Posted in Why Unlearn?

What do we need to let go of?

letting go

With a new school year comes another year of professional learning.  I am super lucky to be a part of a group of teachers at my school who are embarking on a second year of unlearning together.  Last year my Principal, myself and four other teachers met almost every three weeks to talk about school and the need for change.  We had some really great discussion, some disagreements and some aha moments. It was amazing to have a safe place to share ideas and not feel judged.  Amazing things happened in classrooms as a result of our time together. If you are interested in seeing / reading about some of the other teachers experiences / unlearning journeys you can check out The Stoppels Show blog or Jess Packer-Quinnel on Twitter and Liz Coolen on Instagram.  

This year I am privileged to continue working with the group above, but am also lucky to get to work with a new group of teachers who are interested in learning more about community based learning.  There has been a huge push in our board to make learning more experiential so this year our professional learning teams are called the XLPLT (experiential professional learning team).  

We had our first meeting a week ago to talk about what the XLPLT was all about.  My Principal went over what we did last year and what we hope to do this year. He asked me and the others from last year’s team to talk a little bit about what we are doing in my classes.  We also spoke about the journey that the teachers in our PLT took to get to where they are today. It really made me reflect on my past PD experiences and what is necessary to let go of in order to completely change up your practice.

I have done a lot of PD over the past 17 years.  I worked on a PLT that focused on critical thinking, I worked on a PLT that looked at engagement of at risk students, I participated in lesson studies and I attended numerous workshops on how to make my lessons better.  All of these have been very important in my growth as a teacher. I learned a lot by working with my colleagues and found great ways to change up lessons and to embed critical thinking and engagement into my practice. However, what they didn’t really look at was the structure of the traditional education system and how it is outdated, systemically racist, focused on preparing students for a work world that doesn’t exist anymore and not preparing our students for their future.  

In this years XLPLT we are obviously interested in finding ways to have our students become critical thinkers and engaged, but more importantly we are more excited about how to change up our classrooms so that they reflect the modern world.  So, what are the things that a teacher needs to do in order to make this happen? Below is what I have come up with.

  1. Understand why this change needs to happen – more specifically understanding your WHY for doing it.
  2. Let go of control.  
  3. See students as partners.  Give them a say in what and how they learn.
  4. Realize that learning can happen differently than what we know school to be – and value that learning just as much.
  5. Let go of hierarchy and grades – see the brilliance in everyone.
  6. Embrace failures, reflect and learn from them.
  7. Connect learning to community.
  8. Focus on teaching / using 21st century technology.
  9. Have students become creators rather than consumers.

This is not an easy task, but by looking at the work that they are doing at Beaver County Day School in Massachusetts, it is possible.  Check it out here Why ‘Unlearning’ Old Habits Is An Essential Step For Innovation  However, closer to home it is evident that it is possible too.  After about 8 months of working together on our Unlearning PLT I interviewed the team on what unlearning meant to them.  Here are their answers.  

So, what will it take for you to make the change, what is your WHY?

Thanks for unlearning with us 🙂

R

Advertisements
Posted in Classroom Examples, Genius Hour

My Students do work even though I don’t give them marks…SAY WHAT???

Image result for say what?

In my last post, How do I incorporate inquiry, innovation and all that other stuff they want me to bring into my classroom? I outlined what I do in my classes.  Over the next few posts, I intended to dig a little deeper into each of the different things outlined. The first one I am going to look at is:

Enlighten them!!  I teach them about unlearning, about what is wrong with the current system and show them that we need to change in order to prepare them for the real world.  This prepares them for their unlearning process.

After many discussions with colleagues, I have concluded that some teachers are reluctant to stray away from the norm in their classrooms because they are concerned about what the administration and parents will think. They are also concerned that if the focus is not on marks, then students will not do anything.  I often get the question, what kind of pushback do you get from the admin and parents and my answer is simple….none. I am pretty transparent with both admin and parents about what I am doing. At the beginning of the semester, I send an email to parents outlining my teaching philosophy as well as what we will be doing and why.  While I am sure there are some parents that are questioning it at home, I have only heard positive things so far. Another question I often get is what about the students? How do they respond to this? Do they even complete anything?

Starting  my Students on an Unlearning Journey

As mentioned in my previous post What Exactly is Unlearning,  The unlearning movement involves what Peter Hutton describes as ‘“ new ways to think in the face of established practices.”’ So for the first week of the course, I  take my students on that journey so that they can think differently about what school is when they are in my classroom. I use the following PowerPoint to discuss all of these things.

Click here to view my powerpoint Welcome to HPA Social Sciences

My goal in doing this is to open their eyes and get them to see that it is necessary for all of us to unlearn. Yesterday I told my classes that I was writing this post and asked them for their initial reaction to that week-long enlightenment session and the start of the class. Here are some of the reactions I got:

“I was confused, I was waiting for it to turn into a normal class where there are assignments, readings, tests, notes etc.”.

“I was worried about how I would get my marks and how I could do well”.

“I was afraid that I would never break out of the structured way of being taught”.

“I saw that this was a new atmosphere, all other classes have structure, this class is different – even the physical set up of the room is different”.

“How am I going to get marks?”

“I was super uncomfortable”.

“In the beginning, I saw independence as a chance to do nothing and then saw it as an opportunity to learn things that I wanted.”

“I still gravitated to school like topics and assignments, I didn’t know how to do something that I was passionate about”.

“Confusion – ya always, because it was different because I didn’t know what I was doing, lack of structure – it was the first time I was told that you can do your own thing.”

“I thought it was sick, I thought, I am actually going to get to try and do things that I want to do”. (FYI sick = good)

“It is hard for me – I like things that are right or wrong, yes and no, black and white.”

“No guidelines scares me…..”

“FINALLY, someone who will teach this way! I have been waiting for someone to teach this way since I was in elementary school”.

“I thought it was interesting and exciting.”

“Agreed with it.”

“Agreed that education system is outdated.”

“I do what the teachers tell me to do and you told me to learn things on my own so that is what I am going to do.”

You can see that I have two different types of students (actually, there are three but I will talk about that group in another post, these are the ones that have totally checked out of school altogether).  The first group is reluctant, confused and unsure about the class.  The second group is excited and ready to go. The second group buys in quite easily, but still needs to go through the unlearning process. Whereas, the first group needs a lot more encouragement and proof that they will still be able to get the grades that they want. The unlearning process is hard for them because they have mastered the current process and are motivated by marks.  These students are the toughest to win over, but every semester I have a handful of them that I successfully break!! Meet Britney below as she talks about her unlearning journey.

Britney is an amazing young lady who does really well in school.  She has taken three of my classes and found each one tough to navigate through. This is a video of her at our Social Science Fair explaining her journey from last semester.

 

So there you have it, don’t get me wrong, my classroom is by no means perfect AT ALL.  However, I have support from my admin, the parents and after a little time in my classroom the students as well.

Thanks for joining us on our unlearning journey.  I hope you will join us!

Cheers,

R

P.S. My students assess themselves through reflections, I am still tied to giving out grades at midterm and the end of the semester.  I will discuss this further in another post.