Beginning to teach at an International Baccalaureate school can be an intimidating experience. Terminology alone, from “transdisciplinary skills” to “line of inquiry,” can be difficult to understand and incorporate into teaching, especially if you have a background that emphasizes direct instruction. However, becoming familiar with the Action Cycle, or learning cycle, can help ease that transition–whether you’re a new IB teacher and or are simply interested in cultivating a more inquiry-based, student-driven classroom.
School is back into full-swing for many schools by now. Amid back-to-school supplies, carefully-designed units, and seating charts, remember to maintain a vision of those things that are most important. Here are a few of our favorite reminders.
#1: Brene Brown’s Leadership Manifesto
(and while you’re at it, perhaps her “Engaged Feedback Checklist,” too. Both of these come from her latest book, Daring Greatly, which is definitely a worthwhile read for any educator!)
#2: Bill Ferriter’s essential technology reminder
#3: Ann Lander’s wisdom on child autonomy
#4: Dr. Haim Ginott’s realization on a teacher’s daily influence
#5: And this.
Or maybe just a poster that says, “Serenity now!” Have a great 2014-2015 year!
Featured Image: (only visible on mobile devices with current layout) Nick Amoscato
“There’s something powerful and exciting about the society-wide experiment the digital age has thrust upon us.” ~James Estrin, National Geographic¹
Whatever shape our personal digital involvement takes, the above statement has become irrefutable. With an exponential quantity of global interaction on our hands, we can already identify many ways our lives have changed. However, time has yet to fully reveal the long term and unintended impacts of technology, known as “drip effects” (Peter Skillen gives the example of cars, where their original purpose was to simply transport people places; the unexpected drip effect became the phenomenon of city sprawl and suburban life²). To us, the most thrilling aspect of this “society wide experiment” lies in education.
Sudden Educational Evolution
For many years, education remained fairly static. Professors of education could share similar concepts and resources for decades, with little deviation. Sure, the pendulum would, at times, swing between such matters as phonics vs. whole language, but nothing altered too radically.
Now, all that is changing thanks to technology. It’s not just social media platforms that create customized professional development for teachers. It’s not just cloud storage like Google Drive that foster global collaboration. It’s not even just Youtube videos that provide instant tutorials for every topic under the sun. It’s a revolutionizing and unexpected drip-effect: the manner in which teachers are pioneering new practices. Since even those who graduated college 5 years ago were unlikely to have possessed a textbook on the benefits of Twitter in the classroom, teachers are tinkering and experimenting with new resources themselves–learning and growing right alongside their students!
The Counterintuitive Effects of Vulnerability
This kind of pioneering requires teachers to share their personal, authentic, and vulnerable learning processes–the out-loud wondering, the messy brainstorming, the trial and error, the failed projects–all are brought front and center in the classroom. What is the result when students watch adults experience genuine learning? In the “Pencil Metaphor” below (as shared in other posts), the erasers, ferrules, and hangers-on may fear that exposing their limitations could result in a loss of respect, productivity, or control. The the rest are discovering the true results: strengthened relationships as students see their teachers as more human; heightened motivation as students are inspired by what lifelong learning looks like; and abundant empowerment for everyone in an atmosphere where it is safe to experiment, fail, discover, and grow.
During the most recent #5thchat (held Tuesday nights at 8 pm ET), Tyson Lane summarized this approach well:
— Tyson Lane (@Tyson_Lane) July 30, 2014
Such common sharing and learning is also reinforced by the findings of vulnerability and shame researcher, Brene Brown, when she describes the necessary shift in education and business alike, “from controlling to engaging with vulnerability–taking risks and cultivating trust”³ (p. 209. See her terrific manifesto for leaders here).
Walking the Talk
I was always surprised at how much one phrase delighted my students: “I don’t know.” Giggles and slightly dropped jaws would consistently ensue, followed by profound discussions on whether I should find out myself (while modeling to them), or whether they could help me figure it out. My most carefully crafted inquiry questions rarely elicited as much engagement from my students as those three words. Similarly, I once attempted to create a DIY interactive whiteboard with a Wii remote–a venture that ultimately proved completely ineffective. Though one might expect that students would respond to such failure with scorn, my students were keenly supportive through every step–and in turn, showed increased willingness to try and share new ideas themselves.
Through blogs, Twitter, and more, I have learned from exceptional individuals who are boldly learning with their students. Listed below are a few:
- Jon Bergmann: Within a couple years of Youtube’s debut, Jon wondered what would happen if he gave his lessons in video format as homework instead of teaching them in class. The result has been the Flipped Class Movement.
- Edna Sackson: Australian educator and blogger of WhatEdSaid, Edna shares her school’s journey toward effective inquiry. Her post on 10 ways school has changed particularly demonstrates her dedication to using technology to empower learning.
- Paul Solarz: Paul maintains the blog What’s Going on in Mr. Solarz’ Class? where he shares his abundant classroom experimentation and success with technology, including student blogging and Passion Time.
- Numerous other educators in my PLN who daily share their triumphs, trials, and resources on Twitter.
Trying new technology to improve your classroom is risky. But even if the intended goal fails, the drip effect of being vulnerable with your students and allowing them to watch you authentically learn is priceless.
- Estrin, J. “The Visual Village.” National Geographic. October 2013. http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2013/10/digital-village/estrin-text
- Skillen, P. “The Drip Effects of Technology.” http://theconstructionzone.wordpress.com/2011/01/02/the-drip-effect-of-technology/
- Brown, Brown. Daring Greatly. New York: Gotham Books, 2012. Print.
We know actions speak louder than words. But some simple, carefully-chosen words that lead to exemplary action can speak volumes, too. This is especially true for teachers.
Class meetings are more than about discussing logistics or class management, although those are benefits, too. It’s about creating an environment where everyone can feel comfortable to speak their minds & learn from each other!
#1: Develop as Risk-Takers.
“Security is mostly a superstition. Life is either a daring adventure or nothing.” — Helen Keller
We all develop inhibitions through the years as we become fearful of failure. This kind of mentality, however, is absolutely stifling to any real learning. We must find authentic ways to show students we welcome risk-taking, rather than just telling them we do. Class meetings are a perfect way to do so! Because of their low-pressure settings, they have the capacity to help even the shyest students to slowly build their confidence over the year.
#2: Cultivate Relationships with Students.
In the blur of lunch count, P.E., and grading, it’s easy to get caught up in the logistics of school, neglecting personal relationships. However, most of us began teaching because of people–as it should be! Class meetings provide an appropriate, dedicated environment for sharing personal experiences–ones of celebration, loss, anticipation, anxiety, and just plain silliness. Such sharing renews and strengthens our most important priority: the students with whom we work.
#3: Social Skills.
Listening, turn-taking, appropriate responding, articulating ideas–these are just a few social skills developed in a class meeting environment. As teachers, it’s easy to react to apparent deficits in these social skills during instruction time with consequences–but what students often need more is additional practice and examples of people effectively using these skills!
#4: Opportunity for Meaningful Discussions.
This benefit is best illustrated with an example from my classroom. On my first day back at school after a week-long illness-related absence, we gathered in our circle. Students quickly began to report that behavior was not always at its best with our substitute teachers, which led to one student volunteering the statement, “Some kids think, ‘Well, I’m not going to get anything for it, so why should I be good?’” This led to one of our most animated and earnest conversations of the year. As they explored and debated this question, the class eventually came up with the following thoughtful answers, among others:
- To make others’ lives easier
- To learn
- To become a better person
- To show kindness
- To provide a good reputation for our class
#5: Democratic Decision-Making = Increased Student Ownership & Voice.
No matter how smooth your classroom management or arrangement, the fact is, issues invariably arise each year with each group of students. From desk arrangements to concerns about homework loads, students will pick up on small details teachers overlook. When you give them the opportunity to voice concerns and then to discuss them as a class during regular meetings, the classroom starts to truly become a shared, democratic environment instead of one run by one imperfect person. While a class meeting should by no means be the only opportunity for student voice, it is one helpful medium!
5 Set-Up Tips
#1: Establish rules and routines first!
No matter how old your students are, it’s essential to start by discussing expectations. To help them understand the shared nature of class meetings, make sure these are not your expectations, but what the class truly expects from one another during the meetings. Make a shared list, have students sign it as a contract, and post it in the class meeting area for a visual reminder. Have a couple of practice trials that emphasize the expectations, and model some of those skills by role-playing with students!
#2: Start With a “Talking Circle” with a “Talking Object.”
“Talking circles are more successful when the participants have trust with each other. Taking time to share stories, build relationships, explore values, and create guidelines for participation helps everyone feel physically, psychologically, and emotionally safe in the circle and creates a foundation for courageous acts of sharing.” (Winters, A.)
Have students start by sitting in a circle, and one-by-one, passing a “talking object” that declares that they have the floor for sharing. (My students have always loved using a Koosh ball for this purpose).
#3: Put out a Suggestions/Compliments Box.
Place this box in an accessible location to give students the opportunity to share compliments for the positive acts they notice from classmates, or for suggestions to help the classroom run more smoothly. We recommend making and printing your slips to provide a template that includes lines for names, solutions, etc. Remember to model to students what quality compliments and suggestions look like (which will avoid excessive “You are nice” slips, or complaints without ideas for solutions)!
#4: Establish a regular weekly meeting time.
If it matters to your students, it should matter to you! Set aside a regular weekly time, even if it’s only 15-20 minutes. If assemblies or field trips shift the schedule, discuss with students whether they’d like to reschedule that week to help them know it’s still a priority!
#5: Allow Flexibility.
During the Talking Circle, we suggest that you leave the sharing open-ended, rather than giving students a prompt. We also recommend that you give them the choice to “Pass” on their turn to keep it from becoming a stressful, pressured situation.
Winters. A. https://www.heartland.edu/documents/idc/talkingCircleClassroom.pdf
As teachers, we have heard the dialogue on intrinsic vs. extrinsic motivation, and the importance of instilling authentic passion for learning. But in a day of real-life frustrations and desperation for student cooperation, where is the realistic balance as we apply this important classroom management principle?