Professional Growth Plan, 2014 – ?

My professional growth plan is very much linked to school growth plans.

All schools in BC must prepare a school plan that sets one or more school goals for improving student achievement, the strategies to achieve these goals and the measures for determining success.

It is one thing to measure school growth and improvements in student achievement, it is another to trace results to causes. Schools are not science experiments where one variable at a time can be added and tested. With many teachers and many strategies all at play each year, it is not difficult to acquire data on many areas of student achievement – such as literacy skills – but tracing this growth to the strategies of teachers in a variety of classrooms is difficult.

At Bowen Island Community School, our Growth Plan, poses the question of inquiry:

Will an increased focus on inquiry-based learning that places emphasis on developing students’ critical thinking skills and self-regulation skills improve the level of student engagement and academic achievement?

The question examines the affect inquiry-based learning and critical thinking have on student engagement and academic achievement. As BICS has also focused on self-regulation, digital access for students and teachers, environmental education and place-based learning, tracing improvements in student engagement and academic achievement to any one cause is perhaps impossible; and perhaps unnecessary.

Each of the strategies mentioned above work in concert and I am learning more and more how dependent they are on one another. I often refer to the Galileo Education Network for a concise definition of inquiry. They state:

Inquiry is a study into a worthy question, issue, problem or idea. It is the authentic, real work that that someone in the community might tackle. It is the type of work that those working in the disciplines actually undertake to create or build knowledge. Therefore, inquiry involves serious engagement and investigation and the active creation and testing of new knowledge.

The strategies and approaches of environmental education and place-based learning, where students learn in the community and look at issues or problems facing the community and world, is very much aligned with the definition of inquiry as described above. Further, digital access, far from being a strategy in its own right, can be viewed more as an effort to support inquiry by providing students with as much opportunity as possible to delve deeply into a topic, beyond the opportunities people, places, and print found in the community and library might offer. Digital access also allows students to share their inquiries with others. With access to so much information, the ability to assess the reliability of information and make sense of it, core tenets of critical thinking, is vital. In this way, through inquiry, students practise critical thinking skills rather than just learn what it means to be a critical thinker.  This practise of critical thinking is core to the philosophy of the Critical Thinking Consortium, which has helped guide BICS’ work in this area.  Self-regulation, in the words of Stuart Shanker, is the ability for students to be calm, alert, and learning. It is perhaps the foundation for any other strategies a school might wish to implement.  Inquiry is pointless unless students have the capacity to be engaged.

My growth plan involves inquiring into the following questions:

  1. What does it mean for someone to be engaged in learning?
  2. What factors (culture, strategy, tactics) lead to learner engagement?
  3. How can you tell whether students and teachers are engaged and can engagement be traced to particular strategies (inquiry, digital access, self-regulation), tactics or attributes of a school’s culture?

As I begin my inquiry, I am becoming more and more aware of the challenges of isolating strategies and determining their individual impact. Self-regulation, regardless of what other strategies a school might have in place, has tremendous power to improve student achievement. But it is already bundled together with other strategies our school is pursuing. It may not be possible to weigh the individual impact of various strategies but I am looking forward to learning more about measuring results from the formidable combination of strategies at work at BICS.

Teacher Reflection: Questions to process the barrage of student feedback

9781118575239.pdfI recently read Michael Fullan’s book, The Principal, Three Keys to Maximizing Impact, where he argues the importance and methods of the Principal as instructional leader.  He does not suggest the Principal individually mentors and/or provides feedback for each teacher in the school.  Doing so would stretch the Principal’s time too thin and also not leverage the many other professionals in the building who can provide feedback to teachers.  Instead, the Principal should create a learning culture among teachers with high expectations and openness to receiving and responding to feedback from peers.  Helping set the conditions for a truly effective professional learning community is paramount.

The book’s purpose is to share why and how Principal’s should do this and while I fully support the conclusions of the book and learned from the process of implementation, I also kept thinking about the varied forms of feedback teachers receive on a daily, even period by period, basis from their students, rather than colleagues.  So, rather than attempt to summarize Fullan’s argument in 700 words in this blog post, I will share some questions educators can ask to take advantage of the feedback they receive from students.  Creating a culture of collaboration where teachers can inspire and learn from each other is important.  As is creating culture of reflection, where teachers have the motivation and capacity to reflect on their practice by recognizing and taking advantage of the potentially overwhelming amount of feedback teachers receive from students.

Before diving in, it is useful to note what objectives for which the teacher is looking for feedback.  While teachers may have their own goals, I have found the three goals below, simply stated but anything but simple, summarize what I hope for my students:

  1. Love learning – be engaged in learning and eager to learn more
  2. Learn a lot – develop understandings and competencies that make them more thoughtful and capable.
  3. Find learning purposeful – be interested in putting their learning to use for their benefit, the benefit of others and for the natural world.

 

1.  Love Learning

The focus of my growth plan is to measure student engagement in a less subjective way but teachers can ask the following questions to determine levels of student engagement:

  • Were my students on task and self-directed? Did they need frequent redirection to focus on the task?
  • Were students surprised or disappointed to find out the period was almost over?
  • Did students do their best work?
  • Were students keen to share their learning with others, such as their peers, their teachers, and their families?

 

  1. Learn a Lot

The proof is in the pudding.  The traditional feedback for whether we are doing a good job as teachers is student achievement.

 

  1. Find Learning Purposeful

“Not only must justice be done, it must be seen to be done.”  The aphorism is true of education as well.  Educators know that student learning is purposeful, but it must be seen as purposeful by the learner as well.  Asking students the following questions is helpful in finding out if they understand that their learning is purposeful:

  • What do you know now that you didn’t at the start of the day? Why does it matter?
  • What can you do better now than at the start of the day? How is this helpful?
  • What do you want to do with your learning?

 

And a few questions not for students but for the teacher him or herself:

  • What did I do today that ensures my students know I care about their well-being and growth as learners?
  • What did I learn today? How will I put this learning to use?

Being a member of a professional learning community that shares innovative ideas and helps educators reflect on their practice is of vital importance.  The incredible work of the Network of Innovation and Inquiry in BC, the work of Innovation Teams in West Vancouver, and the continuous work of colleagues in schools has made this clear to me.  But as teachers are exposed to unceasing feedback from students, being mindful, reflective and open to this feedback is also of essential importance.

What other questions are helpful to make the most of student feedback?

Three Questions

Three questions a learner should ask themselves at the close of every day:

  1. What do I know now that I didn’t at the start of the day?
  2. What can I do better now than at the start of the day?
  3. What do I want to do with my learning?

Teachers can ask these questions of students and themselves to gain a greater understanding of their students’ levels of engagement and empowerment.