Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Swing thoughts*

LC4 has 43 children, 3 Learning Advisors, a range of support staff, a wider network of parents & whanau, organisations that we use in a variety of ways and a supporting cast of many. We also have a large number of visitors to the school that drop by, observe, question, reflect and participate in the learning space.

Recently, I took pause to reflect on just whose space is it?  Predominantly, it is the student's space and must reflect their learning, emotional and behavioural needs, this was discussed in a blog post by my colleague Amy at the start of the year. The learning design requires considerable thought, far more than a few colourful tables or bean bags and is the topic of many visitors to our school. But it isn't just the formal planning that takes place. Another integral component are the discussions that take place every day, but there is also a layer of individual/personal choice that is part of the learning design.

Let's consider a recent two-part conversation I had:
Colleague 1 : "We could do goalfish"
Me: "no sounds a bit naff"
Colleague 1:  "it worked last year & the kids loved it"

Later on, this conversation was continued...

We were talking about how many of our learners are requiring more support with following their plan and meeting their goals, this shifted to the deprivatisation of our learning space, a display was mooted:

Me: "We could display but just not the goalfish"
Colleague 2: "I like the idea"
Colleague 1: laughing
Me: "you don't need my permission, it's not my space, it's our space".

That conversation was the catalyst for this blog post. I have wondered a lot about "permissions" this year, within the context of a shared space it seems relevant. Bear in mind, no one is asking for actual permission but there is a genuine need to be considerate. Many of the visitors to HPPS ask a similar themed question: In a shared space who decides the pedagogy? If you want to do something different to your colleagues, is this allowed/tolerated/reasonable?

How would you cope if all of a sudden you shared your present learning space with someone else? Who gets to decide on the pedagogy, management styles, planning frameworks, timelines and everything else that is part of the teachers domain? I'm not referring to your principal, team leader or mentor teacher either. I refer to another teacher in the same learning space as you, each with their own experiences, preferences, styles, strengths and weaknesses. How would you cope?

Swing Thoughts*
(Picture sourced from
At this point I must point out that these thoughts are NOT the ramblings of a teacher experiencing discontent. Merely the thoughts which are bouncing around in my head needing to find their voice. Thoughts which I raise with my colleagues and feel the need to share more widely.  

These wonderings may materialise in different aspects of the day:
  • Teachable moment - how do you run with it? What is the impact on the space/other teachers/overall plan? This means it might be parked for a later date by which time the kids may not care anymore (if they don't care was it worth pursuing anyway?).
  • Reading aloud - Scarcely done but was an integral part of creating a reading culture in other classrooms. Can you sit and read to a group of students, what if it impacts on other colleagues?
  • Innovation - How might we select which innovations should be pursued? Who judges if it is successful? If it hasn't worked for someone in the past does that mean it shouldn't be tried by a different team member?
  • Time management - What if a workshop/conference takes longer than planned? How does this impact on the rest of the days plans? How does this impact your colleague?
  • Workspace - Which space should I/we use for a particular workshop? Do I need to tell my colleague if we are heading to a different space (gym/outdoors/library/boardroom/music room/ foodtech etc).
Many of these thoughts can be dealt with effectively by considering three simple ideas.

Responsiveness: What are you responding to with any learning experience? Is it student voice? Learning needs? A suggestion/feedback from the school community? Curriculum coverage? Your own personal passions? That's The Way We Always Do It?

Collaboration: Are you adding value to the learning space? What if this is duplicating effort from your colleague? How does your learning experience/activity affect the learners as they move between teachers in the space or elsewhere in the school? Are you creating habits/expectations that may not be followed elsewhere in the school?

Permissions: Does it conform to the vision/values for the learning space/school? Is your learning activity well considered? Does it meet a need? Are you prepared to reflect on the activity honestly?

Answering questions with more questions might not seem helpful, its not meant to be. But when an opportunity/teachable moment or pedagogical shift might be on the cards I can't just act like I'm the captain of my ship. I need to consider the impact on those around me.

The cognitive load for any teacher is substantial, its certainly not lessened by being in a shared space given the deprivatisation, collaboration and sheer numbers of children. I won't claim to be a perfect teacher in a shared space (that would be extremely dangerous to believe) but I'm very proud to contribute to the many conversations that drive LC4 as a collaborative and responsive learning space. There are daily reflections, shared observations, wonderings and suggestions for how we move forward together to meet the vision and values of our school. But these all serve to contribute further to the many thoughts that bounce around inside my head!

*In golf, there are considerable moving parts to a efficient and effective swing. Unfortunately, too many thoughts about technique when taking a shot actually serves to confuse the brain resulting in a poor swing. Generally, a better technique is shown when the mind is more relaxed and in flow.  The questions and wonderings I share here are my "swing thoughts"when I'm teaching. 

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