The Learning Leader’s Perspective …(from Friday night)

Today was supposed to be one of my favourite days.  However 15 centimeters of snow and high winds appeared on the weather forecast and thus my favourite day was postponed.  I am speaking of our board wide Leadership Learning Team meeting.  This is an opportunity for both formal and informal leaders to come together to continue to explore, question, challenge, investigate and develop a deeper understanding of our four Conditions for Learning and how to create these Conditions in their learning environments.

            Our Conditions for Learning:

              Collaboration (vs. Cooperation):   I know I am collaborating if I work interdependently, engage others, actively listen, constructively contribute, respectfully challenge ideas, and share knowledge to build on others’ thinking to arrive at a desired goal.

                Responsive Instruction: I know I am providing responsive instruction if I am collecting a continuum of data (to show progression), towards an identified goal and my responses are reflective of the learner’s strengths/needs.

               Relationship Building:  I know I am building relationships if I engage in communication (active listening & responding) to build trust and respect and provide others with the opportunity to share and reflect.

                Risk Taking: I know I am taking risks when I engage in tasks with the desire/intention to further my learning, seeing errors as opportunities and taking initiative to investigate new topics and ideas.

By the end of the LLT day, the leaders (we hope) have new ideas, resources, and ways of thinking about these Conditions and have made a commitment to return to their sphere of influence (other teachers, principals…learners from all aspects of our district) to influence change.  They do this by embedding this information into the work that they are currently leading – school inquiries and their School Learning Plan implementation.  We remind everyone that this work is not an “add on”; with understanding, they can find the link to their current work and thus, enhance that work!

It is a powerful day; the agenda is co-constructed by a team comprised of district leads, teachers, principals and senior administration, is responsive to the feedback that is provided by the participants through our Google Forms Exit Cards, and has the following learning goals:

We are learning to increasingly seek opportunities for instructional leadership in our practice. Leading this learning is the work of the LLT participants.

  1. I understand how the Foundational Principles to be Developed in the Learner and the Foundational Principles to be Developed in the Environment are essential to the formation of the student centered learning environment.
  2. I understand how Our Conditions for Learning are in service of/are enabling conditions for achievement of the academic goal(s) of my school.
  3. I have an action to take back to my school.

The lead team co-constructs this day and utilizes these learning goals to stay focused; our Director of Education reminds us (as he is part of the team) that every participant must leave the session being clear about the message that was communicated – ensuring that their understanding was deep enough that they could return to their sphere of influence/environment and put the knowledge into practice – and with that ongoing practice, to integrate this into their daily practice – to truly learn it! The thinking that is in the room during these sessions is energizing as we speak about learning.  I always come away with new perspectives and thinking, and am awed by the leadership of the participants.  This is why it is one of my favourite days…I always walk away feeling like anything is possible!

Last week, as I prepared for the section of the agenda that I was to facilitate, I was reminded of why we, as leaders, need to engage in planning for professional learning…why we need to practice modelling the Conditions for Learning within our sphere of influence.  This is because of the reading and researching that I did for my session, a session which was designed to have participants unpack the concept of Student Centered Learning and to connect it to our Conditions for Learning. This preparation truly helped me to better understand the connection that exists between these two pieces.

Remember that our SGDSB Theory of Action states,

If we foster learner centered environments and pedagogy, then learners will possess an increased sense of belonging and be motivated to learn.

I was attempting to create a one page document that articulates these connections to use as the wrap up for my session, and discovered challenges with my thinking – areas that I could not clearly connect – as I tried to represent my understanding (what I had thought was a good understanding) in writing.  I then tried to explain my thinking to a valued colleague, and I realized that there were still grey areas in my understanding.  It was only when I engaged in the task that I had designed for the session (again with a colleague) that I began to gain clarity and to consolidate my thinking.  It was through collaboration, dialogue, a strong relationship with this colleague, and the willingness to take a risk and put my thinking to the test, that I gained a better understanding.  I was engaged in a task that interested me, that forced me to challenge my current thinking, and that required me to explain that thinking both orally and in writing; thus leading to an increase in my understanding.  What resulted was confidence on my part; a feeling of being prepared to facilitate the learning of others. I am confident that the other lead members of the LLT come away from their planning feeling the same way!

This experience reinforced the notion of the need to have principals (and Supervisory Officers) actively engage in constructing (or co-constructing) the learning that takes place in their schools (where possible). It reminded me of a couple of quotes – the first from Benjamin Franklin that states, “Tell me and I forget, teach me and I remember, involve me and I learn.”  And “We learn to do the work by doing the work, not by telling other people to do the work, not by having done the work at some time in the past, and not by hiring experts who can act as proxies for our knowledge about how to do the work.” (City et al. 2009)  To really understand the change that we, as leaders, are hoping to accomplish, we must first possess a deep understanding. This understanding only comes through practice and analysis of impact upon the learners.

Tonight, with time to slow down and reflect on my week, I also realized that that this experience had some components of Student Centered Learning. The LLT Lead Group is required to model and adhere to our Conditions for Learning in every session; tonight, as an adult learner, I again realized the power of those Conditions as they support Student Centered Learning.  The need to create these Conditions in every classroom, in every school, is even more urgent.  There is much to say about the power of Student Centered Learning, however it has to wait until my next favourite day…LLT has been rescheduled for April 22! Hope to see you there!

Until then…here are a couple of blogs that I found interesting…(and there are many)!

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/student-centered-learning-environments-paul-bogdan

http://www.edutopia.org/blog/how-student-centered-your-classroom-rebecca-alber

Until next time…what connections do you see between Student Centered Learning and our Conditions for Learning?

5 responses

  1. Prior to the March break I sent out an e-mail to our staff raising my concerns about student achievement following the release of the Fraser Report. I received a number of responses to my e-mail from teachers who shared my concerns and sited a number of reasons for the poor results but did not know what to do about it. They were hoping I would provide some direction. In my tool box I have an a wide array of different strategies to increase student achievement but unless you can identify the specific problem finding a solution is like throwing spaghetti at a wall hoping that something sticks. While I was wrestling with pin pointing the problem a principal responded to my e-mail with a suggestion that I watch a video clip of a presentation by Steven Katz on Teachers Matter. In the video Katz says “there is no single known predictor of student learning and achievement than quality classroom instruction and practice students are exposed too”. He goes on to talk about “learning as a process through which experience causes permanent change in knowledge or behaviour”. The element of permanence really raises the bar on what constitutes learning. After watching the clip I reflected on some of our past failures specifically the implementation of the Growing Success document. Anthony Muhammad refers to technical change versus cultural change. When we implemented the Growing Success document our focus was on technical change while only briefly touching on the need to bring about cultural change. As a result we fell well short of bringing about permanent change in knowledge or behaviour.

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    1. When you think about Katz says you think about learning and in essence it is only learned if it is “permanent”. This truly makes sense and as an educator group we need to really challenge ourselves with regards to our day to day work that we are asking are students to learn. Are we going deeper with their understanding or wide. We owe it to our students to go deep. I would challenge us as we wrap up another year that we really question “why” we are asking our students to do what we ask them. As reported, when asked why are we doing this by a learner, we need to have the answer and it isn’t just because it is in the curriculum. When we are engaged in new learning we all have to make an effort to enhance that learning and ensure that what we are learning is permanent. That goes back to our professional responsibility.

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  2. As we wrap up the school year I find myself that much more reflective of our conditions for learning and where we began this journey last spring and into the fall. If you are engaged in a learning process your hope is that you are able to come to a point where you consolidate your learning. For each of us this comes in a visual or a collection of thoughts that brings us to our next cycle of learning. The excitement comes when we have the opportunity to come together and de-construct our journey. Where we have been and where we are off to next! Our LLT group is an opportunity for learners to come together to better understand the journey. Student centered learning will be fostered by the work that the LLT does together and the global message we return back to our schools. Looking forward to additional learning to our on-going journey of learning. How powerful is it for each one of us to model the process of visibly making our thinking known so that is transcends to the classroom and the need group of learners!

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  3. I recently unpacked the conditions for learning in light of student centered learning and it was very clear that the conditions for learning are foundational components that require consistent explicit learning in order to move students. Practice, practice, practice as the game changes, and people are always changing as well, and so do our relationships, risk taking, collaboration, and responsive instruction.

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  4. A favourite quote from the SEF document (taken from Toshilis and Nakkula) …which addresses the struggles that many educators (especially secondary school educators) reflect back to us – “Motivation, engagement and student voice are critical elements of student-centred learning. Without motivation, there is no push to learn, without engagement there is no way to learn and without voice, there is no authenticity in the learning. For students to create new knowledge, succeed academically, and develop into healthy adults, they require each of these experiences” Pg 22. Really makes us see the Conditions for Learning (and the Foundational Principles to be Developed in the Learner and in the Environment) as the HOW to solve the mystery of motivation and engagement!

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