As the school year rapidly winds down, teachers and leaders from the entire district are engaged in asking the question, what impact did we have this year? These educators, myself included, are analysing the evidence from observations, conversations, and products that have resulted from our “students” (both adult and youth) engaging in learning, in the classrooms, in the professional learning and inquiry groups, with our Student Work Study Partners, in our Leadership Learning Team, in our weekly principal meetings, around special education, mental health, growth mindset, Conditions for Learning, etc. So, to what extent have we met the goals established in our Board Learning Plan for Student Achievement and Well-Being? Did we each meet the learning goals that we established for ourselves in our Annual Learning/Growth Plans? How do we know this? What have we noticed about our learners and about ourselves as learners? …About our learner mindsets?
This self-assessment is critical for us to engage in for a number of reasons. One, when we can measure our success, it gives us motivation to keep going. Success breeds success. Two, to learn from the past, we need to reflect on the past. It is crucial. What went well (so let’s try it again!)? What didn’t go well? We need to remember that we learn more from failure than from success (take a risk!). Three, to know where we are going, we need to know where we have been. This may be the same as Two, however it bears repeating as this makes me think about how we are all beginning to plan for next year already. Don’t forget to keep what happened this year in mind though! And finally, if we aren’t able to engage in this type of self-assessment, the question is why not? Did we forget to make our goals specific and measurable? Did we not have criteria for success? Did we get distracted by other things and forget about our goal? Are we disappointed? What do we need to change, to get better at, to think more deeply about?
Let’s return to my first point. We have so much to celebrate as there are so many educators who are working relentlessly to improve the learning of those in their influence. These people are all teachers, whether they are people who are leading in the classroom, leading system implementation, leading schools or student leaders who are brave enough to voice their thinking…everyone’s role is to teach and to engage in learning. We are so grateful to them for the countless hours that they have spent reading and researching, blogging, Twittering, listening to their peers, attending professional learning and then acting on that learning, sharing with others, inspiring others, and helping others to join this movement. These leaders remind me of this video: http://www.ted.com/talks/derek_sivers_how_to_start_a_movement?language=en#t-17630
Yes, I believe that this is a movement in our board…leaving the past and shifting towards the focus on learning. This learning focus is growing among both the adults and the students in our district. Both groups, some of who were lonely learners at one time (fondly known as the “keeners”), are growing rapidly and are, I would suggest, being joined quickly by more and more learners on this continual growth journey. When I attend conferences, the excitement, the energy, the inquiry stance and the relentlessness in the room is remarkable. The province of Ontario is known throughout the world as an educational leader, and SGDSB is growing alongside this province; we have our change agents to thank for this movement. They are modelling the Conditions for Learning in their student centered learning environments in an ongoing and supportive way. They are:
- Involving students in deep conversations about crucial topics such as growth mindset and what it means to fail (failure during the assessment for learning phase is seen as possibilities for growth), whereby the students have a voice that is listened to.
- Seeing themselves as facilitators of learning – they are exploring how to construct “learning” to allow for students to figure it out and to thus be responsible for their own learning, rather than seeing their role as “distributors of information” and having the students rely on them completely. They are in the process of shifting the focus from the teacher teaching, to the student thinking and learning.
- Emphasizing the interests, abilities, and learning styles of their students so that student success and motivation is maintained.
- Making their own thinking and learning visible, modelling what it means to wonder/inquire, to take risks, and to collaborate with other learners.
- Encourage all of the above by using the strategies of the assessment for and as learning cycle; their students engage in diagnostic assessments in a variety of ways so that the teacher clearly understands how they can narrow the topic (and thus the curriculum), they then co-construct the learning goals with the students based upon the areas of interest and gaps in understanding, success criteria is carefully crafted and revisited frequently to peer-and self-assess the growth in learning, feedback is always used in relation to the success criteria and learning goals, and students are engaged in setting individual goals according to their needs in relation to the success criteria. Learning results because learning happens with the student, not to the student.
- Enjoying their work; thus growing in confidence and efficacy.
Consequently, these educators are deeply engaging and empowering students (which has been identified as our most urgent need and thus is our ultimate goal) and in some cases, other teachers within their sphere of influence. School and system leaders are also engaging in these strategies as they understand the need to “practice what we preach”, the need to model these strategies as they too attempt to further engage the adults with whom they have influence. Collectively, these change agents are ensuring that our Board Learning Plan for Student Achievement and Well-Being is moving forward. We haven’t met our BLP goal YET, but it is coming along. If this movement continues to grow, our student achievement data will be a cause for celebration in the future (as it will take time to grow this culture and to have it deeply impact learning for ALL).
So at this time, we say a sincere thank you to our change agents. These educators not only deserve our thanks, but our respect, our support and our following as they are discovering how to spread their passion for learning to our students, which is our collective urgent need. We wish you a summer filled with an opportunity to slow down this learning, to explore new technology, to influence others to join this journey, to challenge the thinking of those who doubt the direction that we are taking, and to simply savour the focus on your self-directed learning. If you aren’t YET on this journey, don’t let the gap grow…don’t “miss the bus”, but most importantly, choose the Learner Mindset as the impact on students and student learning is tremendous…which will positively impact you as an educator. It is amazingly rewarding to sit and listen to students who are in this type of environment share their learning. Happy Summer!!