Evolving learning spaces


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Saying hello to our little friends. One of the hens was attacked by a mongoose (problematic for a friend of the chicken in Hawaii) but after 10 days of antibiotics and as much school lunch as she could eat – all better.

Earlier in the year, we housed some chicks in a temporary enclosure right in the middle of our MS. The more permanent dwelling is now finished, but we now have to decide whether we really want to relocate these birds – two hens and a rooster it turns out. We never imagined how popular our feathered friends would be, and conveniently, right next to our lunch room. I had never envisaged this space as a chicken coup before; now I can’t see it as anything else. It has been an interesting experience in the evolution of a learning space.


Outsourcing a reporting process

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Given a choice in organizing their portfolio samples, it seems that Google Drive is a popular choice for our students.

In the business world, work that does not need to be done in-house is often outsourced to save time and energy within the organization. Generally, out-sourcing benefits business in this manner. In schools however, there is an additional reason to look outside the school fence; providing a stronger voice for the learner.

Reporting through Student Led Conferences can be a good opportunity to outsource. It’s a powerful reporting tool, which is often based on a portfolio of student work prepared during the year and presented to parents as evidence of their learning in a conference setting at school.  This whole process is often completed at school and supervised by teachers.

This year, my middle school asked students to hold an initial planning meeting at home with their families to outline the type of learning artifacts to be collected. They also detailed the online tools that they would use to collect, organize and present there work. The Student Led Conference was held at home and in a reversal of roles, parents reported on the outcome to the teachers using an online survey.  One of the logistical questions can be seen above. Other questions involved the degree of preparation and other comments on the quality of the conference.

Looking back, this saved us time and energy at school and in a business sense, this would have been a win. However, students planned more carefully, and the families had greater voice in the process, and for a school community this is a win.


Redefining and repurposing small ideas – A case for big ideas

View from a hike in Alta, Utah after an ISM workshop in Salt Lake City. Seeing the big picture.

After just returning home from a six day workshop, ‘Leading the 21st Century Middle School’ I am going to take a while to process all the ideas, many new and many other redefined ones floating around my head. Thank you very much to Kathy Christoph and Matthew Stuart of Independent School Management (ISM) for delivering such a thoughtful and purposeful workshop.

In the break between academic years, we all turn our minds toward action for the next year. I had been preparing an action plan to keep me busy for another academic session, and I don’t think that there is an item on it that will be untouched by my experience at this workshop. New items have appeared on the plan based on my learning, yet most of the impact of the workshop experience relates to the redefinition of my existing ones, building on them, seeing the bigger picture with greater clarity, allowing you to more creatively fit together the smaller pieces – repurposing them. For example, the constant focus on Mission driven action affected the meaning I constructed, building on existing thoughts. I recall all of the different ideas presented over those six days in relation to Mission, in the same way that we hope the use of big ideas in units of inquiry allow students to organize their learning in a conceptually based curriculum. It was a good reminder for me of the power of a conceptually driven curriculum model for authentic learning. Making sure we always build on the details in relation to the big ideas.



Un-forgetting ourselves – a key empathetic skill


I wonder what I was thinking, feeling, hoping, wondering…

A series of old photos recently surfaced, revealing some images from my past, ones that I should have known well. After all, they were photos of me. I was obviously there at the time, thinking and feeling all sorts of things, presumably. I found myself wondering about the world this cute little fella inhabited in Grade 2,1976. I wonder what I was thinking, feeling, hoping, wondering… Is it possible for teachers to truly empathize with our students when it is nearly impossible to recall how it felt to be one ourselves? This has been on my mind.

The challenge for us as teachers seems to be the difficulty of actually shedding our own feelings of security/insecurity, confidence/fear of failure, joy/sadness, hope/despair, vitality/lethargy and all the other complicated emotional continuums in which we exist as adults, which cloud our perspectives, making it difficult to concentrate on the feelings of the learner in our classroom. From empathy, comes compassion and respect and it is worth the effort, to try and remember what it must have been like. I think this will help. Pull out an old photo of yourself at school – see if you can remember. It’s hard, the un-forgetting, but worth it.