Teacher: "Today we are going to write a procedural text. There is no rubric, no expectations and I am not going to scaffold, model or co-construct this text form with you- good luck!"
Yaaaa, teachers wouldn't do that. Writing has a specific skill set which requires students have scaffolded experiences in order to play, experiment with and construct writing.
Reflection is also a skill. We need to provide kids a variety of opportunities from the age of 3 all the way up to the time they leave school in order for them to reflect on their learning journey. They need to be able to document failures, set goals and celebrate successes. We need to model this process, provide feedback and help them develop the ability to deeply understand their own strengths and limitations.
Sometimes it is easy to ask kids to reflect on their learning by using the tired, '2 stars and a wish' or another old tried and true. To help you escape from this cycle of doom I have complied a list of ED-ucation Publishing's top 5 favorite resources for building reflection as a skill for learners.
Click on the images to link to the sites.
1. EASY BLOG JR. -EL3/4 (preschool)- Grade 5
2. PLANT LOVE GROW -EL5 (Kindergarten)- Grade 5
3. THE NEVER-ENDING MATHS TEST -Grade 1- Grade 5
4. WEEBLY fOR EDUCATION -Grade 5 - grade 12
5. TWITTER -Age 13 and up...
Do you have a favorite tool to help students build the skill of reflection? Add it in the comments section and I am sure our community will benefit from the shared resources!!
My gift to you this Earth Day is a story. Everybody likes a story.
My father was a high school chemistry teacher, but more than that he was a pioneer environmentalist. In the early 80s while other moms coiffed their hair with aerosol hairspray my mother grumbled as she tried to obtain the impossible height of Cyndi Lauper’s bangs whilst wrangling the wetness of a pump action spray and cussing out my father’s beloved ‘ozone’.
While other lawns were green, and mowed my father had ordered, to the dismay of the neighbors, two dump trucks to unload piles of soil in our front yard. He wanted to allow indigenous Alberta plants and flowers to grow. Mostly, there were pine trees, dandelions, fireweed and black-eyed susan’s. But also, I remember lots of butterflies and ladybirds and aphids and birds. While other families had immaculate back yards with gazebos, pools and perfectly flat lawns bordered by impressive double garages our yard sloped down to the swampy edge of the publicly owned forest. We used the land just up from the swamp to grow an organic garden that grew our summer veggies and used the natural ditch as an even bigger steamy compost heap.
This was no 21st century plastic barrel composter with your pre-packaged worms and a handle to rotate and aerate the compost. Nope, this was a massive pit of rotting fruits and veggies that once and awhile we went out and turned over with a shovel. On hot days it stunk- but man, it made the richest, blackest, softest soil for our garden every year.
One hot Alberta summer afternoon my parents had left us in the diligent care of my older sister. As kids, we were often kicked out of the house for long periods of time and left to invent, create, build (often with ‘dangerous’ tools) anything we wanted. One summer, we built a tree house in the forest. 12 feet up the trees- my two brothers, my sister and I designed the structure, lugged out the tools and constructed it- alone. I must have been only 7 or 8. We used a handheld saw, nails, and left over wood from the real house my dad had built. The tree house had slatted walls, a solid floor and a slide ladder we had found in the junk. We learned about carpentry skills, measurement, and engineering concepts while problem solving how to get up the tree to put in the first boards. We learned about the attitudes needed for collaboration, work ethic, and failure. There were so many lessons, and it was SO much fun.
We went back one evening to see that the ‘big kids’ in town had burned it down. And, that was an entirely different lesson.
But I digress, this is about one hot summer afternoon. Like I said, my parents were out somewhere and we were in the care of my older sister, Tonya. On super hot days my dad would unroll 50 feet of clear polyurethane sheeting he had left over from the construction of our house and we would use it along with a hose and some dish soap as a poor man’s slip n’ slide. On this particular day, after tiring from riding our bikes, and digging in the frog pond, and picking caterpillars off the trees and playing hide and seek, we decided to make the slip n’ slide on our own.
We unrolled the plastic. We got the hose. We thought, if dad puts a bit of soap on the slide, what would happen if we used the whole bottle?
The frothy glint of the soap bubble rainbows were enticing but we wanted to make sure that it was, you know, ok. So, as a test subject, we sent my youngest brother Matthew down first.
“Take a running head-start” my older brother Jeremy shouted. And Matthew did. He zoomed down the slope, bubbles flying out behind him like a jet stream, he zoomed across the slippery green grass, he zoomed as if he were flying, he laughed hysterically and we jumped and clapped. Right up until he hit the compost heap.
Tonya may contest this, but in my mind’s eye, this is how it happened. Matthew emerged from the steamy mire of the heap, his glasses askew, covered in in bits of wilted lettuce and grated carrots, worms and rot. While Jeremy and I wet ourselves laughing, Matthew cried and Tonya hosed him off.
We moved the slide and continued on. We had learned from our failure.
Early in 2014 my brother Jeremy died of a massive heart attack. He was 40, super fit and left behind a wonderful wife, a three-year-old daughter and a week old son. But he had devoted his life to helping people; he was a Chiropractor and worked with people who had chronic pain. My sister Tonya became a Family Nurse Practitioner, and my brother Matthew a dedicated father and businessman. Each of us has a certain resiliency we learned from childhood. We understand that we don't know everything, but if we collaborate with others- we can probably figure it out.
More than that, we are my father’s children. We learned to be independent thinkers. We learned to take risks and to accept failure as a part of learning. He sowed the seeds for us to learn to recycle, to turn down the thermostat, to turn off the water, to get our hands dirty, to plant and eat what we grew. We learned early that we were connected- whether we liked it or not. Indeed, we are connected, to each other, to our community and to the Earth. We learned it wasn’t so hard to care- and now I teach my own students those same lessons.
I have no children of my own, and very few photos of my childhood remain. When Jeff and I write our books, the stories often are inspired from our own childhood memories and focus on the life long lessons we want to instill within the learners in our care. We created our company as a community so that during the precious time we have on this planet we can collaborate with others and have an impact. Even if it's a tiny one.
So Happy Earth Day. From our ED-ucation Publishing family to yours. May you reap what you sow.
Kids look up to Action Heroes for a reason. Because they do the right thing. There is a simple formula of good vs bad and good wins out. The story line of authentic action and student generated service learning within education is a bit more tricky. It is very easy to gloss over the essential element of character education and citizenship learning and turn it into ineffectual but happy bake sales. Two years ago, Jeff and I observed that action was really obsolete from our own school documentation. From planners, to assessments and reflections we had assumed that action would simply generate from the protagonists of our learning community. Our assumptions were wrong.
I think every teacher envisions inspiring their students to make a difference in and to the world. So we needed to take action ourselves! We devised an evil plan (AKA qualitative research study) to do a bit of investigation.
Our data suggested that we did indeed need to explicitly teach the skills to take action, to model the behaviors associated with taking action, and to plan for how we anticipated action might come about as a result of the inquiry.
To aid in this process Jeff and I decided to create an action phase document that details how the skills could be developed throughout a student’s learning journey in the PYP. This document is like Batman's cave of secrets. The document moves students from teacher-guided action in the younger years to independent, skilful and sustained action in grade 5 or beyond. But we knew this wouldn't be enough- kids wanted to see a hero in action to be inspired! So, as we couldn't afford the Batmobile and because we are geeky teachers, we wrote a book. But you know, what's a book these days without a cool website full of resources and an interactive community? Yup, we made that for teachers and learners too.
We had become Action Heroes!!
Image citation: http://nicktoons.nick.com/shows/invader-zim/
I have read a lot of blogs posts lately about inquiry. Especially how it relates to teachers. But with reflection, I think the only authentic way that inquiry is sustainable is when collaboration happens between the following 7 facets of learning.
1. The student as researcher
As any parent knows, “Why?” is one of the first things children ask. It’s true, children of all ages are natural researchers; they actively desire to communicate with the surrounding world. They are engaged in their own pedagogy, that of observation and wonder. Inquiry for children is part of their natural evolution. Getting kids to inquire is the easy bit. Getting us to see them as researchers requires mindful practice.
2. The teacher as activator
The teacher is a researcher, data gatherer, and strategic contributor to the learning experience. The aim is to learn about each specific child. To understand their misconceptions, prior knowledge, personal connections and desires for action. We activate thinking by poising bigger questions, additions to thinking, to dig deep into the how and why of the child's understanding. For me this has always been easiest through the IB Learner Profile or set of attributes that we would like students to embody. Using the learner profile I am able to engender an environment in which children know that not knowing is a great start to learning. In this forum we are able to wonder about the big questions of life: Why are we here? Who am I? How am I connected to others? And of course, Who cares?
You can read an earlier post I wrote about designing inquiry through the learner profile here.
This is a terrific book that provides teachers and students with a lovely stimulus for thinking and talking about curiosity and questioning. This book will no doubt have children eagerly sharing the things THEY wonder about which, in turn, will sow the seeds for all kinds of inquiry learning.
3. The caregiver as facilitator
Along with teachers, the extended community has a pro-active role to play in the students’ lives. Everyone including parents, caregivers and friends should have an invested interest in the students. After school we fill our kids time with piano, karate, soccer, art and think that we are doing them favors by filling their time with 'enriching' activities. Not always so, if we are honest it takes concerted effort to facilitate the inquiry and investigations children have started at school. We have all glorified being busy- working to make money, but what if we worked less and spent more time playing WITH children? Rediscovering our own curiosity, our own maker selves. To begin to think again like designers, problem solvers, and engineers. What if piano lessons became about making instruments and an investigation into sound? What if we asked children what they wanted to investigate and let them lead the learning?
To push on the keys of a piano over and over and over to learn how to play music is one thing, to investigate the larger concepts of musical form and function is another. To wonder about where it is found around us, in running water, though hollow wood, in how it is produced by the creation of instruments- this brings a richer understanding that transcends music to all aspects of life.
4. The documentation as visible thinking
Documentation of learning makes thinking visible. It provides opportunities for children to revisit, extend, and change their constructed knowledge. Documentation is a process that involves observation, reflection, collaboration, interpretation, analysis, and through practice becomes second nature to the teaching and learning cycle. Continually adding to and taking away from the multiple forms of documentation: photographs, iPhone videos, iPad apps, note taking and the actual product of a child’s work create a iterative space of wonder. Posting the documentation within the classroom and school encourages the learning community to develop and celebrate an ethos of inquiry.
5. The curriculum
With the expectations of the government, parents and administrators to reach the Common Core State Standards, benchmarks or phase documentation sometimes teachers feel it is a daunting task to take on inquiry based learning experiences. I could write a lots about this but I think that Kath Murdoch says it best. Click on the image to read her amazing blog.
6. The environment
Take a look around your classroom, or your child's room. What is set up as a provocation for curiosity and exploration? Examine the look and feel of the space. Think like a designer. Environment is considered the "third teacher." A learning space should be inviting, challenging, creative. Documentation of children's work, plants, and collections that children have made from former outings should displayed both at the children's and adult eye level. Common space available to all children in the school provide an opportunity for children from different classrooms to come together. A welcoming environment encourages a child to engage in wonder and discovery. And it is not just for the little learners. Primary, secondary, high schools as well as large corporate offices are taking on new and innovative learning spaces (that actually, closely resemble early learning environments).
Be inspired here.
7. The clock
Early learning classes have a space of time each day for ‘free choice’ or whatever the school may choose to call it- but really this time is essential for the development of natural curiosity, investigations, conversations and the building of relationships. Too often we shuttle kids in school from one subject to another, even in schools very aligned with the Primary Years Program (a concept and inquiry driven curriculum framework), teachers still complain about being slaves to the schedule. So, if we can't ditch the schedule, what can we do?
Learning about specific kids, assessing misconceptions, planning in order to drive the inquiry, all of this comes from the time I step back in my classroom and give kids time to 'play'. This is not time that kids aimlessly wander about or get to play mindless games on the iPad, this is dedicated time for children to express, learn, explore, extend and revisit a given project. Provide time each day set aside for investigation. Turn the iPads into research and documentation tools. Why not have a maker space outside for primary kids to explore at recess? How about a shared exploration center in the lobby of the school? Utilize those dead spaces in your school to become active, engaged and inquiry-based provocations. Learn more about design thinking and the maker classroom in education here.
Humans are in the business of wondering. It is what helped us to become the complex social primates we are today. We wondered ourselves into tool making, crop growing and industry. We wondered ourselves into vaccinations, outer-space and the Ethernet. I wonder where we will go next if we simply allow some time for wonder?
Jeff and I are super pleased to introduce our next guest blogger on ED-ucation Publishing!! By the end of this post Jeff and I were Skype-fiving each other and our spidey-senses were tingling! Yael Schloss has been an avid supporter of ED-ucation Publishing and we are so appreciative that she shares her knowledge and experience with our community.
“High five for listening!”
Perplexed kiddo slaps me some skin and glares at me. He has no idea why we’re high fiving, nor why I mention listening, when that is exactly what he was not doing. You know that kid. The one who doesn’t listen, takes things from others at whim, leaves them crying. I keep talking, but I don’t think he gets my words. Somehow, though, I think he gets the point.
That high five was a pact. Not between a child and the random adult he just met, but between him and his own potential. His glare carried the weight of shaky skepticism bound together with hope.
Could it be that nobody has ever actually called him by his potential? Celebrated his progress? Was his good behavior just a relief from his bad behavior?
You know that kid. The one who’s up to no good. Again.
Labeled, relegated, by the adults that could inspire him to come out of exactly – that – shell.
The shell that they hardened.
Ever since that pact, I have not let him live it down. He never wanted it, but he signed it. Too bad he didn’t read the fine print. I’m on your back, kid. I will chase you and make you look at me. I will be the jerk who makes you confront your bad choices. Show me your eyes. Your relentless defiance won’t break my end of the deal. We high fived, buddy. And I am calling you “friend.”
I have had the privilege of working with many great teachers, each of them speaking to their kids in their own vocabulary of love. One of these amazing teachers is Tosca Killoran, whose vocab inspires kids to become global thinkers, which begins with their microcosm of self and friends.
Friends love you for who you are, not what you do. They stick around when you’re not exactly at your best, and they don’t call you by your mistakes. Friends inspire you to keep doing what you do best, and let you work on what you do worst. They high five you for what you are going to accomplish, because they see who you really are. Friends want you to shine.
Some believe parents and teachers can’t be a child’s friend. I highly disagree. I would go as far to say that it only works well if we are their friends. We were given the role of educator, not dictator. The whole point is to guide children in their journey of personal development. How can a person in our care develop their character fully if we do not see them as the complete person they are? Yeah, you can tell them what to do, what not to do, but if you say it like you own them, it won’t reach as far. It may not even stick, because who are you anyways?
I don’t have to listen to you. You’re not the boss of me!
Buddy runs up some stairs where he’s not allowed. I tell him to come down. Buddy ain’t listening, so I go up the stairs and crouch down in front of him. Poor guy has to deal with my face now. Sorry, not sorry. “Hey, I thought we were friends! What happened to our high five?”
“High five for listening!” My hand waits in the air, wondering if it should even bother being up there.
Don’t leave me hangin’, buddy…
My new friend is looking right into my eyes. Boring right through me. It’s as if for a silent slice of time, he too, is thinking “Don’t leave me hanging.”
I won’t, buddy. I promise I won’t.
Have you ever heard someone say,
"Man, I hate that word, ‘Bully’. I have never really seen kids be bullies- kids are just being kids. That word is waaay too overused."
I also have a belief that it’s less about labeling and more about teaching our community that ANYONE can be a bully and engage in bully behaviors.
Last week, I conducted a little informal research and approached a few teachers and asked if they would like a poster and lesson plan I had created for kids about how to take action against bullying. Every single teacher said no thank you, they didn’t need it.
But that’s not what the statistics say.
Click on the images to enlarge.
Okay, okay, all those stats are all taken from fancy-shmancy, peer-reviewed research papers, and government websites- so what about my own personal learning network? I created a Facebook poll sent out to parents, teachers, and students and 93% of people answered yes to the very general question, Do you think bullying is an issue at your school? Admittedly my sampling error may be quite high and I am certainly not a statistician but 93%, anyway you play it, is high.
Despite all the stats, I return to my main point, it's really not about labeling bullies, or even bullying at all. It's about citizenship, social responsibility and building the attitudes found within character education. Sure the name bully exists, but a bully by any other name still stinks... right?
Teachers and parents need to view themselves as activators. We need to model the behaviors of social responsibility, explicitly teach the skills needed to negotiate relationships, provide a toolbox of strategies when those relationships break down and enable learners to develop a growth mindset. Jeff and I both endorse and teach through the philosophy of character education, and believe in the ‘Science of Character’, acknowledging that “character strengths can be learned, practiced and cultivated”.
We reflected on our own practice and realized we needed some resources to help us unpack these big ideas for kids. So we created them and then we had the bright idea, hey, we should share this with the world!
Here are some in-kind (free) resources that can be built into your everyday teaching life, your breakfast routine, or while reading that bedtime story to your kids. They can help create the kind of global citizens we want to see our children and students become.
Jeff and I are so pleased to introduce our first guest blogger on ED-ucation Publishing!! Jennifer's post on eBooks and the importance of reading really resonated with us and we are so excited to have her join our community!! Follow her musings and blurbs on Twitter or learn more about her awesome work on her website.
Nowadays, children are seeing reading as a daunting task or as a race to learn new things. They tend to ditch books in favor of digital devices. For them, reading is a chore and not fun at all. According to the National Literacy Trust’s 2006 research; the number of engaged readers decreased from 77% to 65% between 1998 and 2003. Most of them prefer watching television rather than going to the library to read, since most households have more electronic gadgets than books.
In a society that’s already wired, how can we encourage our children to pick up a book and read?
Tech is Your Friend
As mobile gadgets become more ubiquitous, we usually see them as learning distractions. But if well-developed content is paired with these devices, they can be effective tools for reading. In fact, Scholastic’s 2013 report revealed that children between the ages of 9 to 17 would definitely read more books if they had access to ebooks. Smartphones like the iPhone 5S can definitely help them gain access to thousands of ebooks online, thanks to its ultra-fast wireless feature. O2’s page states that it supports more networks, which let users experience faster download speeds. This encourages children to read since they have more resources at hand.
Always Lead By Example
There’s one perpetual truth that we often forget: children look up to us. As adults, they see us as their guides and they often emulate us. It’s important to show them that we find pleasure in reading, and it should be genuine. Select a good book, pick a comfortable corner, and start reading. Encourage them to get their own book and sit with you. Read with them, answer their questions, and ask another one about what they just read. Make it a habit to also visit the public library; let them touch and see a universe of words and imagination.
Don’t Take It Too Seriously
For most adults, reading is a serious matter and it should be taken with utmost reverence -- but not too seriously. This is one of the main reasons why children are turned-off by reading; they see it as a “serious task.” Why not inject a little humor while reading their favorite book and laugh with them? Reading should always be treated as a pleasurable experience, not as a form of punishment.
Let Them Read What They Want
Author Neil Gaiman believes that there’s no such thing as a bad book for children. In an interview with The Guardian, he gave his two cents about children and reading “well-meaning adults can easily destroy a child's love of reading.” For him, we shouldn’t give materials which we think is good for them; rather, we should be guiding them to what they want to read. Suppressing their desire to explore literature will only create a generation that thinks of reading as a very unpleasant experience. Hence, we should allow them to read what they want. Let them enjoy and love the experience.
A Book a Day Keeps the Doldrums Away
Boredom is like a black hole sucking all the fun, excitement, motivation from our daily lives. Although, children are a little bit more resilient to it than adults, they can still suffer from it. Well, books can actually help them keep the doldrums at bay. Since reading can help us escape the real world, it’s an effective way to keep our mind pre-occupied. Aside from reading, we can also encourage them to write about what they read. How they felt about it and maybe, their own fictional story. A book doesn’t only bring us to new realms; it also helps us create new ones.
Books keep the collective thoughts and experience of our ancestors. It’s a glimpse into their past and our future. Let our children explore these and reap the rewards of knowledge and wisdom.
Photo courtesy of slightly everything via Flickr Creative Commons
So… this whole year I told my students,
“I don’t know is a good answer- it is the start of great inquiry.” In fact, my students recite this to each other when someone says, “I dunno.” We started each unit talking about Kath Murdoch's inquiry cycle, we ended each unit by reflecting on our inquiry. We inquired into our inquiry. We were masters of the inquiryverse.
Or so I thought.
When we got to the Learner Profile attribute of Inquirer for our new unit on Sharing the planet, I invited the students to offer any suggestions, ideas, definitions, and connections that they might have. What did I get?
I called on that one kid, you know, the one who always has the answer.. and his response?
“I don’t know Ms. Tosca- It’s a tricky one, isn’t it?”
Hmm. Okay, time to access their prior knowledge by reminding them of all we had done during the year, leading them, guiding them, to what I thought would be an easy kill. BOOM- blank.
Double hmmm. This told me a lot. There was a gap. My students needed the Learner Profile attributes to be built into the context of the unit concepts from day one in order for them to really get what they meant in the big picture of the learning cycle. 14 years into my practice and a good kick in the face once in awhile is a great reminder to be a better listener to my learners. So, for my new unit, I went back to the beginning and rethought my approach.
I began by reading the book ‘Eloïse and the strange museum visit' which focuses on one of the other Learner Profile attributes we are highlighting for the unit. I invited the students to co-create a definition for the word 'Thinker'. We discussed the strategies and the ways in which we demonstrate being a thinker each day. I reminded them if they ‘caught’ their peers showing any of the Learner Profile attributes to give them a positive comment on the ‘Positive Energy Board’. This is a place where the students celebrate each other by writing compliments to one another about their actions, words and choices. Using simple positive psychology is the behavior management my classroom employs.
When I reflected on past units of inquiry it became clear that when the children started the inquiry by tuning into the central idea it was a slippery slope into a theme based unit. In their minds, How the world works turned into simply, 'materials', Who we are into, 'friends'. This time, I wanted to shift the initial tuning in to the transdisciplinary theme, key concepts and Learner Profile attributes we were engaging with. I designed the provocation to allow students to generate ideas on these big, abstract concepts by using a silly hook. If humans could communicate with other animals, what would they tell us? Many of the answers were just what you would expect a five year old to say, “Hello.” “Will you be my friend?” Some students reiterated what they had read in the 'Thinker' book, which deals with a little girl learning about how to clean up the planet. This showed they had retained that information and were trying to apply it to new contexts. I accepted all suggestions and giggled along with the kids as they did silly voices to match the animals on the wall.
The invitation to think deeper:
The next day I read the book, 'Communicator’ with the children and debriefed about what strategies we could use to communicate with others effectively. One child made the connection that animals communicate too- we just don’t speak their language. This offered the perfect opportunity for us to ‘dig deeper’ into the provocation from the day before. I invited the children to dig into their thinking and made puppy digging motions. This hooked the kids mentally into the idea of shifting, digging, and activating our thinking. I challenged them with pictures of animals in different situations, some happy, some not. Students looked at the pictures and shared what they observed. Then I asked them to think about what these animals would tell us, careful to not drive their ideas from my perspective but to get them to think in different ways. Interesting debates began to surface. Some students believed the animals were happy, even when the pictures were of animals trapped, or in large nets or tiny cages. Some had different ideas and said they couldn't be happy because they weren't free. It was interesting that sometimes the kids would make the puppy digging motions as they offered their ideas and suggestions, almost as an involuntary way of working through their thinking.
However, one of the most interesting debates came from one odd and wonderful little girl that I teach. She told me, "The lion says, Yum, I want to EAT the zebra!" So I pondered out loud, I wonder if that's fair....
She immediately said, "Yes, it's fair. If the lion doesn't eat the zebra he will die." But another boy argued, "No, it's not fair! Then the zebra dies! Why doesn't the lion just eat the apples in the jungle?" I quickly started to write down student questions that spun off from this conversation and posted them to the student question wall.
"Do lions eat apples and oranges?"
"Do lions live in the jungle?"
"What happens if there are so, so many zebras because the lions don't eat them?"
"What if the zebras all die, what happens to the lions?"
This gave me clear and wonderful insight into the misconceptions, prior knowledge and readiness groupings of my students. After a long talk about being fair there was this beautiful moment when a little boy pointed at the Learner Profile wall and stated, “But Ms. Tosca it's about being balanced too, right? We are all connected and so it’s not fair but it has to be like that, right?”
I couldn't have said it better myself.
Now, I had them right where I wanted them. Invested in their learning. Understanding the Learner Profiles as real and contextual, asking deep questions, debating and justifying their ideas, eager to find out more, admitting that they didn't know and willing to take the risk to be wrong.
I wasn't looking for a 'right' answer at the end of the session, I was looking to see what my students were knowledgeable about, where their misconceptions lay, what they were interested in, and for them to become inquirers.
My own practice is a highly iterative one. I am constantly in flux because I am always thinking about how I could improve and change. But sometimes I miss things. This year's group of students were telling me something different than last year's group of learners. When they turned the units into themes, they were telling me they didn't know how to be inquirers. They were telling me they needed a bit more modelling, a bit more help to get there. They needed a scaffold, a book, a conversation - and more. I was lucky I took the time to listen.
So I challenge you to be reflective too. Ask yourself:
How do I unpack the Learner Profile attributes in my classroom each day?
How do I celebrate and acknowledge when my students embody and show the attributes?
How do I design the learning happening in my class to promote deep thinking and connection to the transdisciplinary themes and key concepts?
How do I renegotiate units in response to my reflections?
How do I use what I know of my learners to guide the inquiry?
I am in a bit of a quandary. I have a student, let's call her Jane, who for the past 6 months has confided in me that she was being bullied. I know what you are going to say, “6 months!” but please hear me out; there are reasons I have yet to take effective action on this issue.
She has told me this bully spreads ‘rumors’ and fabricated stories about her in an attempt to isolate her from her friends, that she makes aggressive gestures at her, that she gets in her face behind closed doors but never when others are looking. She has told me some of her best friends don’t believe her and think that she is over reacting, that she feels alone, desperate, and unhelped. I mean seriously, if her own friends don’t believe her!! Hyperbole seems to be second nature to this kid!
She even has written me emails- had the audacity to complain in writing! She states that her supposed bully demands apologies and submission when she is around her. Admittedly, I had one parent from outside the situation come to me privately and share that he had seen this behavior happen- but only once! Of course, I told my student what any good teacher would, that sometimes it’s just easier to say sorry and give the bully what they want. I mean, why make her life more difficult? I told her to toughen up, stop caring, just take the higher road and ignore the bully. I told her that life is full of bully’s and that she should get used to it. I told her next time she sees her ‘bully’ to be sickly sweet to her and that will help her see the error of her way. I told her to be more humble and accept that I was doing my best to help her.
Personally, I think this student is a bit immature, paranoid and dramatic. But this is the way it is with girls. They are just so emotional, and really I am doing her no favors by feeding into her soap opera. She has already missed days of school for ‘stress’- LOL- I wish I could take a couple of days off and chalk it up to a mean ol’ bully.
Finally, I have had meetings between the two students, and honestly, the accused seems so, well… nice. Her parents are influential at the school and I am worried about parent and board fall out. Right now it seems like an exercise in finger pointing. I mean, whom do I believe?
If you are an educator, I bet you are screaming at your screen right now, enraged at my lack of empathy and action. You are steaming, half out of your seat ready to pounce down my throat or at least have an
ALL CAPS RAGE in the comments section.
And so you should.
In reality, teachers would never, ever allow this to happen if a student was being bullied. We would take this child’s claim seriously, dig deep to find answers, we would take the evidence provided by witnesses as valid. We would mediate, and if mediation didn’t work there would be serious consequences for the bullying actions. We would not victimize the victim, and there would never be a time we just rolled over and let it happen.
So why isn’t this the case when a teacher gets bullied?
Yes, you read that right. When a teacher gets bullied. In my 14 years of teaching I have witnessed parents, administration, even teachers be bullies.
As I move on to a new job I have been chucking papers that I have kept for the last 14 years. I came across a booklet entitled, “How to have successful parent teacher conferences”, and in a large box on the bottom of the page were the words,
Now, I understand the sentiment but let’s critically analyze the discourse. The what in what is not being said. Parents are expected to be emotional (unprofessional), it is inherent to their nature, but you as teacher- if you want us to look at you as a professional- you must remain unemotional. No matter what. But, teachers are dynamic, complex-humans with an emotional investment in their students, job and schools- with that in mind, is this fair to dictate? What if that parent, administrator or colleague is irrational, what if teachers are yelled at, belittled, cajoled, or threatened? Must they smile and take it? If we wouldn’t allow the bully to win in microcosm of our classroom, why should they win in the macrocosm of the extended learning community?
I understand how this happens. Parents pay big money to attend schools and their most prized possession is being left in the hands of another person. They feel they have the right to demand and get satisfaction. But I have written about this before- teaching is a unique profession in which people feel that because they have gone through school, they are experts on how learning takes place. But learning is a little bit of science and a little bit of craft. It is a difficult balance that is unique to each person and that is the wonderful challenge and curse for teachers---finding that sweet spot where each student learns. Becoming a master teacher requires training, and experience. It requires openness to new practice and a willingness to be a life-long learner. Modern education is multifaceted, complex and ever changing. Teachers’ jobs are not easy, but we make sure that we have the training, experience and support to make the best decisions for the learners in our care.
But it's not just parents, working in international schools comes with it’s own unique challenges and benefits. The community is very small and teachers who have been in the industry for a while find that they know people from all over the world; in fact they often have connections on every continent. Directors, principals, colleagues may pop up in any number of future jobs and locations. It is a good thing to maintain open relationships. However, sometimes conflict does arise between members of the learning community and it is necessary to be able to negotiate positive resolutions.
But consider, international teachers are stripped of their safety nets. Their friends and families are continents away, they are left to vent, discuss and problem solve with people that they hardly know. They are left to fend for themselves and to build a reputation each time they move to a new location. This can be difficult and lonely. However, there are specific things that we can do to address conflict resolution and community building within the adult sphere of international education. Underpinning our learning community with the
learner profile is an excellent start to creating and maintaining healthy relationships. To aid in this process, I have created a free PDF to help create a culture of principled action for schools and their learning communities.
As a teacher that works within the construct of the IB, my practice, classroom, and life are underpinned by the learner profile. One of the tenets of the IB Learner Profile is that the privileged have a responsibility to stand up for the rights of the underdog. I take this seriously.
So what can we do if we see a student, teacher, parent, or staff member being bullied?
Look for the signs, ask yourself:
Think! Is this behavior repeated? Does it include:
Communicate! If you answered yes to a few of the above questions, have a quiet conversation with the person you think is being bullied. Ask them what strategies they have used, who they have spoken to, offer support and a listening, non-gossiping ear.
Tell! If you observe the behavior again, or the person who is being bullied seems unable to take action, do the right thing and tell someone! A simple conversation may validate a teacher, give the heads-up to an unknowing principal, or provide support for a struggling parent.
Advocate for open discussion and the creation of an Essential Agreement within your learning community.
Celebrate the positive behaviors you see each day in others! Write a blog, tweet or Facebook post about how great those in your learning community are.
So, what do I know? Who am I to give advice?
I know all this from personal experience. I was Jane. Only I was an adult, a professional, with years of education and experience under my belt. It took two amazing parents who were principled to take a stand, to have that quiet conversation with my administration, and honestly without them, I would've been left feeling ashamed and lost. Instead, I have become a better teacher, and a better advocate for others through my own learning journey. In fact, part of EDucation Publishing's ethos is to help empower youth to take action and make changes in their world.
It's time to end the silence. It's time to recognize that anyone, children and adults, can engage in bully behaviors and anyone can be bullied- it's just a question of what you will do to make it stop.
My Grandfather died yesterday. At 16 he joined the Canadian military. He fought in Korea and in Germany (both countries that I have peacefully and prosperously lived in). He was an entrepreneur, a strong Catholic (was working to get me, the atheist, confirmed for the entire time he was alive) generous with his money and kind to a fault. Stoic and proudly Canadian, he was the only grandparent I felt slightly close to and today, I reflect on the passage of time, loss and legacy.
But this post is not about him. Nope, it's about you.
As usual, I always find the connections between lessons in life and lessons in the classroom.
Yesterday evening, we had a primary staff meeting and the PYPC and I talked about the purpose of the Action Wall we have initiated at our school. We discussed how to define, encourage, model and scaffold for action. Mostly, teachers at 4:25PM seemed red-eyed and tired. Inaction, a couch, TV, and a glass of wine was in their imminent futures.
Truthfully, I too went home and did just that. But, my downtime involves Twitter, reddit, imgur and vine so.. I happened along this post from another teacher to his highschool students about
Dr. Marin Luther King Jr. Day. As someone who forgot MLK Day - and shouldn't have, I was left a bit shamefaced. After all, MLK represents what we want to model for our students. He didn't start change with the 'I have a dream' speech. He didn't begin his journey famous, he wasn't anybody. He worked hard, stumbled through, and believed in the power that one person can have when trying to change the world. As PYP teachers we share this passion, and the belief that we can make a difference to and in the world. MLK was just an ordinary man who took action and accomplished extraordinary things.
The post was a reminder that I had missed an opportunity with the learners in my care. I need to be more mindful of why I should celebrate those like MLK with my international students.
When I participated in TEDxAmsterdam in 2011, I stayed from 9AM till 9PM and watched what seemed like a billion amazing talks. However, there was one that profoundly affected me. Seemingly slow and without the glitz and pomp of the other talks, it still struck a chord when Alan told the story of the seven stones and asked: What is your legacy?
The action wall at BIS isn't just a celebration, a pat on the back, a promotion for the school, or a pretty decoration. Action, as an essential element of the PYP is not just another curriculum component to fulfill. Action truly, is a state of mind.
Action is legacy.
As an atheist, there is no afterlife to meet my grandfather in, to make amends, set things right or make changes. There is only now. My grandfather left a legacy in the freedom we enjoy today, in his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. MLK created a legacy of equality and peaceful service for others. With no children and no wars to fight of my own, my legacy partly rests within the learners in my care, and partly in what I choose to do to make a difference to and in the world today.
So I challenge you:
How will you seize the 'now'?
What will you do with your 7 precious stones?
What will be your legacy?