This past school year, our Greystone Teachers collaborated on a year long process that was designed to build a shared understanding of what we should expect to see in classrooms that are meeting the needs of our learners. I have been asked by a few individuals to share what we did. Here is an overview of how our work unfolded.
As part of our yearly process of developing our annual goals for learning at Greystone, we looked at data from several sources – way back in the Spring of 2012. The data that interested most of us came from a fairly new tool we have been using – the Tell Them From Me Surveys – which provide us with student feedback. An area that stood out for us was around the intellectual engagement of our learners. In spite of all the work we have been doing at Greystone to develop our students’ skills in critical thinking and inquiry, we felt that we still weren’t getting it right. We needed to continue to make learner engagement a focus for our school…and we needed to define specific actions, strategies and ideas around what we should be doing in our classrooms to foster the engagement of our learners.
We developed an overarching inquiry question for our teachers that we revisited at each Professional Development Day the following year:
What do we believe about Learner Engagement and…
What is the evidence we are getting it right for our learners?
Not only did we revisit this question at each PD Day, we also connected it to the Vision and Mission Statements of our School Division:
Parkland School Division is a place where exploration, creativity, and imagination make learning exciting and where all learners aspire to reach their dreams.
Our purpose is to prepare, engage and inspire our students to be their best in a quickly changing global community.
We talked about what it would look like in our classrooms if we were living out these words and ideas. What would we see happening in each classroom if we were putting the vision into ACTION?
Specifically, here is what we accomplished over the course of the year:
PD Day #1
We asked teachers to reflect and discuss at table groups some of their experiences from the classroom. In particular, we asked them to share specific learning tasks, projects and experiences when they felt they were successful in engaging their students. We then asked groups to brainstorm words and ideas that captured what kids are doing when they are engaged. These words and ideas were represented on large chart paper that was shared and then collected.
Design Team Meeting
A group of teachers, who represent each grade level in the school, met to review all of the ideas that were shared. After MUCH discussion and wordsmithing, a more concise list of processes/skills/competencies was created:
Risk Taking ~ Learners are persevering to grow outside their boundaries.
Creating ~ Learners are thinking, acting, and engaging with ideas to discover possibilities.
Collaborating ~ Learners are open-minded to different perspectives in order to build an interdependent learning community.
Questioning – Learners’ natural curiosity is leading them to explore deeper learning.
Ensuring Authentic Learning ~ Learners are emotionally and intellectually invested in work that is personally relevant and deeply connected to the world in which they live.
Providing Evidence ~ Learners are an active part of the assessment and feedback process to move their learning forward.
PD Day #2
We kicked off the morning of discussion with the following video designed to keep pushing the vision of what today’s learner needs in order to be engaged.
After individual reflection and group discussion of the ideas in the video, we shared the 6 key areas listed above. Using a google doc, we asked teachers to collaborate with their groups and provide examples of how students demonstrate each of the 6 key areas. We invited teachers to comment, via the google doc, on the contributions that others were making.
Design Team Meeting
The group looked at the google doc and decided on next steps. We wanted the shared document we were co-creating to be useful to teachers and felt that all of the ideas that were contributed at the last PD Day should be included in a guiding document; however, we also wanted an easy to read poster that would be put up in each and every classroom. This poster would serve as a daily reminder for all staff members, students and parents of what learning is about at Greystone Centennial Middle School. Design Team felt that the poster needed some specific action words that would help to clarify what each of the 6 key areas looked like in practice. Design Team decided to go back to the staff one more time and have them help with this.
PD Day #3
We started our day by looking at the learning taking place in other schools and classrooms. We looked at David Truss’s blog from the Inquiry Hub in British Columbia and we looked at a video from the Inquiry8 Program at another school in B.C. After reflection and conversation, we asked teachers to come up with 3 specific action words for each of the 6 categories. We had teachers select their favourites and defend their choices. From all of these, we established a consensus and included these in our guiding document and in our poster.
Meeting with Graphic Designer
We shared all of these ideas with a graphic designer who suggested that we include students in on the process. We asked teachers to have their students create a drawing to represent each of the 6 key areas. All of the drawings were submitted to the Design Team and they chose one student drawing for each key area. This was given to the Graphic Designer. Several poster proofs were created and shared with Design Team for feedback. After a few adjustments, we agreed on a final draft which is now being printed and will be presented to each of our teachers at our back to school staff meeting for the upcoming school year.
In addition, the guiding document was shared with all of our staff before the end of our last school year. The final version, included here, will be given out, once again, when we return to school at the end of August. We will be using it to guide our practice, as the criteria for giving each other feedback and as a reference point for establishing our Professional Learning Goals for the upcoming year.
I am very interested in getting any feedback about how we can use this document to keep our staff moving forward together in our learning. How did we do? What else could we do to make the ideas and actions contained in this document and the accompanying poster become something that all of us bring to life in our classrooms?