Shaping a School (the hiring process)

What kind of school do you want to create? What kinds of teachers and leaders do we need as members of our learning community to bring this school to life?

These are the questions we consider when we come to the hiring process.

But how do you find the right people for your school culture amongst all the applications and CVs?

I believe our interview questions reflect who we are. We start with what we want to hear and build backwards. We send these questions to the candidates ahead of the interview – read on to see our questions and understand why we do this. 

We want to know if you believe in what you do. So we ask:

  • What is the purpose of school? Why do you teach?

We want to know if you are considering the future of education and how you will be a part of shaping that future. So we ask:

  • If you could change one thing about the current education system what would it be? What do you hope for the future of education? What is worth learning and teaching?

We want teachers and leaders who believe in inclusion. So we ask:

  • How do you build an inclusive learning community within your school/classroom? What are your beliefs about inclusion?

We would like to work alongside someone who is an agent of change. So we ask:

  • Tell us the story of your learning journey and what you have accomplished that you are proud of or you feel is innovative.

We want to know if you are a lifelong learner. So we ask:

  • What are you learning about? What are you reading? What are you hoping to learn?

We want to know if you’ll be a part of our community of learners. So we ask:

  • How do you share in the learning with your students, parents, colleagues and/or leaders? How do you build community?

We want to know how you guide students to be literate in media, digital technologies, mathematics etc. So we ask:

  • What literacies (ie. media literacy, numeracy) are essential for your students to learn? How are you teaching these literacies for tomorrow’s learners?

We want to know that you have a growth mindset and can cultivate that in your students. So we ask:

  • Do you have a growth mindset? How do you know?

We want to know how you will honor agency. So we ask:

  • How do you share the curriculum with your students? What voice and choice do they have in their learning?

We want to know who you are, not just what you do. So we ask:

  • Tell us a little more about you, your family, where you are from, what you enjoy – who you are.

Finally, we want to acknowledge the agency of all learners and so we make time for candidates to share:

  • What have we forgotten to ask you that you’d like to share with us?
  • What questions do you have for us?

I think most importantly we send these questions ahead of our interviews. We do this because we would rather hear thoughtful answers instead of what is thought of on the spot. This is not a “pop quiz” this is how we build the future of our school and we want a solid foundation. We value time for reflection and we are showing this in how we interview. 

What have been your best interviews and why?

Induction as a Programme of Inquiry

Induction as a Programme of Inquiry, with 6 units, following 6 Transdisciplinary Themes 

Week 1

How we organize ourselves – the structure and function of organisations

The structure and organization of a school affect how it functions

    1. Function: Systems within our school
    2. Connection: Framework of the PYP
  • What documents/forms do I need to know; where are they and where do they go? (Forms, Help Desk)
    • Sorting and labeling
  • What is the PYP framework?
    • See Think Wonder
    • Sorting and grouping
  • How does a unit planner frame the inquiry?
    • Share UoI elements for each Induction unit (on a planner)
  • Where am I now?
    • Tuning in – place yourself on a continuum
    • Burning questions to guide induction inquiries

Resources: ISU Policies, Curriculum Documents, MTPYPH, Unit Planner, the book of PYP Essential Elements, ISU and JS Handbooks, Strategic Plan, IBO documents

Week 2

Who we are – beliefs and values

Beliefs and values shape who we are

    1. Responsibility: The mission statement of the IBO and “international mindedness”
    2. Form: A Learner’s Profile
    3. Causation: How IBO beliefs and values influence ISU
  • What are the beliefs and values that drive the PYP?
    • Read the mission statement of the IB
    • Headline routine
  • What is international mindedness?
    • Finding out (read/browse resources below)
    • Frayer Model
  • How might I develop international mindedness (through the Learner Profile attributes) at ISU?

Resources: Making the PYP Happen, IB Community Blog on International Mindedness, The Learner Profile and International Mindedness, The magazine of the International Baccalaureate on International Mindedness, Video: Understanding International Mindedness

Week 3

Where we are in place and time – orientation in place and time

Making connections across subject knowledge helps construct meaning

    1. Causation: Beliefs that led to the development of the PYP
    2. Change: Transdisciplinary teaching and learning
    3. Connection: The relationship between the subject areas and units of inquiry
  • What are the beliefs that led to the development of the PYP?
    • Read “The Educated Person” pg 1-3
    • Word – Phrase – Sentence
    • Read and Share: Human Commonalities
      • I. The Life Cycle
      • II. Language
      • III. The Arts
      • IV. Time and Space
      • V. Groups and Institutions
      • VI. Work
      • VII. Natural World
      • VIII. Search for Meaning
    • Summary – what’s worth learning/knowing?
  • What is a transdisciplinary Programme of Inquiry?
    • 6 TD Themes (connections to human commonalities)
    • ISU’s POI
    • Transdisciplinary learning
    • Graffiti walk connections to subjects/topics for teaching and learning
  • How might I bring transdisciplinarity into my teaching and learning?
    • Reflection; Try it on Monday.

Resources: “The Educated Person“; Video: Anima Mundi an Introduction to Transdisciplinarity; IBO Documents: Scope and Sequence documents, ICT in the PYP; IB Community Blog on Transdisciplinary Learning, Readings: Transdisciplinarity… it’s a word, I think!, What is transdisciplinary learning?

Weeks 4-5

How the world works – how humans use their understandings of scientific principles

Over time, people have developed an understanding of how we learn best

    1. Responsibility: The role of inquiry
    2. Causation: How concepts support inquiry

*to be completed in 2 parts

  • What is inquiry and conceptual teaching?
    • Jigsaw (MTPYPH)
  • Why is inquiry important?
  • How do concepts influence inquiry?
  • How might I plan for inquiry?
    • Models of inquiry
      • See Think Wonder
    • Brainstorm questions for each concept to ignite inquiry about chosen focus
    • Reflection; Try it on Monday.

Resources for Inquiry: ISU Inquiry Folder; IBO Documents: MTPYPH;  Books: “Classroom Connections”, “The Power of Inquiry”, Inquiry as a stance (chapter from “Taking the PYP Forward), “Concept Based Curriculum and Instruction for the Thinking Classroom” “Taking the Complexity out of Concepts”; Readings: Bringing Inquiry-Based Learning Into Your Class, Planning for Inquiry: Example, Natural Curiosity: A resource for Teachers, Strategies for Inquiry Based Learning, Planning an Inquiry Based Start to the Year, The inquiry process: step by step, Inquiry Based Learning in the Early Years, Said no true inquiry teacher ever, Inquiry and the specialist teacher, Defining Inquiry, Planning for Concept Driven Learning, Concept Based Learning, Concept-Driven Inquiry Learning,; Blogs: Inquiry Learning, Train the Teacher, Just Wondering, What Ed Said; Video: An inquiry approach, Inquiry based learning – developing student questions

Week 6

How we express ourselves – the ways in which we reflect on, extend and enjoy our creativity

Developing skills and attitudes leads the way to lifelong learning

    1. Change: The importance of developing skills
    2. Perspective: A values-laden curriculum
    3. Connection: The relationship between skills and attitudes

Resources: The PYP Attitudes are going away!, Attitudes within Learner Profile, What’s worth knowing? Why Realizing the Full Promise of Education Requires a Fresh Approach, Reflecting through attitudes and skills, Student-Written Reports, Using Attitudes and Skills as Learning Objectives, Content vs. concepts, skills, attitudes, Reflecting through attitudes and skills

Week 7

Sharing the Planet – access to equal opportunities (rights and responsibilities)

Cultivating agency acknowledges the rights and responsibilities of the learner

    1. Form: Action
    2. Responsibility: The importance of agency
    3. Change: Considering rights, responsibilities, identities
  • What is action, what does it look like, feel like?
  • What is the power of agency?
  • How do I make room for agency in my learning environments? (How do we honor voice, choice and ownership through partnerships for learning?)
    • Reflection; Try it on Monday.

Week 8

Personal Action  – How can you share your new understandings? What are you going to do?

  • Time for reflection and action

Week 9

Personal Inquiry – What will you inquire into? How will you keep learning?

  • Personal Learning Journey
  • Reflection of Induction (box 6-9)

Thank you to Kath Murdoch, Tania Lattanzio and Taryn BondClegg for sharing so many resources!

10 Tips for Moving from Professional Development to Professional Learning

We all know those Professional Development meetings, when we are on our phones under the desk, when we have our laptops open and are super excited that we got the seat at the back so no one can see that we are actually checking our email and planning our lessons for the next day instead of listening. So how do we plan Professional Development that is not like that?

Accessed from Teacher Problems on Twitter

I think there are a few problems with the way Professional Development is usually approached and structured. Maybe by addressing these issues and looking at solutions we can make Professional Development more engaging, relevant, challenging and significant.

1. Professional Development as Professional Learning.

Plutarch is credited with saying, “The mind is not a vessel to be filled but a fire to be kindled.” This is the stance we take when educating the young learners in our classrooms yet when we look towards the education of the adults learners in our school we go back to the idea of vessels to be filled with knowledge. Often times Professional Development is a chance for leaders to develop their staff but not a true opportunity for learning. By changing the way we speak about and approach Professional Development we can move towards Professional Learning.

2. Professional Learning as a Unit of Inquiry

Many schools offer early release or late start days for teachers’ Professional Development. During these times a new topic is addressed to help teachers develop as educators (in the worst cases these meetings are staff meetings and don’t honor learning or development). These topics might range from teaching literacy to integrating technology to planning conceptual math lessons. These one-off topics are not connected, not conceptual, they do not provide deep learning, they do not offer time for reflection or action and without these opportunities they do not offer real learning. But what if they were connected and transdisciplinary, what if they were conceptual, what if they had one big idea and what if they gave time for personal choices, actions and reflections? What if weekly Professional Learning “meetings” were structured as whole, as a unit of inquiry for teachers to inquire into? (I’ll share how I’ve done this in a coming blog post)

3. Autonomy Mastery Purpose

As an entire educational community we have been working on being more child centered, student driven and agentic in our thinking. I have read about amazing classrooms allowing students to plan their own units, schools giving students voice in strategic planning, and assemblies being led by students as choice workshops. These opportunities have allowed students to be autonomous in their choices, to master areas of passion and to find purpose in their learning. Are we giving our teachers the agency we would like to give our students? I suggest that Professional Learning could be approached as a self selected inquiry (autonomy), that could be followed and developed throughout a year or more (mastery), and could be applied to enhance the teaching and learning taking place in our schools and classrooms (purpose).

Image from Engaging Leader

4. Time and Space for Reflection

The New Enhanced PYP has announced that the key concept, reflection, will be removed from the concepts in order to be integrated more fully into the teaching and learning. If we are to give our young learners the opportunity to more authentically reflect should we not give our adult learners the same chance? The real beauty of reflection is that when we have that time and space to look back, to think, observe and learn we can better move forward.

5. Learning Leaders

Our teachers are guides for the learning in the classroom; they lead their learners to the departure point for their own journey. What if our school leaders were the same? What if our leaders within schools were agents of change that led teachers to departure points for learning journeys. We need leaders who are the lead learners within our schools, who model lifelong learning and who guide us all along our paths. We also need to look at our journeys as shared experiences. In classrooms we ask children to share expertise and model for their classmates. In schools we need to allow our teachers to become learning leaders. Not all knowledge can come from one, we need to look more towards shared leadership and empowering all learners within our community to be learning leaders. (see the idea of Choice Workshops as one suggestion for honoring teachers as learning leaders)

6. Pedagogy

The worst Professional Development sessions and workshops I have attended have had us sitting at tables, not moving around, listening to the instructor lecture, and filling in fictional lessons/units/etc. We practice the art of teaching (pedagogy) and use best practices and try out engaging teaching strategies in our classrooms with our young learners, so why not with our adult learners? We need to remember to model in Professional Learning sessions the teaching practices we expect to see in our classrooms. We all learn through experiences and by doing, let’s provide our teachers with opportunities to “do” through engaging learning experiences.

7. Action

If we want to create the conditions for professional learning to impact education and to change thinking and practice we have to allow teachers the time and space to take action, to try out new initiatives, to challenge the status quo. Our Professional Learning should push teachers beyond just being our best to continuous choices, actions and reflections that allow teachers to do their best and look at new ways to do even better. In a workshop recently I was presented with the word Praxis; the Cambridge English Dictionary defines it as: praxis noun​ /ˈpræk.sɪs/ the process of using a theory or something that you have learned in a practical way. It is the living PYP Action Cycle, we have to remember to allow for Professional Learning to be a space for praxis, to take action.

Image accessed from Sonya ter Borg

I hear and I forget. I see and I remember. I do and I understand ~ Confucius

8. Relevant

What’s worth knowing, what’s worth learning? Finding purpose in what we learn is what drives motivation. In Professional Learning often that purpose is relevancy; can what I am learning be used in my classroom on Monday to make a difference to my teaching and learning? Whatever it is, Professional Learning needs to be relevant in order to be purposeful. Purpose trumps passion in motivation and learning, if we can help our teachers find that relevant purpose in their own learning and couple that with a topic they are passionate about they will be unstoppable.

“People who were passionate about their jobs – who expressed high levels of excitement about their work-were still poor performers if they lacked a sense of purpose.”

From PeopleAcuity

9. Collaboration

Collaboration in Professional Learning is essential however, we need to expand our ideas of what collaboration can look like, sound like, feel like. There isn’t just one way to collaborate. Can we consider how Professional Collaborative Learning can honor our introverts? Can we consider the danger of Group Think? Can we look for collaborative partnerships that will challenge us and our ideas? Collaboration should be an opportunity to co-construct knowledge, share experiences, reflect on practice, seek feedback and contribute to the learning of others. We need to acknowledge the many ways this can happen and it is not just by working in the same environment together.

10. A Place for Shame Free Mistakes

The work of Carol Dweck has brought into focus our beliefs about how we learn and persevere through failures, to think about how we can honor those moments as learning experiences. John Hattie, when speaking about feedback drew conclusions about the role of mistakes in learning. He suggests feedback and learning thrive on mistakes, in the realm of “not knowing.” We do not do our best learning in contexts where we already know and understand. And so just as we ask our teachers to welcome misunderstandings and mistakes in their classrooms we should support error and failure within Professional Learning. But students and adults alike will only learn in an environment where they can get and use feedback about mistakes and failures without having to fear negative reactions from those around them. We need to unlearn the ideas that failure is bad, we need environments where teachers are willing to take risks and give their best effort, we need schools to be places for shame free mistake making.

Guest Teaching and Reflections on the Roles and Responsibilities at School

We use guest teaching as a way to actualise Planning Retreats. In order to get the teachers out of the classroom for the day to consider the bigger picture we rely largely on our Teaching Assistants. However, in order to give them the support they need my principal and I take a few periods within each class and become the guest teachers. It is an opportunity to get to know the students and the curriculum from the perspective of the classroom and the learners. It keeps me in touch with the dynamic nature of a lesson and the curiosities of the students. It allows me a window into each grade level and the ability to connect more with the teachers. In a nutshell – it’s amazing!!!

And through this I have come to reflect on the disconnect between teachers, administrators, students and the school. Why don’t more administrators go into the classroom? And what is lost by the distance from the students and the learning? But in that same thought I also wonder about why teachers aren’t more involved in strategic planning and developing thoughtful change within schools? Should there be more of a balance?

I believe the experiences of teaching in the classroom are crucial to my ability to facilitate curriculum development. And I do not want to lose touch with those learning moments. I worry that if I were to remain entirely out of the classroom that there could be a disconnect from the experience of teaching, and a loss in the ability to make meaningful and effective changes.

This leads me to consider more about those plans for change within a school. I wonder how teachers can be more involved in these discussions. I would like to consider how teachers can have more of a voice in visionary plans, in strategic design. Their experiences in the classroom and with the students are an invaluable part of any school’s design thinking.

I read an article in US News and World Report about teachers’ perspectives on voice and on school leadership:

An April report released by Gallup showed that on two survey questions, teachers were the least likely of any profession to respond positively: whether they feel their opinions count at work, and whether their supervisor creates an “open and trusting environment.”

Studies have shown that school leadership is second only to teaching among factors that can affect student learning…

How can we make schools more collaborative and honor the voice of all members of our community to give everyone the chance to be a leader in some situations and a learner in others? How can we design schools where educators decide what’s best for their students? And where would this time come from? Already teachers are stretched and administrators are extended to their limits. How can we get admin into the classroom and teachers into strategic planning?

My school currently offers us early release on Wednesdays so teachers can receive professional development from 2:30-4:15. Some of those Wednesdays are used for staff meetings and committee meetings. But because that time is shared and therefor limited it becomes difficult for anything to be truly accomplished (as far as strategic thinking and action is concerned). So much of the plans and vision end up falling back again into the hands of administrators or not completed at all. But what if school were to start late on Mondays, say 10:00, and for those 2 hours before students arrive teachers took part in school led professional development. Then Wednesday could become a full school day but the 3:00-4:15 time could be dedicated to committee meetings for strategic planning giving teachers a voice, and time.

Could teacher committees be a part of hiring, budgets, policy writing, building and furniture plans/designs? Do principals have to be the authoritarian figure maintaining student behavior and teacher evaluations? What other responsibilities could be rearranged to make roles more equal?

Would this allow for more voices at the table when considering change and planning for the vision of the school? Would it make a school more effective? And could this lighten some of the load for administrators allowing them time to get into the classroom more often? What other responsibilities could be shifted between the roles at school?

In my next post I’d like to look at re-envisioning teacher evaluations… in the meantime do you have ideas about how to involve teachers in leading and administrators in teaching? Do you think we should?

More reading:

Planning Retreats

I work in a great school, we have the freedom to teach without the pressure of high stakes, standardized testing. In many international schools this is true; we do not have to follow a textbook or teach to the test. Instead we can follow the inquiries of our students and plan for open ended, conceptual units. But if we are to be able to teach with such freedom effectively we need time to plan. Without a teaching guide and student textbook with answer key the time needed for planning grows.


This year we wanted our teachers to continue delving deeper into inquiry and we also wanted to focus on creating inclusive classrooms that are well differentiated. But where was the time for such planning and collaboration going to come from?

Planning Retreats!

We decided to give our teaching teams (homeroom teachers, learning support teachers and single subject teachers) time to collaborate in depth to create integrated units that inspire curiosity, creativity and enthusiasm and reach all learners where they are. Before the beginning of each unit teaching teams take a day off school at school. They work together to design the Units of Inquiry in our meeting room. Most teams begin with the unit planner and essential elements, they select the learning area content descriptors, create rubrics of understanding, discuss provocations, plan a framework to scaffold the learning and consider the needs of all students within that unit.

We are able to give our teachers this gift of time with the support of our Teach Assistants who take the class for most of the day (our Principal and myself also support as guest teachers which I’ll speak more about in another blog post).

Our weekly common planning meetings then allow for teachers to revisit the plans with the insights gained from their work in the classrooms to tailor the teaching and learning to the needs and interests of the students. Lessons are designed with all students in mind and the learning support teachers are more able to effectively co-teach.

These days have been extremely helpful not only in collaboration, planning and assessing but have allowed teachers to discard units that had become stale… … and write new, fresh units that inspire inquiry and student engagement (I’ll share some of these units with you in the future). Teachers have also become more knowledgeable about curriculum design and unit planning. And our ability to collaborate and co-teach has grown exponentially.

I think our next step would be to involve the students more in this process. I would like to consider how we can include their voice in the plans for their learning. Some ideas might be to determine their prior knowledge before the planning retreat in order to design a unit that meets them where they are. We might also ask students what they would like to learn about in regards to the Transdisciplinary Theme then plan with those suggestions in mind. We might even invite students to a retreat.

It would be great to hear from you if your school has further ideas for planning retreats and including student voice in curriculum design.

What’s the point of reports?: Who writes them (who reads them)? Who are they for?

‘Tis the season…. for reporting….

I have a few questions that have been guiding my own reflections on reports: What’s the point of reports? Who writes them (who reads them)? Who are they for?

Roald Dahl’s school report from 1927, at the Roald Dahl Centre, Great Missenden. Photograph: David Sillitoe for the Guardian

What’s the point of reports?

The IB states that written reports are “a summative record for students, parents and the school itself of a student’s progress.” A good friend and colleague described current reporting documents to me as a receipt of the learning for the parents; to show that services have been rendered and “paid in full.” And this is why so many schools continue with reports the way they are because we have not yet found a better way to share with our wider community the learning that has taken place over the year thus far. But what if there was another way? And why in the 21st century have we not yet found a better way… or have we?

In our early childhood classrooms our teachers have used their Personal Learning Journey time to embark on an expedition with their students exploring SeeSaw (student driven digital portfolios). Their success with this reflective communication and documentation tool has led other grade levels to follow in their steps. In Grade 5 the students have been designing their own digital portfolios using Google Sites. With these tools in place do we need reports any longer? Or can we rethink how we report?

Who writes them (who reads them)?

Traditionally reports have been written by teachers for parents. But if we go back to the first question, what’s the point of reports, and we revisit the idea of assessment then why is this information only written by teachers and only shared with parents? Where are the children in this dialogue? At what point do they get a voice to share their learning and growth? Can we use reports to provide more feedback for students and parents, to allow for more self-assessment and reflection? Can we involve the child in this process more effectively?

Who are they for?

As was stated in the first question reports are a summative record of progress for students, parents and the school. If reports are for students should then students be reading their own reports? Should they be involved in writing them? Should reports be written to inform the child about their own journey and where to go next? And if reports are for parents could they not also benefit from hearing the voice of the child? Could the child and teacher share the learning story, the growth and progress together? What about the school? How does the school use reports? Who reads them within the school and for what purpose? As we look forward can we consider how schools use collaboration between teachers, with students to more effectively share the whole story of the child?

There are some great ideas out there that we can build on to revolutionize the way we report, why we report and who is involved. I would love to hear more from you on how you are structuring your reports or moving in a new direction.

Homework as a Choice?

Last school year a group from grade 5 chose to inquire into homework as a portion of their Exhibition. They surveyed students, parents and teachers about how they feel about homework. They researched and found experts with data on the effects of homework on learning. They brought all of their ideas to the Instructional Leaders for the Junior School and presented their findings and suggestions for moving forward. Their action inspired action for the whole school.

We began this year with a new approach to homework. We set out to re-write our homework policy. We began first with a definition:

Homework is the extension, reinforcement and/or review of learning that happens outside the classroom and school day.

With this in mind and with the research conducted by grade 5 and the Instructional Leaders we wrote our Purpose & Beliefs:

We have completed an inquiry into homework and looked to experts in the field. John Hattie found in his study (effects related to student achievement) that homework has a zero effect in primary school. This was reinforced by research conducted by Alfie Kohn for his book, The Homework Myth. He found that “there is no evidence of any academic benefit from assigning homework in elementary or middle school. For younger students, in fact, there isn’t even a correlation between whether children do homework (or how much they do) and any meaningful measure of achievement.” However there are many positive correlations between academic achievement and free voluntary reading (Krashen, 2011). It has been shown that voracious reading for pleasure directly correlates to positive academic gains. For these reasons, daily reading will remain the core of our homework practices. This research, in addition to our understanding of Kampala traffic, travel times, the need to be a child, the importance of family time, the opportunities to participate in other extracurricular activities and the busy lives we all lead has caused us, at ISU, to rethink our homework policy. We have developed several beliefs about homework that have influenced our policy:

  • We believe that the purpose of homework should be to help advance the child as a learner, to reinforce skills and understandings established during the school day and to help the child build on what they know.

  • We believe, that smaller assignments completed and done well are more effective than lengthy projects.

  • We believe that homework will not to be graded, instead we believe in a model of self-assessment and reflection. Students will discuss and explain or explore their thinking and learning (ie. what they agreed with or disagreed with in the article they read, what they’re struggling with in math, what new questions they came up with from their unit) with parents/families at home, with classmates and/or with teachers.

  • We believe homework serves the purpose of establishing a partnership between school and home. With homework we endeavour to connect the school day with the families at home through the assignments given.

  • We believe homework is not appropriate for children in EC-K instead suggestions for learning ideas to do at home with children will be sent to parents regularly.

Which then led to our policy:

Homework will be based upon ISU’s learning principles and students will be involved in the process to make choices about their own learning and develop the habits of lifelong learners. Homework will encourage daily reading for pleasure and will be a chance to develop connections, a time for reflection and an opportunity for discussion.

To open the dialogue up to the parent community we took this idea to a weekly parent forum. There were a lot of ideas and discussions surrounding the idea and need for homework. Some parents commented that if homework has a “zero effect size” then why have it at all? Other parents demanded more homework to teach responsibility, accountability and to enhance the learning. We hoped to find a balance between the differing viewpoints and take the first step towards a new revolutionary view of homework.

To help explain the changes further we wrote responsibilities and procedures then provided examples of what a homework choice menu might look like. These changes have allowed us to provide more voice and choice within the idea of homework and better involve our parent community in the learning. One parent wrote in to share her reflections on the changes to homework:


Just wanted to send a note (*as a parent*) and say that I’m loving the ”homework menu” that you’ve started sending home this year. The activities on is are already creating more conversation and dialogue in our house, building communication skills and questioning. The activity based ones, such as ”helping with cooking or baking” sparked our daughter to check out a library book on baking this week, choose a recipe ”Apple Pie”, read the recipe on her own (reading skills improving!), get out all the ingredients in order (sequencing), and tools (some new vocab), we measured together (math!), and with her siblings, and they had to work ”collaboratively” together to do all the steps. Following on, we decided it would be nice to have some ice cream, so took a walk together to the supermarket to pick out some vanilla ice cream together, and all ate it together after dinner (yum!)

I just wanted to say that I’m sure it was what was intended, but just feels so much more meaningful to build up our experiences and memories together, while learning, with this type of ”homework” 🙂

Keep it coming!

ISU Mother

Some examples of the choice menus are below:

“Successful” Conferences

Last year our Principal shared with us his reflections from his trip to Reggio Emilia with NFI; he brought back many ideas that are guiding our actions and choices this year:

  • shaped by our students
  • Do schools reflect society, or do schools
    transform society?
  • everyone is different, so every learns differently
  • nothing about me without me
  • empowerment of students
  • empowerment of teachers
  • inclusion

I will speak to many of these points through sharing our stories in this blog; the first story is that of “Nothing about me without me.”

As we focus on INCLUSION, this simple statement (nothing about me without me) has caused us to reflect on many practices. The first of which were our parent-teacher conferences. If we did not include the child in these discussions were we being truly inclusive, were we empowering our students, were we honoring their voice and allowing them to shape their own path? No. And so we took action to change that through 3-Way Conferences.

In designing our newly launched 3-Way Conferences we first reflected on the purpose. We want students to own their learning and share their journey. We want to establish a partnership between home and school to support each students’ learning and development. We want to celebrate the successes of every student and build a strength based school.

And so we started with the successes. We asked all students to reflect on their year so far and list their success.

I have been able to cooperate with a variety of people that I would usually never even play with.

I have read a lot more than I usually would.

I have improved on my social skills in general and my communication skills.

My organized routine at home helps me keep track of my work.

I enjoy practicing mathematics and I need challenging work.

I have good sportsmanship.

I am good at reading chapter books even the tricky words.

I learnt the meaning of some hard words.

I have been doing hard problems in math , I know place value in big numbers.

With those successes we then asked students to consider the attitudes and skills (ATLs) that would help them as they looked towards further successes. We wanted them to consider how they could use their strengths and successes to build further success for themselves – to set meaningful goals.

I would like to become more organized with my things and my learning.

I would like to be more curious and ask more questions about the things that we are learning.

I want to be able to read cool books (chapter books, nonfiction books…). In order to do that I have to improve my reading skills and enthusiasm. I like sports and video games so maybe I can find some books about this in the Library.

I am confident. I need to be cooperative by finding and working nicely with a partner.

I would like to write more neatly and “like” writing.

I am nervous presenting in front of people but I want to try to get better at confidence, therefore I’m going to practice speaking in front of a group of people before performing/presenting. And I’m going to practice at home in front of my sister and my parents because I know they are going to give me good feedback.

These stories of success and goals led to many great discussions. Teachers (homeroom, specialist and learning support) reflected on the strengths and were able to discuss plans with students to better help them with their learning. One such example was that of a student who in the past would have been highlighted as a struggling student who has trouble reading. But with our new focus on strengths she and her teacher talked about her love of music and singing. They also discussed her goal of “confidence.” The student mentioned she wanted to be more confident with reading. They looked together at how her musical strength could help her be more confident with reading. The student is now singing her books aloud and “reading” with confidence and fluency.

At the 3-Way Conferences the students were able to share with their families stories of success and personal goals for growth. Parents were then invited to share their own stories of success with their child and celebrate in the learning together. Teachers added their insights and together action plans were created to support each student on their own learning journey.

What ideas do you have for successful 3-Way Conferences? How can we continue to reflect on our story?