What if… students had job descriptions

At school we have been having discussions around assessment, reporting and in particular the design of our report card. We have started by dreaming and learning; dreaming “what if…” and learning about other models. Then the other day I listened to a podcast on coaching in the business world, the speaker said we have to separate performance appraisals from growth, development and learning goals. And as I thought about this I came back to the conversations I have been having about report cards and assessment and grading. Are we separating evaluations of performance from learning? Should we be? The business world and psychologists have been discussing motivation for decades now, maybe even longer, and the research findings are being shared. We are beginning to better understand what motivates employees to learn and achieve; how is this translating to the world of education and how we approach learning with our students?

My thoughts brought me back to what the podcast speaker said about separating performance appraisals from development, growth and learning goals. And I thought more about our report card and what we are assessing and evaluating. How do we separate performance appraisals from learning for our students? What is the performance we are appraising? In the business world the speaker, on the podcast, was talking about separating the job performance of the employee from their development and learning goals. The appraisal of job performance is based on a job description. And I wondered, should we have a job description for students? Is that is how we could evaluate their performance separately from their learning? Would we then be able to look at their accomplishments as learners and celebrate that growth separate from their responsibilities at school?

But what would a job performance look like for a student? I had a quick think about this and started a rough draft of some initial ideas.

Student Job Description


Students are citizens of today and our community who come to school to share their voice and create meaning with others through relationships and shared experiences. Each student carries their own potential that is revealed through interactions.

  • Agentic designers of learning
  • Play
  • Identity (know yourself / be self-aware)
  • Expression
  • Risk-taking
  • Self-management/emotional intelligence
  • Self-directed (accountability/goal setting)
  • Communication
  • Learning to learn
  • Social/emotional
  • Creativity
  • Growth mindset
  • Parents/families as partners
  • Passionate
  • Engaged
  • Curiosity/inquiry

As I was writing this I was reminded of Loris Malaguzzi’s Image of the Child. I wonder how our image of the child impacts the “job description” we expect of our learners? I am left with this thought swirling around (as I also continue to contemplate what our image of the human might be… but maybe that should be another blog).

So I come back to this question: if we could come up with a “job description” for the student how would we then evaluate their “performance” separately from growth, development and learning? And I am beginning to think, what if our reports to parents were a continuous dialogue on how we can partner together to support the “performance” of learners as students. Then what if learning, growth and development could be shared as stories authored and shared collaboratively by all partners in education?

What if…

What’s next?

Dialogue: Thinking Together

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

~ African Proverb

For a little over a year now I have been going it alone through this blog, Choose. Act. Reflect. But going it alone leaves little room for the construction of meaning through dialogue. True dialogue pushes our thinking as we are challenged to see another perspective, another way of viewing the world. Dialogue allows us to understand that what we think are our truths are merely our theories and hypotheses formed through our own singular experiences and interactions. Dialogue provides the opportunity to see other truths, to manipulate and experiment with new theories, and experience the world through shared interactions with others. And so I would like to expand my thoughts and perspectives to include the voice of another as we explore together, through dialogue, our choices, actions and reflections in this world of learning. Together we will co-author and co-construct meaning as we challenge and change our thinking.

Choose. Act. Reflect. has always been a blog written by Daniel Todd and Ryan Hopkins-Wilcox, the difference is that I recorded our reflections in my own words and now we would like to expand that singular vision to include the voices of two as we tell the stories of our learning journeys and challenge each other to constantly Choose. Act. Reflect.

Ryan has thoughtfully articulated our musings about our learning journeys, however, as we find ourselves not working in the same learning space for the near future Ryan has invited me to continue musing in a new space.  Our roles in leading learning, learning to lead and learning to learn continue to revolve around those same concepts and the process of choosing, acting and reflecting. So I am honoured to join Ryan on this journey of reflecting together, acting in our new spaces and choosing to co-author our discoveries, wonderings and perspectives that challenge our thinking.  I hope this new perspective and voice will strengthen our shared vision of the future and that we will all be able to go farther as we go together.

Designing for Learning

We are loving the PYP enhancements especially the agency being honored for all IB educators to shape their own understandings and develop the PYP for their own contexts. We have fully embraced this idea of ownership through the ability to craft our own unit planner.

We knew we wanted to explore a new way of planning because we had been feeling “boxed in” by the old planner. We thought we could adapt all the things we loved about the PYP planning process and put into a format that fit our needs and our context.

But first we wanted to learn from others and so we called on the expertise of thoughtful educators within our PLN. Edna Sackson, Sonya terBorg and Taryn BondClegg were quick to reply and very generously shared with us their work and the thought behind the changes they made in their own contexts. The Programme Communities on My IB has samples of planners and planning processes and is a wealth of information compiled from the work of educators around the world.

To begin our process we began with our Instructional Leaders team and together we explored the question “why do we plan?” We discussed the purpose of planning and uncovered some new truths and beliefs for ourselves.

    • We design experiences and environments that provoke learning
    • We design for the learning of all learners
    • We design for learning together
    • We design for learning in response to learners
    • We design for learning to take us from knowns to unknowns
    • We design for learning that honors the individual learner
    • We design for learning that honors the agency of the learner, the learning community and learning and teaching

Guided by our beliefs we explored planners and templates created by other schools, educators and organisations; we analysed them alongside the traditional and updated PYP planners from the IB. We discussed what we loved and what we would change; we explored what excited us and what worried us; we celebrated the work of others and found connections to our own contexts and needs.

From these discussions and the lists of wants and needs that came out of these explorations I drafted a new planner for our school that we called the Design for Learning. To accompany this document I also made a Reference Page that could support the process and the dialogue that emerges from collaboratively working together to design for learning. We took these two new documents to our Common Planning Meetings and Planning Retreats (which maybe we should change the name of to something that honors our belief about designing for learning). We used them to help us in the process of designing the learning for our fourth and fifth units making adjustments and changes in response to the voice and needs of our learning community. With a final draft ready to go we had one last critique for our sixth unit. While we do not consider the Design for Learning to be a fixed document that can no longer evolve with the growth of our learning community we did want to be able to continue designing for learning without having to constantly reflect on the document and process.

You can find both our Design for Learning and Reference Page linked here and at the end of this blog. We would like to share these back freely as others so generously shared their thoughts and processes with us. We would also like to give credit to all the educators who have shared and have guided our own thoughts and reflections through this process. We did not create this we simply melded together many ideas from others into a document that fits who we are.

Our Design for Learning begins with the voice of our learners. We follow this with the choices of our educators as learning designers. These choices honor the components of the PYP, such as the TD Themes which reflect a structure to the world that allows us for connections, concepts that give meaning to a unit, knowledge that is transferable, skills that are universal, attributes that reflect who we are becoming, and lines of inquiry which shape a path of learning grounded in a central idea. While we honor the agency of our learners we also honor the agency of the curriculum and our teachers. In this way we outline a structure that includes the elements of the PYP while also considering the environment, both of time and space, that lays before us. But once we saw ourselves as designers and co-designers and not planners we realised that we cannot fully plan a unit on our own, and so, our Design for Learning ends before it begins. We stop at a skeletal overview allowing the learners to take their role as partners in the Design for Learning.

Our weekly Common Planning meetings are shifting to become opportunities to share pedagogical documentation as action researchers and designers for learning. We hope to focus on this next step in the process of designing for learning in the coming school year. We have some ideas for this that were inspired by our inquiries into Reflection and a visit from Anne van Dam; we have included below the Design for Learning documents some provocative questions that will guide our continued collaborations and reflections and inform the weekly learning.

We still need to further explore the role of the single subject teacher, the role of the wider learning community, how to better include our young learners in the conversations when collaboratively designing for learning and, as always, constantly reflect on our choices and actions as lifelong learners. We would love to hear your feedback to help us feedforward in our learning journey.

Design for Learning

Reference Page

WHY Sheets

A little while back Alfie Kohn wrote a blog post titled “The Why Axis;” he wrote about an idea he had to create what he would call, WHY Sheets. He says, “The idea was to help educators explain why they do what they do — and, equally important, why they deliberately avoid doing some things. The sheets would be made available free of charge, uncopyrighted, and accompanied by an invitation to distribute them promiscuously.” Unfortunately Alfie Kohn did not create these, but instead he challenged educators around the world to write their own WHY Sheets. He asked us to pause and reflect on our own practices and school policies, to consider why we do what we do and to share these beliefs with our communities. Kohn reminded us that our role as educators is to also help our learning community to understand why we do what we do and to build these beliefs together. When we, as a learning community, share the same beliefs and language we can truly begin to build a culture of learning.

After Alfie Kohn published his blog the “Human Restoration Project” led the movement forward by publishing their WHY Sheet on the elimination of homework, and they shared it with everyone! They have since added another WHY Sheet about gradeless learning, and again freely shared it with us all. Inspired by both Alfie Kohn’s call to reflect on our beliefs and share our WHY, as well as the Human Restoration Project’s generosity, we began thinking about our own WHYs. We now have five of our own WHY sheets, built upon the work of others, that we would like to share.

While we are sharing these, and we do want you to use them, we also want you to consider building your own WHY Sheets for your context and then sharing them for others to build upon. The power of the WHY Sheet lies not just in the content but in the process of building them as a community of learners creating a shared culture of learning. We now better understand what we do and why we do it, and as Alfie Kohn pointed out, we also know what we don’t do and why we don’t. We will be sharing these WHY Sheets with our parent community in a few weeks as we look to end this school year and offer them to our new teachers was we begin a new school year. We hope these sheets will help all of our community members feel knowledgeable and empowered to come on the journey with us as partners in learning. And in sharing them with our wider community of educators around the globe, you, we hope we can not just partner with our school community but in a community of schools internationally, who share in a similar vision and hope for the future of education. We would love your feedback and partnership as well! Please let us know your thoughts and ideas as we move forward as a community of worldwide learners.

WHY Skills1

WHY Skills2

WHY Skills

WHY play1WHY play2

WHY Play

WHY Ownership1WHY Ownership2WHY Ownership

WHY Motivation1WHY Motivation2WHY Motivation

WHY Image of the Child1WHY Image of the Child2WHY Image of the Child

WHY Agency1WHY Agency2WHY Agency

#OneWord HOPE

As the new year starts I am looking forward and looking back, reflecting on the past in order to shape the future. I started this reflective process with the hashtag #oneword2019. And I knew immediately what my word would be, it is a word given to me by my principal, the word hope.

“[Hope] rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. ‘I have a feeling tomorrow will be better’ is different from ‘I resolve to make tomorrow better.’ The hope that gritty people have has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again.” ~ Angela Duckworth

As I look back I see hope in everything we have done. Every risk we have taken together, every change we have been a part of, every innovation we have dreamed of, every moment we have shaped has been built upon hope.

In the past three years we have built an inclusive learning environment with integrated support in context, for everyone. We became co-teachers. We rethought homework. We brought in student led conferences. We introduced new technologies and a tech coach to guide the way. Our units were rewritten for deeper inquiry and we found our way from teacher centered units to student centered learning. We implemented planning retreats and guest teaching. We reimagined teacher appraisals. We redesigned professional development for personalized professional learning as personal learning journeys. We introduced choice workshops led for and by teachers. We restructured the timetable. Inspired by our home language programme we considered our additional language choices and increased the options from one (French) to six (Mandarin, Arabic, Luganda, Kiswahili, French and Spanish). We built a model of shared leadership. We wrote a whole school unit of inquiry. We hosted parent forums and lecture series. We found our why, how and what as we delved into learner agency. And through trust and purpose we have become a community of learners.

Our belief in hope has shaped our path and led to an amazing period of growth and change. This idea of hope continues to carry us forward as we persistently resolve to make tomorrow better.

“If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling back.” ~ Sam Waterston

In looking towards tomorrow we are working on ideas for embracing learner agency. We are considering how to work as one school across three programmes. We are inquiring into changing pedagogies, best practice and 21st century learning. We are building a wider learning community connected through purpose. We are opening up our personal learning journeys beyond just professional learning. We are adding new areas of expertise to our learning support team for inclusion. We are looking to embark on an action research project focusing on the ATLs (skills). We are discussing teacher appraisals and a culture of collective accountability. And we are constantly striving to learn, reflect and grow as a community of learners.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” ~ Alvin Toffler

It has been such an adventure to be a part of the changes brought on through this idea of hope. And it is so exciting to dream about what is yet to come. But it is also a bittersweet time as I will be moving at the end of this school year and leaving this dynamic team of lifelong learners and our hope for the future of education and learning at ISU. I will miss being a part of the changes yet to come, the reflections of where we have been and the dreams of tomorrow. But I believe, in fact I know, that this growth, these dreams, the continuous progress will continue. I know this because learning and growth is a part of who we are.

“Learning is never cumulative, it is a movement of knowing which has no beginning and no end.” ~ Bruce Lee

This realization of who we have become led me to understand that the most important change we have gone through has been about building a collective culture.

Culture is sharing a common language, common beliefs illustrated through common stories and common norms and values

(from “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari, 2011).

Our culture is built on just these elements. We share a common language defined by our learning principles and the IB. With this common language we can freely communicate across classrooms, through grade levels and as a community. This common language gives life to our shared beliefs through the stories we tell. Stories about agency, inclusion and action identify who we are as a community. These stories also highlight what we value as a community. They reflect the importance of inquiry and learning journeys. And these stories with their beliefs, values and shared language provide us with the norms by which we act everyday. We expect each other to be creative and collaborative. They are the stories of our purpose. This is our shared culture.

Cultures provide the connections between people that allow for cooperation over time. They help dissolve the idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’ to create ‘we.’ We are a school of strong beliefs and these beliefs are not connected to any one individual but to the culture of our school.

In this realization I came to understand that hope is the word that guided us to build this culture which is what will continue to shape our tomorrow. It is this understanding of culture that will allow me to move on to my new tomorrow full of hope because I know that the culture I have been a part of at ISU is alive in all of us and will endure within the ISU community near and far helping each of us to shape our own tomorrow’s.

#oneword2019 HOPE

So… HOW do we do agency (hint: start with the WHY)

We recently had Taryn BondClegg lead us in learning through a workshop on student agency. She provoked, inspired, stimulated, modeled, questioned and connected us to our own understandings of learner agency. After she left the excitement was palpable, teachers were ready to embark on this journey of risk-taking and reflecting in order to cultivate agency. Everyone was eager to try on the new ideas and strategies they learned but Taryn had warned us about the temptation to transplant. And so we hit the pause button. Myself, my principal and our strategic leadership team sat down and reflected: so how do we do agency?

In our reflections we realised that we were jumping into the HOWs of agency. We were transplanting all these great ideas but without really having formed our own understandings of WHY. So we went back to the WHY.

We gathered everyone together for our early release Wednesday professional learning time and we reminded everyone of Simon Sinek and the power of WHY. We then journeyed together for the afternoon to find our WHY.

We looked at how purpose is a driving force for motivation and engagement is directly tied to agency.

We reflected together on the workshop, specifically how it felt to be a learner and to have our agency honored. We connected these reflections to our emerging understandings of learner agency at our school and “HOW do we do agency.”

We then decided to solidify our understanding of agency by creating our own definition. The power of this process came through the dialogue amongst the teachers, TAs and leadership team as we negotiated and formed a shared understanding.

This is the definition that will carry us forward as we continue to navigate our way through learner agency:

Agency is the capacity each of us has to take responsibility to act and advocate, make our own choices and pursue our own passions.

With our shared definition we moved on to consider why this is important for learning and for our entire learning community.

Armed with an understanding of the importance of honoring and cultivating agency we decided to tackle our purpose, to find our WHY.

We began by considering the purpose of school. To really get at the heart of our purpose we used the “5 Whys” thinking routine.

These are the powerful statements of purpose that came from this reflection:

To inspire and facilitate creative independent learners! To acquire the necessary skills to be a lifelong learner and thereby make a difference to our world To build skills that empower lifelong learning to the direction of success.
Education should be engaging and enable students to reach their own potential. The purpose of school is to provide a community for learning To learn to learn.

The survival of our species depends on us moving forward from where we stand.

The purpose of school is to learn to collaborate with and negotiate in your world. Exposure to a learning environment that empowers skill building and lifelong learning. The purpose of school is to become passionately curious and learn ways to act on your learning.
To provide exposure to opportunities to develop skills for lifelong learning, find passions and discover your purpose in shaping our world To create the conditions that allow learners to realise their potential to make the world a better place. To nurture skills and attitudes for lifelong learning and to develop good human beings.
To nurture competent, critical thinkers who influence the moral compass of their generation for good. The purpose of school is to empower, advocate for the child as they develop and discover their own personality. To provide/facilitate opportunities for learning
To discover your potential Teach students or learners to be responsible through growth mindset. Ideally, school should be a place where students thrive in their growth of who they are and who they are meant to be.
To nurture life long learners who are purposeful and passionate global citizens. The purpose of school is to guide us into a fun and purposeful space to add value to our community and our future To develop agentic individuals who are considerate of and compassionate towards others.
To inspire lifelong learning To discover yourself as a learner To learn skills to cope in life
For people to develop their minds, bodies and spirits to enable them to live life in ways that are fulfilling for them and beneficial for others To give students right environment to explore and learn new skills Developing an understanding of ourselves and the world through experiences that help us to survive/live.
To present options that will guide the direction we choose because as humans we need a sense of purpose that adds value to our existence To facilitate student learning To prepare learners for a yet uncertain future.
School allows us to find our passions and equips us with the skills to be successful in our pursuits

To bring these together into one we separated the ideas into three categories: we do what, for who, so that.

We do what:

Inspire facilitate empower engaging enable provide collaborate exposure learning environment/community, create the conditions, nurture, develop, advocate, provide/facilitate opportunities teach growth mindset, guide, fun, purposeful, give environment to explore, experiences, prepare, present options, discover, allows to find our passions, equips us with the skills, provide exposure to opportunities, develop skills

For whom:

Students community learners, agentic individuals, minds, bodies and spirits, ourselves

So that:

Independent lifelong learners acquire skills attitudes success reach/realise their own potential learn how to learn negotiate their world, passionately curious, act, competent, critical thinkers, discover their own personality, responsible, growth who they are and who they are meant to be, thrive, purposeful and passionate global citizens, cope in life, live life in ways that are fulfilling for them and beneficial for others, understanding of ourselves, live, survive, sense of purpose that adds value to our existence, be successful in our pursuits, make a difference to our world, survival of our species, move us forward, make the world a better place, good human beings, influence the moral compass of their generation for good, add value to our community and our future, considerate of and compassionate towards others, find passions and discover your purpose in shaping our world

We then tried to bring all of these voices together into one collective statement of purpose:

We inspire and empower each other as a community of lifelong learners to realise our own potential and purpose as compassionate citizens active in shaping our world.

Inspired by one of Taryn’s workshops we used provocative statements and the “tug of war” thinking routine to begin thinking about the beliefs that support our purpose.

(Tug of War: 1. Choose a position, 2. Stand your position, 3. Try to tug others toward your position.)

Again the power of this process lies in the great discussions amongst the team. It is essential there is enough time for true dialogue to take place. In this way we then sat down and wrote out our beliefs.

Purpose trumps passion

Motivation is key -autonomy-mastery -purpose

Developing Skills and Mindsets are essential

EQ (emotional intelligence)

Flow is crucial
Our role is to expose/honor We need to give opportunities for learners to practice voice All learners are unique and capable.
Believe that everyone is born with the capacity to learn, make choices that are important to them I believe that education happens intrinsically based on what experiences we are exposed to and which situations provide the right balance of challenge and positive “reward” #presentmeaningfulexperiences Students possess the capacity to navigate their journey. Schools can guide and empower individuals along the way.
Believe that learning how to learn can be learned We all want to be the best version of ourselves Students learn best when they feel safe and happy and when they have a personal connection to what is being learnt.
That all students have the capacity to be successful and to become critical and creative thinkers on the global stage. Everyone has the right to receive education. Everyone is a learner. Learning without a moral compass has the potential to make the world worse
Students are capable Students should follow their own inquiry and passions Agency is innate
All children have inherent value. Believe people have great potential and that schools can create an environment for that to flourish.

Believe that everyone has a unique learning pathway and we should make space for that.

Everyone can learn
Choices that are not informed can be counterproductive Self-efficacy is necessary to be successful. Everyone learns in different ways.
Learning should be real-world oriented. Each child is an individual who is competent, full knowledge, creativity and wonder. Education is about the development of the whole person so they have the skills to reach their full potential. …that all people have the right to a safe and empowering environment that provides them with a multitude of opportunities for learning
We all have agency Education empowers skill building. Our role as educators is being learner partners and consultants

We grouped these ideas into themes:

  • Motivation and engagement – Purpose Passion and inquiry, Motivation, flow/mastery
  • Self-efficacy (success/potential)- Skills, Become critical creative thinkers, Mindsets, Challenge, Self efficacy
  • Partnerships – Expose, guide, empower, Create environment to flourish, Pave pathways for learning, right to a safe and empowering learning environment, Education empowers, Structure
  • Agency – Honor agency, We all have agency, agency in innate/inherent
  • The right to learn – Born with Capacity to learn as a learner, Learn how to learn, Everyone learns in different ways, Learning partners, Choice, right to learn
  • Holistic education – Balance, Informed choices, Moral compass, Act on global stage, Real world, Enact change in the world, positive action for a better world
  • Unique potential – All unique and capable, All children have inherent value, Potential, All individuals, Develop whole person

Then we assembled these into beliefs:

We believe…

And so we…

Everyone is unique, valuable and full of potential
  • Welcome all members of our learning community as unique and capable individuals.
  • Seek out opportunities for everyone to realise their potential.
  • Cultivate the development of the whole person.
Everyone is a learner and has the right to learn
  • Honor the capacity of all learners to learn.
  • Learn how to learn.
  • Co-create unique learning opportunities for varied learners.
Agency is inherent in each of us
  • Respect the agency within us all.
  • Provide opportunities to speak and be heard.
  • Allow for choice.
  • Support ownership of learning through reflection.
Self-efficacy allows for growth
  • Learn the skills of critical and creative thinkers.
  • Cultivate positive mindsets for approaching challenges with resilience.
Motivation and engagement drive learning
  • Use inquiry to find our passions.
  • Make space and time for flow in order to to achieve mastery.
  • Hep each of us discover our purpose.
We are partners in shaping our education
  • Create safe and empowering learning environments.
  • Pave pathways for learning.
  • Look for boundless opportunities for learning.
  • Imagine and seek out new possibilities.
A holistic education enables positive action for a better world
  • Lead a balanced life.
  • Support each other to make informed choices and develop our own moral compass.
  • Champion each other as agents of change.
  • Interact locally and globally.
  • Provide real world experiences.
  • Enact change in our world.

At this point we have a pretty good understanding of WHY. And are beginning to craft the HOW. But before we jump too far into the HOW we first need to understand WHAT it is we want to do. So we considered WHAT we want our school to look like, sound like, feel like, become?

From this we have a great idea of WHAT we want our school to be.

Our school… Parents are… Learning environments are…
is sustainable

dreams big

has many pathways to learning

is diverse and collective

is innovative

is ethical, moral and trustworthy

is a community

has a culture of learning

is real and authentic

is a place of opportunity and choice

is reflective

is a leader in education

shapes the future of education

finds purpose in schooling

is connected

is giving

is a place of natural wonder

present, supportive and involved

partners and stakeholders in learning


open-minded, trusting and understanding

make connections

support agency at home

have buy in





workshop leaders

the child’s first and consistent teacher

forward thinking

listened to and understood

experts for learning

learning from children

adaptable, flexible, varied and ever changing

open and spacious

free of disruptions

responsive to students

supportive, accommodating learners needs


set up by children

creative and stimulating

safe and caring

not overly stimulating

sensitive to learning modalities

learning labs

R&D spaces


in nature

focused on community

forums for dialogue

Learners are…

Learning is…

Teachers are…

Teaching is…

Leaders are…

Leadership is…

everyone (parents, teachers, staff and students)

self driven, excited and engaged

open-minded, curious, thinkers


kind, mindful of those around them

passionate about learning

confident, risk takers

growth minded

vocal advocates for themselves and others






fun and engaging

adaptable and flexible

meaningful, authentic and applicable

connected to the environment, people, places and events outside of school


quality competent

kind, generous and humble


self-driven with agency

guides, models, facilitators, learning consultants, partners


good listeners

constantly growing, flexible, adaptable

risk-takers, not afraid to try new things and fail

advocates for all

resources for inspiration, connections and new opportunities

able to “let go”, share ownership



fun and engaging

open, welcoming to all, inclusive





stress free

emotionally intelligent, empathetic and kind





communicators, good listeners

future oriented designers

influential examples



in touch with what is going on


understanding, supportive and compassionate

enabling, supportive of the agency within us all


providing meaningful and constructive feedback

vision and action

When we put all of this into a word cloud this is what we got:

Our purpose, WHY we do what we do and WHAT we do is LEARNING!

So now we are ready to consider HOW. How do we do agency? How do we do school? How do we do learning?

The Intersection of Trust and Purpose: Building a Learning Community

My principal and I were asked a question the other day which caused us to pause and reflect, we were asked what we were most proud of accomplishing within our school. We both replied that we most excited about the development of our learning community. And so I have been thinking about what helped us to nurture this growth; I think it is through the intersection of trust and purpose.

We trust that everyone comes to school to do and be their best. We acknowledge that everyone learns and works differently but we believe that everyone can and will learn. We know that it is our diversity and unique traits that make us stronger collectively. We value the contributions from all members of our learning community. We start from that place of trust.

What if we focus on what’s right with people instead of what’s wrong with them? ~ Katie Martin

This idea of trust is carried forward through our actions. We are an inclusive, strengths based school (Thomas Armstrong) with an appreciative inquiry approach, which means we seek out and build upon the strengths of each other. We use these strengths to help us overcome our challenges. The story of “looking for the bright spots” as told by Chip and Dan Heath (see their book “Switch”) is a great example of why and how this works and has been our inspiration for using this model within our school.

From: What’s broken and how do we fix it?

To: What’s working and how can we do more of it?

“Problems get replaced with innovation as conversations increasingly shift toward uncovering the organization’s (or group’s, or community’s) positive core.” ~Bernard J. Mohr

But what I have realized is that trust does not end there. Trust is supported by an understanding of purpose. While we trust that everyone comes to school to do and be their best, purpose helps us to realize those beliefs and support that growth. When we understand our purpose and each other’s purpose we can find how we are connected to a greater meaning. This understanding of your own and each other’s intentions is what allows for trust to grow. With purpose we can truly understand and believe that everyone comes to do and be their best. Purpose names the motivation and helps everyone understand the why (Simon Sinek).

The role my principal and I have taken on is to lead with trust and find purpose.

We have been helping everyone find their purpose in our staff meetings when we asked everyone why they teach.

We discovered each other’s purpose when we shared who we are.

We uncovered purpose in common planning meetings when we asked teams to identify their “why, how and what” in order to craft their essential agreements.

We collaborated on crafting a collective purpose for our school wide learning support team when we wrote a statement of purpose answering we will do what (action), for whom (who do we serve?), so that (result of action).

We have uncovered our individual purposes within our roles and how we are all connected when we shared our job descriptions in one sentence, not the title but what we do.

The reason we have spent so much time on helping everyone identify their purpose is because purpose is so closely tied to trust. When we understand each other’s purpose and how we are connected in purpose we can truly embrace a culture of trust; a belief that we have all come to do and be our best. This understanding of purpose allows us to move forward in these beliefs of trust and allow for autonomy.

If a group wants to move forward, it needs to develop an understood, agreed-on purpose. A shared vision allows for autonomy and decisiveness within a group. ~ John G. Gabriel and Paul C. Farmer

We have used these ideas of trust and purpose to lead the learning for our teachers. As we begin the year everyone considers the purpose for their yearlong inquiry (Personal Learning Journeys). With an understanding of purpose there is a return to trust and a release of control to allow for teachers to follow their passions. I believe this trust is what allows us to offer autonomy to teachers for their inquiries. It is what has driven the change in teacher evaluations. It is the model that has been transferred into the classrooms as teachers are learning to also trust their students as motivated learners. Trust has overflowed into our parent community and has been the catalyst for growing learning partnerships between school and home. This trust is grounded in our collective purpose, our mission; we learn together.

My principal and I have been meeting with each teacher and teaching assistant to understand their passions and motivation for learning this year (I’ll share this idea of Personal Learning Journeys in another blog). With each meeting we are further understanding everyone’s purpose. We are then able to help identify and encourage connections within our school and the wider community to form learning partnerships. We are able to support initiatives and innovations to bring the learning forward. We are able to continue to grow and nurture our learning community.

So how did we build a learning community, through trust and purpose.

With these understandings we are beginning to look at what is next as we continue to cultivate our learning community. At this time these next steps are more questions for reflection that hopefully will grow into informed choices for action. We are wondering… Do our students understand purpose, how can we help them find their purpose? Have we left out members of our learning community as we have been finding purpose and leading with trust? What if our bus drivers could share their purpose for driving the school buses and understand how they are connected to the greater purpose of school? What if our gardeners could see their role in shaping the futures of our young learners? What if the cooks understood how they are an integral part of our education system? Would then every experience on campus be a learning experience? Would every interaction have greater meaning? Would our learning community grow and flourish in new, interconnected ways?