Unplugging – It’s All About Balance

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29 years in the world of education – wow! I really have a tough time facing that reality – I have been doing this work for a whole lot of years. In some ways, I feel like I can share every lesson learned, mistake made and experience lived with others in order to pass on the wisdom of my many years in schools. However, on the other hand, I also feel completely humbled by how much I still don’t understand and how much I have yet to learn and figure out. To be honest, it’s overwhelming sometimes. I think I should have way more of this learning stuff figured out – but I don’t. I think I should have way more of this leadership stuff figured out – but I don’t. What I do know for sure is that I will NEVER stop learning, questioning and looking to others to help me find the way forward. Leading a middle school, filled with kids who are trying to find their way, is a perfect fit for me. I am a middle school educator and school leader – trying to figure out the way forward. It’s complicated – there are no easy answers and sometimes, there are just more questions. That’s okay. One thing I do know for sure – it is so important to take a step back from the work and unplug.

I have learned over the years that the best use of my “down time” during school breaks is to let go of all the work that needs to be finished and to completely disconnect so that I can re-charge the battery. So, once again, this Spring Break, I am unplugging from technology, from the world of Twitter, from the “to do” list waiting for me back at school so I can re-invest in me. This includes making time to do what I love – run along the ocean, read whatever I find interesting, spend time with the people who mean the most to me and enjoy simple pleasures in life (sunsets, good food, great wine!)

I have learned that finding  balance this way gives me the energy to come back after the break feeling completely ready to take on the home stretch of the school year…not just in survival mode, but in full on “thriving” mode – making the best decisions for our school community and being the best support possible to our amazing staff.

Happy Spring Break – this picture shows where I am unplugging for the week – life is good!!!

Action on Inspiring Education – Let’s Go Already!

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I listened to a passionate Greystone teacher, Jenna Wilkins, describe her frustration with all of the talk that is going on around the province about Inspiring Education, the Ministerial Order on Student Learning and Curriculum Redesign. It’s not that she is opposed to any of this. In fact, the opposite is true. She is so keen about all of the talk, but in only her second year of teaching, she is already frustrated with the lack of ACTION.

Welcome to my world, Jenna! After 29 years as an educator, working in a system that moves forward with painstaking slowness, I sometimes wonder how I managed to keep optimistic and hopeful while swimming upstream in my push for positive change. The traditional educational structures are solidly in place, the political pressure to maintain the status quo is strong and the fear that is created among the community when we talk about trying new ways of doing things that are aligned with current research about learning is very real. Change feels uncomfortable while tradition feels safe.

How, then, do we make the new vision for student learning, that is shared in our province’s Ministerial Order, a reality in our classrooms and schools?

We turn talk into action by understanding and valuing the idea of innovation. Innovators create new ways of doing things by asking great questions, playing with ideas, trying things out, reflecting on experiences and failing…often! These are exactly the kinds of skills we want our students to develop. So why aren’t we allowing ourselves the same kind of opportunities as the ones we want to provide for our students? Schools need to become places where we, the adult learners, are supported to take risks, try new initiatives through small scale pilot projects, learn from mistakes and then share the learning with others.

Simon Breakspear describes the process well:

We have had lots of opportunities to prototype innovative practices for our learners at Greystone. Some of the ideas we have had success with are:

  • looping
  • flexible block scheduling
  • student collaboration
  • staff collaboration
  • co-created student project work
  • team teaching in flexible learning spaces
  • common team planning/feedback time
  • student led conferences
  • student generated rubrics
  • formative assessment practices
  • competency based report cards
  • inquiry based learning
  • staff book studies
  • Bring Your Own Device Initiative
  • Innovation Week
  • alternative classroom design
  • flexible groupings for targeted instruction in Literacy/Numeracy

We continue to be a work in progress with these and many other initiatives at Greystone. We are still, and always will be, refining and improving upon our practices. We know that taking action, before recognizing clearly what the final result will look like, is a necessary first step in the innovative process. While we don’t jump blindly or carelessly into new initiatives, we also understand and value the process of exploring different ways of doing things that are aligned with our vision for student learning, through trial and error, reflection and sharing. I just hope that Alberta Education is prepared to support this kind of innovative practice in all schools around the province so that action will be taken to make the vision of Inspiring Education a reality for our students.

Not All Leaders Are the Same ~ But the Beliefs Should Be

I have been doing a little reading and reflecting on something I am passionate about –> Leadership. I just finished a book that one of my sons gave me for Christmas  - The Greatness Guide by Robin Sharma. It includes  advice for creating excellence in your personal and professional life. Many of the ideas contained within the book align with my beliefs. One chapter, in particular, includes a message I have tried to establish among the staff at Greystone. Sharma maintains that in order for an organization to get to greatness, every person on the team needs to see himself or herself as a leader.

While everyone needs to be a leader, not everyone needs to lead in the same way. That would be impossible. What is most important is that everyone within the organization needs to know their role; contribute their strengths and recognize that everyone needs to demonstrate leadership traits – regardless of their position.

What leadership traits should all leaders within the organization demonstrate? In my opinion, this is where the “official” leader of the organization is most needed – to set the example for what the beliefs of the organization should be. For me, this is the only “top-down” structure that needs to exist within an organization.The beliefs, or as Sharma calls them – leadership traits – that permeate a culture or organization are a direct reflection of what the “official” leader of that organization demonstrates through words and actions.

As the “official” leader of leaders at Greystone, I have a set of beliefs that I work hard to live out. I have shared these beliefs with my staff; however, more importantly, I hope I have put these beliefs into action, action that sets the expectation and example for all of the leaders at Greystone.

As the lead leader at Greystone, in no particular order, here are my top 10 beliefs:

10) Relationships, Relationships, Relationships! ~ People first…always!

9) Balance ~ Health & wellness first, family second, work third…this order is important.

8) Growth ~ We are all learners and we all have the potential to dream, imagine, create, innovate and grow. Setting goals, putting goals into an action plan and collecting evidence of growth along the way will help us continuously improve.

7) New Beginnings ~ We all make mistakes; mistakes are for learning and we must always recognize that everyone has the potential to change if given a fresh start.

6) Positive Energy is Powerful ~ We have the ability to create our reality through our thoughts and the way we interact with each other; as part of an inter-connected organization, we have the potential to be a negative or a positive influence on each other. At Greystone, our responsibility is to choose positive.

5) Communication ~ We must maintain open, honest, respectful communication among each other, our students and families, with the intent of doing what’s best for our kids.

4) Collaboration ~ When we build on the strengths and skills that each of our leaders can contribute, we are capable of creating far more powerful learning experiences for our school community than if we work in isolation.

3) Play Hard ~  Having fun and sharing laughter are what a healthy school community needs to re-charge in order to be our best for others.

2) Work Hard ~ Everyone needs to give their best; however, an individual’s best can vary depending on lots of other variables (i.e. health, family circumstances). My best is not the same as someone else’s best – this is an individual thing and we should not compare between each other.

1) I Believe in the Magic ~ Schools are amazing places, there is so much opportunity to be a part of something significant and special, as long as we remember to pay attention to all of the magic going on around us – be there, be present and be grateful.

 

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Everyone is a leader at Greystone but not everyone is the same. What should be the same is the belief system that exists through which we carry out our leadership responsibilities.

“RE” – So Much Possibility in a Couple of Letters

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This was the tagline for this year’s North Central Teachers’ Association Conference where I spent the last two days. As much as I value the overarching theme for this year’s conference, the learning for me involved an additional set of “RE” words that have inspired me to head back to school next week feeling energized for the second half of the school year.

REconnect

I never underestimate the significance of building strong relationships among the people I share my days with at school. Spending time together, just playing, laughing and reconnecting is one of the highlights of our annual two day convention. The Greystone teaching staff also sees this as a priority. They recognize that we are far more likely to be open, honest and supportive of each other as we take on the day to day challenges at work if we have put some effort into spending time together, outside the school environment, enjoying each other’s company and connecting with each other on a personal level. When we have spent time playing and laughing together, we are far more likely to forgive each other for our mistakes and we will be willing to go that extra mile for each other when things get tough.

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REflect

I appreciate the times when I attend a session or engage in a conversation that gives me the opportunity to reflect on the work I do and why I do it. During this year’s Teachers’ Convention, a few experiences caused me to think deeply about the teaching profession and my role within it as a school administrator:

  • Hope in the power each of us has to make a difference in our students’ lives was ignited in an emotionally powerful way through the stories and videos that “The Freedom Writers” teacher, Erin Gruwell, shared with us. Erin reminded us of the importance of each student’s story and how our role as teachers can give students a voice and the ability to see themselves as capable of moving beyond their circumstances to write their own story with an ending that sees each one of them having the ability to create a meaningful life for themselves.

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  • Belief in the importance of having a vision and aligning decisions and action with this vision was an important part of one of the many conversations I had with teachers over the past few days. In particular, Greystone’s incredibly talented Drama teacher shared her insight about this being a key part of the success of her recent Drama production. She made the performance and the work done to prepare for the performance fit with the vision she and her students created for Greystone’s Drama program. Seeing leadership like this among the bright, young teachers at Greystone is absolutely energizing.

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  • Pride in the willingness of my amazing team of colleagues at Greystone to take risks, be innovative and share their learning beyond the walls of our school was definitely a highlight of this year’s convention. The work of Greystone’s new Assistant Principal and several teachers was featured during a couple of sessions that were part of the convention. Specifically, these teachers presented experiences and learning that have been part of our Innovation Weeks and our Alternative Classroom Design.

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REcommit

Through these experiences, I have been reminded of what makes me passionate about the work I do at Greystone. The energy and dedication needed to lead a school community needs to be re-ignited from time to time. In order to do this job well, it needs to be more than just a job. There should be something deeper and more meaningful that keeps me coming back year after year. Through reflection and reconnection from the past two days – I do feel that the battery has been recharged and I am able to recommit to my role as a leader at Greystone. I was reminded of the parts of my work that inspire and engage me – the incredible people I have the privilege of working with; the fun, the humour and the play that we make a regular part of our work; the new beginnings and opportunities we have for making a real difference in the lives of our students; the amazing growth, risk taking, creativity and leadership I see in others when I say yes more often than no; the intense sense of pride in the accomplishments of others that is possible when I surround myself with people who are incredibly talented; and the opportunity to share in their successes when I support them to make their unique contributions to our school community.

So REady for part two of this school year!

 

 

 

Why Not?

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This past month at Greystone was spent adjusting to a pretty significant change we made to our program delivery model. After many conversations with individual teachers, grade level teaching teams and our entire staff during Professional Growth Plan Meetings, after school Faculty Meetings and Professional Development Day conversations, we decided to “blow up” the time table and organizational structure for our Learning Communities in grades 7, 8 and 9. This change was to answer our question:

Why are we doing things that don’t feel right for our kids?

Due to our increased enrolment at the beginning of this school year, we added additional home room classrooms at each grade level in 7 through 9. Doing this caused our teachers to become subject discipline specialists and instead of having larger blocks of time to focus on deeper learning, ensuring success for ALL learners and providing meaningful integrated inquiry projects, teachers were moving kids through their classes, on the traditional “conveyor belt” with a focus on content delivery as opposed to student understanding and success.

We needed to figure out a better way forward. The questions then became:

Why not?  Why not change this so that we can put students first? Why not figure out a way to meet the individual learning needs of our diverse learners? Why not take as much time as we need to help students who are struggling to learn concepts and skills? Why not give those students who need more of a challenge to extend their learning the opportunity to do this? Why not try something that we haven’t done before and see if our students are more successful?

Teachers, who are already extremely collaborative, worked together to re-organize students into flexible groupings designed to target instruction in the areas of Literacy and Numeracy. We switched the schedule up and provided additional collaborative planning time. So far, although it is very early on, we are noticing some positive results. We are seeing students feeling more supported, successful and for those learners who need the extra push, they are feeling more challenged.

This change has not been easy for our teachers. They are expected to teach new skills that they are not familiar with; however, they are a driven and dedicated group who, with the support of each other, our Learning Coach, our Inclusive Education Lead and our Administration Team, are working together to get it right for our kids.

Early feedback from students, teachers and parents has been positive. A recent survey of our parents provided us with comments like these:

I think that separating into specialized groups for instruction for math and reading is a great idea. It will provide more one on one help for those kids who struggle and provide more challenge for those kids who need to be challenged.

The concept of having classes to teach at a student’s pace of learning, instead of just going through the curriculum based on the calendar is something I feel very supportive and pleased about. I feel that this will be a great system to ensure children receive the curriculum in a way they can understand and flourish.

I feel that Greystone strives to ensure my child is successful individually. The staff has worked as a team to ensure we are aware of any challenges and listen to our views as well.

I really like the new way they have made the classes since January. The teachers are all great and easy to talk to. The staff at Greystone is very dedicated and we really appreciate all the extra work they put in.

We haven’t got all of this figured out just yet but we will keep asking the right questions. Should we make changes to what we are doing if it is in the best interest of our learners…why not?

Learning Through Improv – Who Knew?!

 

 

Collaboration is an important part of the work we do at Greystone and it is a skill that none of us should assume we have mastered. The word “collaboration” has been coming up time and time again over the last several weeks as I met with teachers to review their professional growth plans. During these meetings, I discovered that many of our teaching teams were focusing on collaboration as a goal for their learning this year. Through conversations we have had around the need for direct instruction, coaching, modelling and practice with our students in order for them to develop their skills in collaboration and from seeing teacher teams indicate the need for their own professional collaboration to improve, I knew we needed to deepen our understanding of what it means to be collaborative with one another.

During one of my meetings with teachers, I discovered that our Drama Teacher, Margaret Rodgers, had incredible insight into what it means to be truly collaborative. She shared the following big ideas around what collaboration means:

1. Saying yes

2. Making it safe to try new things

3. Building on each others’ ideas

I asked Marge how she knew so much about the collaborative process and she shared that her best learning around collaboration came from the drama workshops she did on improvisation…specifically, the learning she gained from Rapid Fire Theatre. I knew we needed to bring this kind of learning to our staff so that we could capitalize on the power of collaboration within our teams.

We invited the Rapid Fire Theatre to Greystone to work with our staff during our last Professional Learning Day in November. It was risky business, getting staff to try out improv, but they were amazing! They let down their guard, took risks with each other and explored the possibilities in this engaging, fun workshop.

Through various games and activities, the following collaboration skills were highlighted:

*Accepting Ideas – Saying Yes – Go positive before you go negative

*Removing Fear – Happy Failure

*Staying Within the Circle (be obvious, no need to be brilliant)

*Looking for judgment and negativity in the group – will stop collaboration

 

Who knew that doing improv together as a staff would not only yield a lot of fun and laughter, but that it would also strengthen our skills as collaborators?

 

It’s The Small Things

It’s been a while since I posted on this blog – the month of November was a blur with so many work deadlines to be met and a couple of personal trips out of town on weekends to be with family and friends – doing what I love…running and watching my son play hockey. I was careful to thoughtfully plan my time in order to meet all of my professional commitments: the school’s Annual Report/Education Plan, Staff Evaluations, first term Report Cards using a new computer program and meeting with all of our teachers to review their Professional Growth Plans for the year. With all of this going on, reflecting and writing a blog post just didn’t make its way into my well-organized schedule of priorities. It’s funny how, on any given day, something can happen that makes all of the “important work” lose its significance in the big picture.

Something happened at Greystone this past month which reminded me of what is really important and far more significant than all of the due dates and details that can take over the day to day work. We lost a member of our Greystone “Family” after her hard fought battle with cancer. Robin Pennell, a young teacher, wife and mom, passed away on November 19th, and suddenly, all of the important details of our daily school life were put on hold as we grieved together at Greystone. Unfortunately, many of the students and staff at Greystone are familiar with this grieving process as it was only two short years ago when we tragically lost another member of our Greystone School Community, Jolene Cote, a young teacher, wife and mom.

Many of us were asking the question why? Why, once again, was our Greystone School Community facing another tragic loss? Why two young moms? Why do our students have to go through all of this sadness? One question was brought up that shook me to the core…“Do you think we can, as a school community, pull through another devastating loss again, so soon?” To be completely honest, I didn’t have the answers to any of these questions. What I did know for sure was that I needed to count on an incredibly close, resilient and supportive staff to lift each other up so that we could be strong for our grieving students. Once again, this AWESOME staff did not fall short on their responsibility to each other and to our kids.

So now, I have the answer to at least one of those big questions…YES, our school community can and did pull through this tragedy. I know, for sure, that we have grown closer and stronger from this experience and together, we will continue to face the challenges that come our way. Through another loss at Greystone, I was again reminded of something more significant than any report submission, any important but not urgent meeting, or the checking off of any item on the never-ending “to do” list. The reminder for me was to pay attention to the small things that matter most; the smile, the moment spent listening, the personal connections, the laughter, the opportunity to do the work I love and to keep doing small things for others that alone, don’t amount to much, but maybe, just maybe, in the big picture, might mean something more than I can imagine.

 

What’s Standing in the Way of Change in Education?

 

 

 

I love this question! I love it when a great question like this gets me thinking. I am assuming that many other educators from around the country likely feel the same way and perhaps, that’s what drew so many of us to the Canadian Education Association’s “What’s Standing in the Way of Change in Education?” Conference in Calgary last week.

What inspired me from the day and a half that I spent with a number of stakeholders from the Education community (educational researchers, professors, superintendents, school board trustees, administrators, teachers and most importantly – students) was the opportunity that the teachers from Greystone had to share practical examples of what change in Education looks like based on their experiences in our school. These teachers were empowered to share their stories of looping, team teaching, collaborative inquiry, assessment as learning and innovation. Their stories are a reminder of what’s possible in Education when we remove barriers and have the courage to “do school” differently in order to get it right for today’s learners.

Another highlight from this conference, for me, was hearing a teacher from the Calgary Science School, Deidre Bailey, share her story of change with all of us. Recognizing that it is the teacher, in the classroom, who has the power to make a difference in student learning, was a message I shared with my entire staff during our Professional Development Day – which took place a few days after our Greystone team of nine returned from the conference in Calgary. I read Deidre’s story to the Greystone staff – here is part of her message:

 

This change in our classroom environment was a product of co-designing learning tasks in which student voice had space and validity. Kids are so innately curious and creative. All that is left to us, is to foster an awareness of the possibilities that surround them, to let them ask questions, make decisions and make things different.

Following up from Deidre’s story, I asked staff to reflect privately on their own practice and in particular, what was the evidence they had that they were getting it right for our learners and what could they do to grow? I encouraged staff to share their reflections with each other. They blew me away with their willingness to engage in thoughtful, honest conversation. The staff did not want to stop talking! Several teachers openly admitted to taking a step backward this year in their instructional practice due to some challenges they are experiencing (including a “boxed up” schedule that was implemented to deal with additional homeroom classrooms that were added at each grade level).

So, I asked them this great question from the CEA Conference: “What’s standing in the way of changing this?” They were fired up! The dialogue and debate created more questions, more ideas and a commitment to find a better way to provide our students with more time for deeper learning through cross-curricular inquiry.

We haven’t got this all figured out yet, but I know one thing for sure…our Greystone teachers feel empowered, supported and capable of removing anything that’s standing in the way of doing what’s best for our students. I am looking forward to seeing where this takes us. In the meantime, thank you Canadian Education Association, for the great question which is going to continue to keep our school moving forward in the way we “do school”.

 

Leading Innovation = Vulnerability

I am excited about the future of education in our province. The new Ministerial Order on student learning and the work taking place around Inspiring Education and Curriculum Redesign means that our schools will see us focusing on helping our students develop these competencies:

 

This transformation of education will require courageous leaders in classrooms, schools, and districts who are ready to do things differently, explore new possibilities and risk making mistakes – not an easy thing to do in the world of public education. However, leading change, growth and innovation require that we step out of our safe, comfortable traditions and recognize that we need to be vulnerable in order to learn and grow together.

In his book Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us, Seth Godin writes,

Leadership is scarce because few people are willing to go through the discomfort required to lead. This scarcity makes leadership valuable…It’s uncomfortable to stand up in front of strangers. It’s uncomfortable to propose an idea that might fail. It’s uncomfortable to challenge the status quo. It’s uncomfortable to resist the urge to settle. When you identify the discomfort, you’ve found the place where a leader is needed. If you’re not uncomfortable in your work as a leader, it’s almost certain you’re not reaching your potential as a leader.

Brene Brown writes about vulnerability in her book Daring Greatly .Brown shares how the courage to be vulnerable transforms the way we live, love, parent and lead. She describes how successful leaders get their people to engage and take ownership not by telling them to do something but by letting them come into the idea in a purpose-led way. Brown states that the job of the leader is to create the space for others to perform. This shift is from “having the best idea or problem-solving” to “being the best leader of people”. It’s a shift from controlling to engaging with vulnerability – taking risks and cultivating trust.

Brown shares that the way to develop an innovative “daring greatly” culture is to make the organization a place where honest, constructive, and engaged feedback is valued.  Brown states:

Where there is no feedback, there is no transformative change. When we don’t talk to the people we’re leading about their strengths and their opportunities for growth, they begin to question their contributions and our commitment. Disengagement follows.

Brown shares that this kind of culture is difficult to create, but not impossible. She suggests that feedback and growth thrive in a culture where the goal is not “getting comfortable with hard conversations” but normalizing discomfort. If leaders expect real learning, critical thinking and change, then discomfort should be normalized: “We believe growth and learning are uncomfortable so it’s going to happen here – you’re going to feel that way. We want you to know that it’s normal and it’s an expectation here. You’re not alone and we ask that you stay open and lean into it.”

The work we have ahead of us as we transform education in our province is going to involve risk taking, being open and vulnerable to making mistakes in order to grow and learn. Our schools will need to be places where trust is the foundation, where instructional practice is discussed and where individuals understand that everyone is a learner and needs to be open to giving and receiving feedback to move forward. It will be uncomfortable – but if it isn’t, then what are we really learning? What are we really changing?

 

Challenges Create Opportunities

September has come and gone in a bit of a blur as we had a lot to figure out when we began this new school year. Making the transition from summer mode to a more demanding school routine is always a little difficult; however, this year, our school start-up was made even more challenging by adding an extra 100 students to our Greystone school community. To meet the challenge, we hired additional staff, re-organized teaching spaces, built a new timetable, ordered additional resources and furniture – and trusted in our incredible staff to make it all work out…and they did!

The challenge of finding places for our additional students enabled us to create some excellent opportunities for collaboration and teamwork. Teachers who were already finding the value in team teaching were able to explore this practice more deeply by bringing their students together into a shared learning environment. Our school was designed to embrace this teaching practice with several areas featuring removable walls and sliding “barn doors”; however, we pushed this even further by making over a couple of large spaces that were originally created for different purposes:

 

1. Media Centre

Our Media Centre (aka Library/Learning Commons) is one of the largest spaces at Greystone – second only to the gym. This huge area has high ceilings, large windows, comfortable furniture and is definitely one of the most inviting learning spaces in the entire school. While it was used regularly as a space for reading, book exchanges and quiet group work, it was highly under-utilized, often sitting partially full or even empty at times. Last year, we needed an area for our drama program so it became a shared space, at times, for book exchanges AND a drama class. The space is huge and because it is carpeted, many students can be in there at once and it doesn’t become too noisy. When we needed additional space for classrooms this school year, we knew that this was one area we could re-organize to accommodate our growing student population.

Two teachers, Trish Spink and Raeann Richardson, were becoming very comfortable working together last year and joined their classrooms often for learning opportunities so when I approached them to see if they were interested in sharing the Media Centre this year as they looped up to grade 6 with their students – they agreed. Not only did they agree, they brought the idea to their students and their families last year, highlighting the positive aspects of team teaching as a way to provide flexible groupings among their students allowing two teachers the opportunity to meet the diverse needs of their group. Everyone has responded extremely well to the new learning environment. We even added an additional half time teacher to the mix, Marge Rodgers, who taught drama in this space last year. Including the additional teacher on this team is allowing one of the teachers to be freed up for some time from her schedule to support inclusive education throughout our school. The result is three teachers, about 45 students, three classroom pets (a turtle, a gecko and a bearded dragon) and a dynamic community of engaged learners. This learning community keeps parents informed, regularly, of the learning that takes place via their classroom blog. The flow of routines, high expectations for learning and team teaching “synergy” that has already been established after only one month of school is inspiring.

 

 

2. Flex Lab

This large space within our school was originally designed to be an area where our older students would have the opportunity to explore construction technologies. It was actually never used for that purpose as it was always needed as a homeroom classroom space. It was used for art options but always with the understanding that flexibility was the most important feature and the space would be adapted for whatever the school needed in any given year. This year, the space was needed for not only one but two homeroom classrooms. Once again, two teachers who had become used to working very collaboratively last year with their two homeroom classes of grade 7 students looped with the students to grade 8 and moved into this large space in order to team teach and flexibly group their students to meet the individual learning styles and needs of their 50 students.

Brad Arndt and Jenna Wilkins spent a large chunk of time over the summer brainstorming possibilities for not only the redesign of the space but for ways they would work together with their students to provide inquiry learning opportunities that tapped into student interests while building their critical thinking, questioning, problem-solving and collaboration skills. This, combined with figuring out how to create mini-spaces for direct instruction and group work, was definitely a challenge. Then we added an additional homeroom class to the grade eight configuration and asked teachers to figure out how to meet the needs of ALL of the five classrooms (not just their own homeroom groups). We wanted to ensure that we were not “boxing up the learning” into short, disconnected blocks of time with kids moving from teacher to teacher, subject to subject, but were instead, having opportunities for deeper exploration into key concepts and ideas from the curriculum that had overlap between subject areas. This was an incredibly challenging month for all of our teachers as they worked together to get this figured out. Although we are only at the beginning stages of the journey for this learning community, in reading the  184 Days of Learning Blog post from this group, it looks like they are already seeing early success in their Flex Lab make-over.

 

3. Music Room

This classroom make-over was suggested by two of our Learning Community 9 Teachers, Peggy Bly and Christy Haggarty. We added an additional homeroom grade 9 class in July and these two teachers, who have a history of team teaching together, offered to share the classroom space in our Music Room to provide collaborative learning opportunities for our grade 9 students. The space they are sharing is the smallest of the three team teaching spaces we created this year so we added some furniture to the pod area that is right outside the doorway to their classroom. The teachers have access to the pod area all the time, allowing them to break out into smaller groups in order to meet the diverse needs of their learners. The pod space also has a sink which will allow for clean up from hands on science demos to be conducted in the pod area.

While these two teachers have had lots of experience team teaching with each other in the past, they have the added challenge, this year, of using an additional teaching area that is outside the walls of their shared classroom to allow for enough time and space to be devoted to collaborative work and direct instruction of small groups. This requires extensive communication between the teachers so that they both can support student learning not just in their area of expertise but in all core subjects.

We are excited about the opportunities that have been created for our students as a result of needing to be more intentional about teaming our teachers up. Working collaboratively with other teachers requires a lot of flexibility, patience, communication and openness. When the team gets past the initial growing pains and can move to a place where they start to gel, the energy that is created leads to increased engagement in learning – for both the students AND the adults.

I am looking forward to seeing how these three learning communities continue to explore the use of space, resources, flexible groupings and the powerful learning that comes from collaboration as the school year unfolds.