a new fenced-off section of grass left to grow as it might, for the next few years, and nestled among the wildflowers are three wooden beehives literally humming with literally busy bees. Higher still are tomatoes, fruit trees, rock paths, compost, and more flower beds.

 

It’s wonderful.

 

And a lot of work.

 

But there’s a human ecosystem supporting this biological ecosystem that is perhaps an interesting example of how we might like to work across the school, on many of our short and long term projects, not just this one.

 

The ecosystem I’m thinking about is composed of the faculty that have made and continue to maintain this garden. When I arrived here, a number of years ago now, this expanse was a hill of grass, weed-whacked a few times a year for some inexplicable reason. Old cracked stairs led nowhere in particular, and if you kicked the dirt around on the one flat strip (where the pond is now), you could tell that there used to be a bit of a walk and a terrace, or maybe a place to play boules, back in the days when the student dormitory at the garden’s edge was a sanatorium for patients with tuberculosis.

 

One long term employee, Tony, took care of the grass and planted a few flowers at the bottom of the stairs. Alone he couldn’t do too much. (But now as one of many he has been a gardening force to be reckoned with.) Once during the summer program, we tried to sit on the hill for a presentation, but it was too steep. Sometimes the students used to cut through this space to cross the train tracks and disappear beyond the school limits.

 

Then along came Hugh. Hugh taught Spanish, comparative government, and economics. He was passionate about the environment. And he decided to turn a corner of the former terrace into a garden. Soon he had some student volunteers with pickaxes breaking out the cracked cement. Some other teachers helped convert scrap wood from old double beds into raised garden beds. First one, then two, then three.

 

Hugh learned about permaculture and gardens that sustained themselves through clever planting. He told anyone who would listen about building hugels, big bumps of logs and earth, on top of which you could plant whatever you liked. Over the years the logs break down and keep the dirt fresh.

 

Others joined Hugh. Gardening was offered as an after school activity, and then as an exploratory class with the middle school. A carpenter on staff and a science teacher turned a playhouse into a chicken coop the year before they left for other positions, and another science teacher, a biologist, bought our first five chickens.

 

Some teachers and faculty members, maybe less green-thumbed than they would like to be, constructed paths between the flower beds and the hugel, and then to the second hugel, and then to the first hobby flower beds started by families living on campus. Our first member from the local town, not an employee of the school, claimed a patch and planted lettuce, strawberries, and plants I never identified.

 

A scrap woodpile was used for a campfire, and soon there was a ring of stones. A new place for friends to meet. Some Italian staff members installed a pizza oven, and not long after, a bigger pizza oven. (Their pizza is very good and word got around.) Someone organized two hammocks, someone else some tents for shade, with picnic tables underneath. Another picnic area sprang up, with Tony’s help, complete with repurposed furniture from the school to store dishes and matches and cups and knives.

 

There has been no director of the garden. There have been some deeply committed faculty members who served, for a while, as the principal advocates and go-getters, no doubt. There were plenty of us who spent considerable time and energy in the garden. And there has been some money available through the research department’s citizen science efforts, which saw value early on in learning about sustainable agriculture and getting children who may never have been in a garden before to get their hands a little dirty – also literally.

 

So how did we go in five years from no garden to a massive community garden? And couldn’t we do the same for some other school projects which seem so infernally hard to change?

 

Here are some factors that I think contributed to the garden’s success, and that, in translation, might be usefully applied at school.

  1. Administration didn’t really care too much if there was a garden or not. Meaning, administration let it develop as it might. Translated for consideration in other areas of the school: Give your faculty space to develop new initiatives. See if there is enough commitment to build and sustain a new program. Allow the space for innovation to happen. It just might.
  2. There was enough money to buy some equipment from time to time. If there had been no money at all, the project may still have worked. But the project benefited from having enough tools to distribute to students, enough money to buy some fruit trees and chicken feed and pizza ovens and so on. Translated: Giving space for innovation is critical, but it might not be enough. Give a little cash, too, and trust the innovators to use it wisely. They know most about the project they are working on.
  3. There was space for innovation in more than one program. While the space for this specific project, the garden, was allowed, it would not have been as successful if there hadn’t been space in other programs, at the same time, too. Notably, the activities office, the middle school, and the research center took advantage of the development of a garden by offering activities and a class that brought students face to face with the plants, weeds, and bugs. I’m sure there’s a term for this phenomenon (tell me in the comment section below). It is some sort of co-creative factor where multiple initiatives can use each other to be more than the sum of their parts. “Bootstrapping” comes to mind as a term, but there must be something better. Translated: allow space not just for one pilot program, but for several, each with at least some funding. Don’t get overly involved, but see where the synergies take you. Perhaps that’s the term, as worn out as it seems – synergy.
  4. And aesthetics. The garden is a nice place to be. It’s beautiful. It draws people to it. Translated: the learning spaces you create matter. The entrance to the building, the teacher lounge, the cafeteria, it all matters. Make your school a place where people want to be and they’ll stick around and apply their creative energies on campus.

 

There was space for innovation in more than one program. While the space for this specific project, the garden, was allowed, it would not have been as successful if there hadn’t been space in other programs, at the same time, too. Notably, the activities office, the middle school, and the research center took advantage of the development of a garden by offering activities and a class that brought students face to face with the plants, weeds, and bugs. I’m sure there’s a term for this phenomenon (tell me in the comment section below). It is some sort of co-creative factor where multiple initiatives can use each other to be more than the sum of their parts. “Bootstrapping” comes to mind as a term, but there must be something better. Translated: allow space not just for one pilot program, but for several, each with at least some funding. Don’t get overly involved, but see where the synergies take you. Perhaps that’s the term, as worn out as it seems – synergy.

 

And aesthetics. The garden is a nice place to be. It’s beautiful. It draws people to it. Translated: the learning spaces you create matter. The entrance to the building, the teacher lounge, the cafeteria, it all matters. Make your school a place where people want to be and they’ll stick around and apply their creative energies on campus.

 

I’m sure there were other factors. And I’m sure you might interpret differently how to leverage those factors for innovative curriculum development, new approaches to teaching and learning, personalized assessment that deemphasizes tests and quizzes, expansion of what we think of as after school activities into the daily curriculum, freedom to emphasize skills over content, and much more. But starting with a good-looking space for multiple innovations to develop in parallel, with just enough funding to keep the projects going with minimal administrative intervention, seems like a very good start.

 

The bees will buzz and the harvest will be impressive, to say nothing of that Sicilian pizza.

 

Thoughts to share about this article? Let us know below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Magnuson is the director of Educational Research at Leysin American School and adjunct faculty for the International Education Program of Endicott College. His interests include student agency and self-regulated learning for students and teachers.
pmagnuson@las.ch

Reimagining School Together

John Burns, ISS Chief Innovation Officer 

Reimagining School Together with ISS CHALLENGES: 

What practices should carry forward from online learning? 

COVID-19 has forced schools to rethink how they operate, educators to re-imagine their practice, and students to adapt and learn in new ways. Although this pandemic presents unprecedented challenges for schools, it is also an opportunity that enables us to reimagine and reinvent schools in ways never seen before. 

To scale these great practices, we recently opened our innovation management platform, ISS CHALLENGES, to educators around the globe.  At its core, ISS CHALLENGES allows us to pose questions and then crowdsource ideas from the wider community. Our first external challenge asked educators around the globe to reflect on the question, “What new practices should schools keep or implement as a result of our experience with online learning?” 

Image: International School of Aruba virtual field trip to the International Space Station.

The response was tremendous. Not only did educators submit a plethora of fantastic ideas, but they also supported others in further developing their thinking. Many ideas were moved through the innovation pipeline to become scalable initiatives. In the end, seven winners were announced. 

Perhaps even more interestingly, across the many entries, six broad themes emerged. Here are the six action items that all schools should continue to engage with going forward. 

Parental engagement 

Many schools reported a significant increase in parent engagement during this period due to accessible technology and efforts to create learning partnerships. Suggestions included: 

  • Giving parents the option of online or in-person student-led conferences 
  • Regularly inviting parents to virtually join the classroom as subject matter experts or learning support staff 

Learner agency 

Learning at home has shown the importance of making time for students to asynchronously work on projects of interest to them and for all members of the community to share their passions. Ideas included: 

  • Dedicating a significant block of time every week to a student passion project 
  • Providing an a-la-carte list of STEAM, SDG, or other focused challenges for students to pick and choose from 

 Authentic learning 

Online learning demonstrated the ease and power of using technology to bring the world into classes and open classes up to the world. Suggestions included: 

  • Participating in virtual field trips which are abundant and free online 
  • Using learning portfolios to showcase what students know and do and encourage discourse with the wider community 

Low-tech, sustainable solutions 

Not everything needs to be online. Educators discovered that some of the most meaningful learning happens off-line and beyond the formal curriculum and schools need to make room for that. Ideas included: 

  • Creating urban farms. These can spring up even in apartments and high rise living 
  • Introducing no-tech days to encourage physical activity and exploration of other learning opportunities 

Student-centric design 

There is a clear need for schools to be redesigned to reflect students’ needs, rather than have students accommodate the standard design of schools. Suggestions included: 

  • Providing more asynchronous opportunities; for example, shift school timetables to reflect the needs of different groups of learners 
  • Use social media more as a mechanism for both student engagement and also learning showcase and reflection 

Faculty support 

School closures have catalyzed incredible collaboration among faculty in schools and around the world. Ideas to keep up this positive momentum included: 

  • Snapshot professional learning experiences co-created by staff and shared with other schools worldwide 
  • Transfer faculty onboarding and orientation to an online mode. This can be a great pre-emptive strike before staff even join the team. 

ISS will continue to launch new challenges for educators and students through 2020-21. Keep an eye on ISS.edu and #ISSedu on social media to get involved! 

What are your thoughts? Share them below for the world to see!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

John focuses on sparking creativity and innovation across ISS learning communities. He has worked on founding and designing both LEVEL 5 China and LEVEL 5 Bahrain, agile spaces for design thinking in education. John has developed apps featured worldwide and has also previously worked for Apple in assisting schools with organizational change. 
Connect with John on LinkedIn.

 

ABOUT INTERNATIONAL SCHOOL SERVICES (ISS)

ISS.edu 

ISS a leading nonprofit with more than 60 years of experience in international education. Whether it’s developing and managing world-class international schools, staffing schools, ordering equipment and supplies, performing accounting functions, or supporting best-in-class teaching and learning approaches, ISS provides the full range of services necessary for your school to thrive and deliver an outstanding global education to your students.  

Top Tips for Middle Leaders

Steve Garnett, Senior Education Consultant, Dragonfly Training.

As a newly appointed or existing middle leader starting this new academic year, there is no question you will be entering unchartered waters in terms of knowing what to expect as the world attempts to navigate its way through the Covid19 pandemic.

 

These ‘Top Five Tips’ for middle leaders are designed not just for this period but hopefully will serve you well at any time too.

 

Some of them may have a slightly irreverent feel to them (and intentionally so!) but nonetheless will still support you in being entirely effective in the role. So here they are:

 

1. Top Tip: Always ask the same question: ‘Will it make the bike go faster?’

 

This seems an odd question for middle leaders of course but it relates to the notion of marginal gains. Briefly, David Brailsford revolutionised the success of the British Cycling Team with an approach known as the ‘aggregation of marginal gains’.  Essentially improvements were driven by continually asking how any small adjustment or innovation made would ultimately result in faster cyclists. We can take this principle to middle leadership too. For every new initiative, process, resource, and strategy that is suggested or promoted, then the middle leader needs to know and also show how it will ultimately improve outcomes for pupils from where they currently are. Otherwise, why do it?

 

2. Top Tip: Remember the 3 Ps of: Personalities, Politics, and Performance

 

Try to always remember it is the last one you and your department are judged on and not the first two! What I try to promote is the idea is that way too much of your emotional energy and time can be taken up with dealing with the politics and personalities within your department. This can then lead to a reduction in energy and motivation on you to focus on things that are related to improving processes and outcomes. Keep asking yourself whether you are getting side-tracked by the first two Ps and not focussing enough on the last one! So remember the 3 Ps!

 

3. Top Tip: ‘Keep Sharpening the saw’

 

I’ve adapted this phrase a little from the best-selling book by Steven Covey ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’ which has sold in excess of 25 million copies worldwide. His seven habits allude to behaviours very effective people adopt and many of them can be applied to middle leadership. The habit described as ‘sharpen the saw’ relates to a continuous search for new knowledge that will enrich, improve, and build on existing knowledge. The effective middle leader sees the importance of professional growth. This could be anything from keeping up to date with educational reading to seeking guidance from an ‘expert’ within a school in order to learn something new such as for example ‘timetabling’.

 

4, Top Tip: Model what you want

 

The effective middle leader realises that their team is always watching them! This means that they have to ‘walk the walk’ and ‘talk the talk’! Whether it’s meeting deadlines, approaches to teaching, and learning to the use of professional language with colleagues, you have to be the type of teacher you wish your team to be. We must of course recognise the differences we all have and indeed these should be celebrated. However, the effective middle leader recognises that for anything they expect from others they should be able to produce themselves. So always model what it is you want from others.

 

5. Top Tip: Smile for no good reason

 

This doesn’t mean appearing to have lost your marbles by having a continuous and unbroken smile on your face whatever the circumstances or situation! Instead, this tip alludes to the importance of managing your own emotional self. There are many psychological, physiological, and biological benefits to a smile! It’s a great stress buster for you but also potentially a great way to disarm a slightly stressed colleague or pupil! This tip really relates to the importance of you maintaining some kind of emotional sanity. Ask yourself: What strategies do you have for managing the emotional side of the role? Naturally, we would want those with zero negative health effects. So different people might draw on different approaches for example anything from mindfulness techniques to bouts of strenuous exercise or something in between. I would say however that the smile is one of the easiest ones and one that everyone can do!. So what technique do you have?

 

 

So, whilst this ‘Top Tips’ list may have a slightly irreverent feel, I do offer a more rigorous and detailed analysis of what is involved in becoming a highly effective middle leader when delivering my CPD courses.

 

I am delighted to be teaming up with ECIS to deliver the following 6 module course across this autumn term. It will lead to an accredited certificate in Middle Leadership called: ECIS/Dragonfly Middle Leader Award in Teacher Quality Improvement. Learn more and register here.

 

Module 1: The culture of leadership

 

Module 2: Designing learning

 

Module 3: Assessment and leadership

 

Module 4: Building and leading teams

 

Module 5: Developing your leadership style

 

Module 6: Leadership of learning

 

I will also be delivering a free webinar outlining what’s involved in being a highly effective middle leader and it will follow this 6 module outline. Joining details can be found here.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Steve Garnett is a Senior Educational Consultant at Dragonfly Training, an international speaker, and an award-nominated author and teacher. He has delivered INSET to over 8000 teachers in the last ten years across the British Isles as well as Europe, the Middle East, and the Far East. His book ‘The Subject Leader’ was shortlisted for the prestigious Education Resources Award 2013 (Best Secondary Resource).

Collaboration and outdoor learning in Düsseldorf.

Kate Hookham, International Educational Consultant, Do Learn.

A long-term collaborative project with the International School of Düsseldorf to develop an Outdoor Learning Environment programme (2010-2020).

 

The key to any successful project for a consultant is a committed, collaborative staff team to work with who are willing to take a chance on new approaches, with backing and financial support of management and the wider community (parents and carers). I have been fortunate that ISD has been all of this and more.

The reason I promote outdoor learning is, for me, it can provide the best ‘classroom’. For visual learners, artificial lighting versus natural, ever-evolving light conditions wins outright. Auditory learners thrive as noise does not bounce back off surfaces given there are no walls, and natural materials disperse or absorb noise created. Finally, for our kinaesthetic learners, there is more space to move and learn in context.

Equally, children of today will see so much change and evolution in our technologies, cultural integration and indoor/urban design that the outdoor environment may be the only constant in their lives. There will always be a sky above their heads, vegetation, and animals around us (we hope). If we instill respect for nature and a connectedness, these children will be the guardians of the future. Learning outdoors promotes skills we will use our whole lives: emotional resilience, self-regulation, social skills, and higher-order thinking.

About the International School of Dusseldorf.

Founded in 1968, it is an International Baccalaureate World School with a current role of 1100 students. The campus sits on 19 acres in Kaiserswerth, Düsseldorf, in which the children and staff have built 6 outdoor learning centres/classrooms over the course of the ten-year project. The photo is an aerial view of 3 of these classrooms.

I first visited the International School of Düsseldorf in January 2010. During this initial visit we discussed how we could use the outdoors to support the Primary Years Programme and IB World School. I suggested we should start in Kindergarten (where outdoor learning already occurred) and build up from there. This would mean the children would carry their outdoor learning skills with them up through the school (self-awareness, regulation and care through Benefit-Risk Assessment, dressing correctly and identifying learning opportunities and developing higher-order thinking skills). From the start, children were involved in building the learning environment.

I returned every year, by September 2012 to move my focus to PYP unit delivery in the outdoors. Year 3 had a focus on matter. In the six month gap Year 1 had started to create and build their outdoor classroom in the central quadrant with the children. We used props and photographs to initiate a discussion about the unit. Children were fascinated by how matter changed form and they realised heat can affect matter. The children tested this by designing experiments heating with fire. This was the first time many staff had worked with children outdoors.. I modelled a Benefit-Risk Assessment and the children created a plan, which included health and safety considerations

The OLE programme progressed into year 1, I delivered a parents’ evening, which was written up as a blog by the director to explain the value of using an outdoor context and how parents can build on this at home, strengthening the home/school link. At the close of the session, a parent approached me and said, “You were lighting fires with my son yesterday”. “Yes”, I replied, a little concerned she may be about to raise a Health and Safety issue. She continued“I have never seen my child so excited about learning … he started telling me things about matter, what heat does, what we need to make a fire, how we have to be safe around a fire and how we cook on a fire. I asked him after each fact he shared with me, ‘and when did you learn that and he just kept saying ‘today’. Thank you, he has learnt so much.” I was moved by how emotional this parent clearly was about the power of outdoor learning.

 

 

During my February 2013 visit, Year 5 was undertaking an inquiry into traditional crafts. I supported staff  (who were anxious about participating in this new learning experience) and 80 children, to either use fixed blade knives to carve or use fire to create ember bowls.

This experience was extended by staff back in class. They finished completed the creation (sanding/varnishing and decorating). The children involved wrote up their experiences, reflecting on the time it takes and perseverance required. .

 

By September 2014, OLE was operating well from Kindergarten through to year 5. I had a growing concern that repeated activity was taking place and we needed to spiral and progress learning. I, therefore, initiated the development of the OLE programme of overall expectations, scope, and sequence which are integrated with trans-disciplinary skills, learner profile, and the curriculum scopes and sequences. Following a discussion with the OLE team, we identified 3 key inquiry areas: participants, tools, and learning. In recent times, a skills Rubik has also been created.

 

By September 2015, OLE had become embedded and staff were skilled at linking indoor and outdoor learning.

 

Over the years ISD had been travelling to a range of conferences to celebrate how they use the outdoors as a learning tool. This culminated in the staff organising their own international conference at ISD in 2017. I was privileged to be invited as the keynote speaker, talking about the value of outdoors as a medium for learning. We had a wide range of visiting staff from the length and breadth of Europe.

 

In 2017 I commenced a focused project with the Senior school (middle programme). We used an interdisciplinary approach with volunteer staff from the geography, arts, English, and biology departments. During the year grade 6 identified species in their outdoor classroom, mapped the space, and started to explore how it could be used. This continued in 2018 with children creating path networks, a ‘green gym’ and mindfulness space, diversifying habitats and growing crops.

 

In 2019 we used the outdoors to ease transition from elementary to senior school, as year 5 used the senior schools outdoor learning classroom for some of their sessions. This allowed the children to become familiar with the new campus and some of the staff.  I hope this project and the use of the outdoors will continue with my input for many years to come.

 

In summary, key aspects that have run throughout the project are:

  • The children are involved in designing, creating, and building their outdoor classrooms, ensuring the key aspects of boundaries (that we can be on either side of), some gradients, different surfaces, organised signposted storage, and shelter are evident. These spaces are non-permanent so that each year the new influx of children can adapt and change the space. Children ensure use is sustainable, managing the erosion and habitats within the site.
  • An ever adjusting and evolving programme of delivery, in which over the years, we have tried varied timetabling, staffing arrangements, integration with various aspects of the PYP, and duration/time blocks.

The project has succeeded because:

  • Children have appropriate clothing, that is stored and dried (boots and waterproofs)
  • There is good peer support and co-operative working
  • Management, staff, and parents are supportive and motivated by OLE
  • We start with the youngest children and progress spiraling up through the years to senior school
  • And finally, Outdoors in is not treated as separate but integrated into units of inquiry, phonics, mathematics, and trans-disciplinary skills

 

The last word I will leave with Fernanda, an English as an Additional Language teacher:

“When I first started teaching in the outdoors, I was not sure what my expectations were. I did not see myself as an outdoor person.  Astonishingly my students taught me what I did not know. I learned from my students that their learning was not only a classroom lesson. I learned from them to love the outdoors.  They showed me that they could retrieve new concepts every time we went to the outdoor environment. My students learned routines quickly. They learned first-hand to describe the weather, their feelings, what to wear to stay warm and/or dry. I was surprised that my role was more of a guide than of a teacher. My students were eager to go outside every day. The outdoors turned out to be a friendly, non-threatening environment where children were not afraid to make mistakes, felt free to explore and make new discoveries. Their imagination and creativity was truly stimulated. Photo: Reflection a previous Outdoor Learning Environment experience and the order in which it occurred.’

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

For the past 15 years as an Education Consultant, Kate has taught in nature kindergartens, schools, and early years settings, through her coaching and project work. In tandem, she delivers and designs Continuous Professional Development training courses (face to face, online and webinars) and keynotes speeches. Her work takes her throughout the UK, into Europe and beyond (namely, USA, Canada, India, and Australia). Her passion is to cascade this learning and empower others to deliver fantastic outdoor learning programmes.

Kate mainly does this through coaching in context, continuous professional development training, and creating written materials. She delivers, assesses and internally verifies qualifications in Forest School and Learning Beyond the Classroom. Contact may be face to face or remote (online). These sessions last a half a day, evening, full-day, or an extended time block for a project. Common delivery themes include: Adult role & interaction, Benefit-Risk Assessment, curriculum coverage outside, and child interpersonal skills development. To read more about Kate, please click here.

www.linkedin.com/in/kate-hookham-dolearn

www.facebook.com/dolearn.co.uk

k8dolearn@gmail.com

Finding Opportunity in Challenge: Differentiation

Paul Magnuson, Director of Educational Research, Leysin American School.

Earlier this summer I wrote about a student who proposed continuing some degree of remote learning even when we return to face to face learning (What If?, July 1). Her emailed request has been running through my mind all month:

 

I wanted to know … if I could have the option to not go to class and instead go to a supervised study place … where I could work alone like we did during the online schooling period … 

 

This student’s goal is not to avoid learning, but rather to maximize her time in order to focus on the learning she cares most deeply about. She may also be thinking that she could eliminate some of the distractions found in most classrooms. And she might be politely letting us know, if we read between the lines, that time spent in class, though perhaps as effective as possible for a group of students, can be quite inefficient when viewed from the perspective of an individual student.

 

If she were able to run this experiment, attending some of her classes just occasionally while completing the work on her own time, what might we find out? Well, the null hypothesis is that there is no difference between what she learns while working on her own than when she is working in a classroom. As teachers, we’d probably like to think that this experiment would reject the null hypothesis because she would have learned more with us. But there is the possibility that we’d reject the null hypothesis because she learned more while working in her own suggested style, largely independently.

 

What she is suggesting, based on some follow up emails, is a bit more nuanced. She is suggesting that she be able to attend fewer classes, not simply be physically absent all the time. Further, she is suggesting that when the teacher feels her presence is necessary or helpful, she would attend the face to face class. She is also suggesting that a bit of a fail-safe be built into the arrangement, meaning she would have to regularly demonstrate that she is doing well in the class in order to continue her remote, independent learning.

 

While listening to the September 10, 2019 podcast with Howard Rheingold and Will Richardson (Modern Learners) this morning, it struck me why my thoughts this summer have continually returned to this request. This student is not asking for anything more than a bit of differentiation, albeit a bit more than we usually talk about. She is asking for differentiation that spans across classes (attending some more than others, meeting minimal requirements in some and diving deep in others) and modalities (face to face and online).

 

Until this morning, differentiated instruction, I’m almost embarrassed to admit, was for me something boxed in by the classroom, by the bell schedule, and by the individual teacher. But of course differentiation is much broader. Differentiation is allowing learning to happen in different ways and does not need to be defined by the classroom, the period, or the teacher.

 

In my previous post I lamented a bit about the discrepancy between the reasonableness of creating a hybrid of face to face and remote learning and the administrative quicksand I felt I had stepped into. There is, however, opportunity in challenge. The upcoming 2020-2021 school year should indeed be quite full of opportunity.

 

Expanding the notion of differentiation (at least of my previously limited definition of differentiation, the one that I wasn’t aware I was constrained by) is quite suddenly very easy to picture, due to this fall’s biggest challenge at my boarding school: beginning face to face instruction with some students in quarantine, some students in their home countries, and some unknown number of face to face students who get sick during the course of the year and find themselves temporarily quarantined as well.

 

Teachers are going to need to provide instruction which is both face to face and remote. The shift in perspective that the COVID challenge affords us is this: face to face instruction need not be our default teaching and learning mode, from which we deviate only when required to by the impact of the virus. A hybrid model, combining face to face and remote learning, should be the default instead, normalizing the needed transition for students and teachers between the two modes.

 

If we shift our thinking in this way, and then read this student’s request again, I think you’ll feel much more of the opportunity in her words, and much less of the challenge:

 

I wanted to know … if I could have the option to not go to class and instead go to a supervised study place … where I could work alone like we did during the online schooling period … 

 

Well, yes, actually, you can do that. Other students are doing the same thing, because of the strategy we’ve developed to contain COVID, so you might as well give it a try, too, if you feel it is best for your learning. The only thing that is different, really, is the reason for why you are opting for remote learning. While staying healthy is the reason the school needs to change, your reason – believing that you will learn more – is also valid.

 

We’ve turned a challenge into the opportunity to differentiate teaching and learning on a whole new level, affording the best possible and highly personalized learning experience for this student and others. Yes, we’ll have to change how we teach so that we can accommodate the students who have no choice but to learn remotely. That will take some serious time and effort, no doubt about it. However, our solution for the containment of the virus opens up a whole new world of differentiation, one in which this student’s request is not only reasonable, but doable, for her and for others.

 

I can picture us walking over the administrative quicksand I felt earlier. It’s hardened into a path to places we weren’t even thinking about as we headed into the start of the school year. Let’s not let the opportunity to cross it be lost.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Magnuson is the director of Educational Research at Leysin American School and adjunct faculty for the International Education Program of Endicott College. His interests include student agency and self-regulated learning for students and teachers.
pmagnuson@las.ch

Teacher Agency

Paul Magnuson, Director of Educational Research, Leysin American School.

In the most recent issue of Teachers and Teaching, Tebeja Molla and Andrea Nolan (2020) report their findings on teacher agency and professional practice. They consider five different facets of professional practice that are associated with strong teacher agency.

 

I think school administrators could spend a productive hour or two discussing their school climate in relation to Molla and Nolan’s professional practices for two main reasons. (1) School climate is critical for good teaching, and therefore good learning, and (2) increasing teacher agency as a school seems like a very promising way through which to increase student agency, which for me is among the more neglected aspects of how we do school.

 

Here are their facets of teacher professional agency.

 

Inquisitive agency (specialist knowledge and skills). The more knowledgeable we are in our area of expertise, the more confident we are, and the more willing we are to explore what we don’t know. As Molla and Nolan put it, “…teacher confidence is closely aligned with having the necessary professional capital” (2020, p. 72). But don’t stop there. Subject matter knowledge and training are necessary, but not sufficient.

 

Deliberative agency (critical reflection on one’s practices, theories, and assumptions). As reflective practitioners we consider our teaching through multiple lenses and collaborate with our colleagues while balancing trust and doubt in oneself. That is, as professionals we know what we are doing and we doubt it at the same time. Our teaching lives are full of iterative action research cycles – even many in a single lesson, perhaps – in which we plan-act-reflect in order to constantly grow. Sharing these experiences with others, in a climate of trust and confidence, promotes agency.

 

Recognitive agency – teachers are valued and respected. It’s obvious to anyone who has ever been recognized with a metaphorical pat on the head that recognition is complex. Molla and Nolan highlight that to be recognized as a professional we have to have the freedom to form personal opinions and to make professional judgments. Cookie cutter curricula and overly defined instructional methodology can hamper a sense of recognitive agency and therefore teacher agency overall.

 

Responsive agency – sense of service, appropriately meeting the needs of children. As teachers, we like to think and act in ways that allow us to meet the needs of all children, or put more pragmatically, the greatest number of needs for the greatest number of children. Teacher professional agency therefore includes the ability and freedom to challenge practices that prevent us from that goal.

 

Moral agency – doing the right thing for the right reason. “Teachers should be able to make responsible choices” (Molla and Nolan, 2020, p. 77). Being a professional includes reacting to a range of situations – social, physical, psychological – as they arise, based on one’s best judgment in the moment, informed by one’s history of practice and reflection. Included here is the imperative to continue learning, which encompasses the previous four facets of professional agency.

 

So it’s all about … what? Culture, I think. A culture of trust, for one. Also a culture of high expectations, but only if we understand high expectations in a far more nuanced way than compliance with a mandate for, say, high test scores. High expectations are what we have for our own teaching, our own professionalism. Trust and high expectations are summarized by Molla and Nolan in two subsections: creating an empowering learning environment (for me, a culture of trust) and problematising professional practice (again for me, the freedom to take risks).

 

Now what about those administrators who have perhaps taken an hour or two to discuss the article. What concretely might they do next? Here’s my suggestion:

 

Make a scale for each of these five facets of teacher professional agency, starting with “not at all” and running to “very.” Predict how your faculty would rate your current school climate. Hand over the question of “where do we fall on these continua?” to the faculty. Let them create a measurement, a survey, whatever it takes to show their perceptions on the same five scales. Compare administrative and teaching faculty opinions. And then, together, identify the first small steps – little bets – to start shifting school culture where the culture needs to shift most.

 

Teachers stand to develop more professional agency. Students stand to follow their example.

 

BIOGRAPHY

Molla, T. & Nolan, A. (2020). Teacher agency and professional practice, Teachers and Teaching, 26(1), 67-87.

 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Magnuson is the director of Educational Research at Leysin American School and adjunct faculty for the International Education Program of Endicott College. His interests include student agency and self-regulated learning for students and teachers.
pmagnuson@las.ch