5 Ways to Leverage Student Ownership for Improving School Communication

Communication shows up on just about every school’s plans for self-improvement in one way or another. A school might work on newsletters, automated texts, or social media, all of which are worthwhile.

However, as I recently learned at an active transportation conference,

Good solutions solve many problems; access to active transportation solves mobility, but it also addresses obesity, isolation & depression, and connecting with ‘the other'” (Tyler Norris).

Similarly, focusing primarily on student ownership is a good solution that can address many problems; it solves students feeling more invested in their learning, but it also strengthens the school/home connection, lifelong learning, and a more empowering school culture.

Here are some examples of how leveraging student ownership might help improve school communication in particular:

1. More transparent process. Ownership might look like students planning how to spend their learning time, leading workshops to teach peers, co-constructing success criteria, and more. All of these lend themselves to a tone of transparency that will most certainly make its way home to students’ families.

2. Authentic audience. Rather than waiting for that unproductive “what did you learn at school” conversation, students can provide their families with a window into their learning as it unfolds. Tools like Seesaw, student blogging, and more make this doable even for young students.

3. Students’ ability to identify and develop learning goals can grow in ways they can articulate to parents…

4. …which also lends itself to more meaningful conferences.

5. Students learn how to take more meaningful action that often carries over to their local community.

 

Student ownership has so much potential to strengthen our students and our schools. Putting more of the planning and decisions in their hands can yield astonishing results if we are courageous enough to control less and share more.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Is There Anything More Powerful than a Child Choosing a Book? #TeacherMom

My one word goal for 2018 has been power. It’s been an inquiry into questions such as…

…what is the connection between power & influence?

…how does comprehending our sphere of influence impact our lives? Our communities? 

…what is my sphere of influence?

…how can I be more intentional about directing and growing my influence to areas that matter most for me? 

Because I’m in the midst of this inquiry, I often find myself thinking about how & why certain sights, actions, and words carry power.

So when I come across my 2 year-old snuggling in with a book of his choosing, I’m fascinated by the implications for power.

Is there anything more powerful than a child choosing a book?

How does book-choosing, especially starting at a young age, give a child power?

How do books boost a child’s ownership over their learning? 

How does ownership over learning relate to an individual’s power?

Truly, helping children onto a path of choosing to read is a powerful endeavor, and we can all contribute:

Cultivating a child’s desire to choose and celebrate books is one of the most powerful things we can do.

featured image: Oliver Henze

Inquiry Into SDG’s: Quality Education

This is a series of provocations designed to provide resources for students to inquire into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. For more, click here

The purpose for the SDG of Quality Education is to “Ensure inclusive & equitable education & promote lifelong learning opportunities for all.”

While this goal focuses largely on developing countries, rooting out educational disparities anywhere will aid in this effort. This week’s provocation is designed to get kids thinking about why disparities exist and how progress might be made.

Resource #1: The work of Matiullah Wesa (great article on GlobalCitizen, and his Twitter account is packed with documentation of their efforts).

Resource #2: If You Build It by OCP Media

Resource #3: Cogs by AIME Mentoring

Resource #4: 7 Insane Ways Children Get to School via Global Citizen

Resource #5: Dreamers by Yuyi Morales

Provocation Questions: 

  • What does quality education mean?
  • What does it mean for a child to receive quality education?
  • How does educating children impact families? Communities? The world?
  • What is our responsibility to ensure everyone receives a quality education?
  • How does the idea of what makes an education quality change over time?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Owning That They CAN’T Always Control What We Think They Should

I used to think…students could control a lot more I do now.

Now I know…there is a whole lot more out of their control than I realized.

I used to think…part of my job as a teacher was to hold them accountable so they could learn responsibility.

Now I know…holding a child accountable for that which they have only partial or zero control is fundamentally unjust.

I used to think…self-control was all about helping them take care of themselves.

Now I know…sometimes our emphasis on control is less about their needs and more about our agenda. 

So as you view images like this “What I can/can’t control” example…

…consider these questions:

  • how might the home environment impact a student’s control homework completion (including but absolutely not limited to internet access, books in the home, library access, care for other siblings, etc.)
  • how might the way certain values are (or are NOT) emphasized and valued at home impact the way a student views them, such as education and hard work?
  • how might the stability (or lack thereof) of a students’ upbringing impact his/her ability to trust people enough to ask for help, try again, or respond to challenges in responsible ways?
  • to what degree should hold students accountable for values we have always been taught to cherish when they may have been taught that other values matter more (taking care of family over studying for a test, for example)?
  • how might chronic or toxic stress impact a student’s capacity for self-control?

I suspect the list of questions could go on for some time.

Which is why:

1) we can’t ignore the reality of compassion fatigue and why self care should be a massive emphasis for teachers everywhere. It’s incredibly draining for teachers who choose to seek understanding and responsiveness amid a myriad of difficult circumstances.

2) it’s worth considering why self-regulation > self-control.

3) I love Brene Brown’s Engaged Feedback Checklist, which I’ve shared on this blog many times. “I’m willing to put the problem in front of us rather than between us (or sliding it toward you).”

4) we should step away from the stickers:

“If a child is demonstrating stress behaviours, they may be telling us that our expectations are too much for them. Reducing the stressors may mean changing our program or our routines. If we are asking young children like Michael to sit for too long, listen for too long, or complete too many worksheets, then no number of stickers is going to be enough incentive for a child who is not developmentally ready.”

How can assuming more ownership over this issue of control with a stance of curiosity impact the students in your classroom?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Slowing Down Time #TeacherMom

One of the puzzled responses I’ve gotten from riding my bike or taking transit around town with my kids is why I would spend that time when driving is so much quicker.

The more I’ve considered this, the more I realize: the slowing down is a large part of the point for me.

I tend to pack too much into my days, trying to move through my to-do list as quickly as I can, working not to feel to frantic when plans fall through. I know that it is in my own best interest to deliberately build into my day blocks of time when I am forced to slow down. 

As much as I miss being in the classroom (another few years to go until our youngest is in school & I’ll resume), I can see that this time is a precious gift that I am privileged to have. I have the choice to slow down, and I intend to take advantage of it, hoping to learn as much as I can from the experience. Not only is this self-care; it is also a way for me to enjoy the time I have with my kids.

With that, I want to share a poem that has been forming in my mind for a while regarding ways I’m learning to intentionally slow down my time with my children.

“Slowing Down Time”

Where does the time go flying by?

Why must they grow so fast?

How can we slow the pace of life

and make these moments last?

I search for ways to cup the time;

it sifts between my fingers.

But over time I start to find

some ways to make it linger.

We first have seen the love of books,

their words hold time spellbound.

When stories help to weave our day, 

More togetherness is found. 

We’ve also learned to walk outside,

or bike, or skip, or glide,

The destination takes back seat

to memories made wayside.

The ways are varied, small, unique

to cherish what we hold.

They may seem strange, but they are ours

to guard and to be bold.

Featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

Inquiry into SDGs: Partnerships for the Goals

This is a series of provocations designed to provide resources for students to inquire into the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs. For more, click here

Finally! I made a plan over a year ago that once I finished my series of provocations on each of the PYP essential elements (and then a brief series of provocations on learner identities), I would begin a series of provocations for each of the UN Sustainable Development Goals. At last that day has arrived. The SDG’s are part of the UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. We are working to be part of that plan by providing resources to help students think about their own contributions, both now and in the future.

Partnerships of the Goals is one of the SDG’s themselves. It:

“seeks to strengthen global partnerships to support and achieve the ambitious targets of the 2030 Agenda, bringing together national governments, the international community, civil society, the private sector and other actors.” (source)

Below are resources to help students inquire into what this goal means and how they might apply it themselves.

Resource #1: Further Up Yonder by Giacomo Sardelli (I recommend using subtitles)

Resource #2: Flying Rhinos by Green Renaissance

Resource #3: Where Do We Go From Here? by RSA

Resource #4: A Declaration of Interdependence by Tiffany Shlain & Let It Ripple Film Studio

Resource #5: Be Kind by Pat Zietlow Miller

Provocation Questions:

  • What is a partnership like?
  • Why do good partnerships matter? For ourselves? For our communities? For our world?
  • What is our responsibility to work together?
  • What are the different perspectives on partnerships, and how do they sometimes create barriers in our ability to make partnerships?
  • What is the connection between global citizenship and partnerships for the SDGs?

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto

7 Questions to Ask About Your School Fundraiser

Fundraising season is in full swing. On the one hand, I completely understand the sad need for fundraising in our underfunded schools; on the other, I am growing increasingly concerned about our tactics.  The more I consider my own experiences, from childhood through adulthood, the more full of questions I become. Here are a few so far:

Do the prizes for top sellers tend to go toward one racial or economic group of students? I still remember the name of the boy who won the top prizes every year when I was in elementary school; his dad was a surgeon, which also meant his work colleagues were able to load him up with purchases. If a fundraiser serves to reward kids who are already privileged, we should re-evaluate.

Do the prizes highlight haves & have-not’s in any way? My first job after graduation was at a school that used school uniforms. Students who brought $1 on the last day of each month were permitted to dress in casual clothes the next day. Though this was a more affluent area, I was still horrified to see how it shamed the few students left in uniform who could not afford it (often because they had a lot of siblings). We should be wary to avoid creating such a spotlight.

Are there ways to celebrate school-wide efforts? My daughter’s school is planning to have a school-wide special assembly to celebrate everyone’s efforts (whether they were able to sell or not). I love this because it builds school-spirit and removes individual pressure from students.

Do the prizes create status issues among students? Winning badges & trinkets for selling X amount may seem trivial to us, but within kids’ social circles, they can MATTER. SO. MUCH. We must be careful not to add to their burdens, especially when so much is out of their control. And we must protect the privacy and dignity of families who may be struggling.

Are there more discreet ways to fundraise? Amazon Smile gives .5% of all purchases, the annual Target grant offers $700 for field trips, several chain restaurants offer portions of meals, DonorsChoose, adding a donation button to your school Facebook page (100% goes toward your school), & more.

Are the prizes actually attainable? If we’re pulling students from valuable classroom time to be dazzled at an assembly by prizes they are unlikely to even earn, we might want to revisit our approach.

Are you selling something the community wants? Try asking what the community would be interested in purchasing before deciding on that year’s fundraiser. Do they really want more wrapping paper, or maybe they’d prefer bags of potatoes from local markets? Or maybe they really would just prefer a donate button on your school’s website or social media page. Whatever the case, if we’re going to ask students to solicit the community, we should do our homework first in finding out what the community wants.

featured image: DeathToTheStockPhoto