Friday, 29 June 2018

Moments of magic!

My daughter is five and three quarters. Not five! One of her dreams is to be a tooth fairy, not a made up fairy like a doll, but a real one with a job who gives money to children for their teeth. It's quite a convincing job and is a stark reminder that a little magic is a beautiful thing. As adults we often lose the magic as the mundane and routine takes over, as teachers routine is equally undesirable and yet is also a key to success. Finding the moments of magic can be why many teach, but creating them is just as challenging as spotting that damn tooth fairy.

Teachers are harsh self-critics! We're always looking for something better, a more effective or efficient way, a new teaching point or maybe even just a more interesting way of doing things. In doing so, are we creating the right conditions for magic or is it happening in spite of us?

As a new school we're still developing systems, styles and knowledge with how we approach various aspects of teaching and learning. One area we have been developing our capacity is in the HPPS approach to topic/inquiry learning. We call it Immersion, you can read more about this in an earlier post from 2016  after Daniel and Lisa had challenged us all to engage more with the head (brain), than just the hands (hands-on, authentic learning) and heart (memorable experiences). In my time at HPPS the systems we use for planning this have changed considerably, the changes have been the foundation of several teacher-only days. With some of my colleagues we've reflected on whether or not we were getting the planning and teaching right for immersion. More recently, Daniel's challenge has been on how each team measures success. Unquestionably, getting the planning and teaching for immersion right is largely down to teacher input, our reflections weren't questioning management more whether we were getting the process and therefore the planning right. Was Immersion leading to powerful learning? Was Immersion leading to powerful projects? How do we know?

As we entered another TOD, I felt uneasy about our most recent round of Immersion/Projects. For the most part the project phase had left me flat, with very little curiosity or wonder amongst the students, and generally a bit of confusion around what they'd learnt. Where had we gone wrong? It's easy to blame the documentation or the process for planning, in fact it's too easy (fixed mindset where capability and adversity is shifted away from the owner). We knew the planning process had been been undergoing slight changes every rotation for a couple of years and this does create cognitive dissonance, as there is very little room for developing expertise within the system (see the Dreyfus Model, ie we were still in the novice/beginner phases).  I also know that the self-critic was being unfair if I recall the success with which we'd finished 2017 (see Return of the Moa post). I feel fortunate that I had several powerful discussions preceding this TOD, with a colleague we'd reflected and been self-critical but then discussed the additional expertise we could take into the next planning rotation and help to create more powerful learning and a conversation with Lisa where she'd shared some of her thinking as she considered a whole-brain approach to the planning (see photo on Hermann's Brain)

This was challenging but positive, I can become a bit silly with ideas (one ideas breeds another and then I'm excited),  rather than a risk-taking, creative and  imaginative focus, I wondered whether a holistic, synthesising, and big-picture approach was required? To help myself and my team, we'd gathered some student voice on what they wanted to learn about (see photo) and I'd had a brainstorming session knowing the general theme (Systems and Science - easy to think Solar System or Body Systems) but this wasn't the desired outcome as this was choosing based on an idea rather than the holistic thinking Lisa was seeking regarding Systems. Where would we take our students through immersion if we thought about a more encompassing idea of systems? We were provoked with this video:

This still isn't enough to guarantee success though! Lisa's leadership on the TOD compared immersion to a geographic location. As teachers we have the power to differentiate the learning experience so that different children may experience a variety of activities, whether by this is a result of interest, learning need, curiosity or because of their dispositions. This in turn means that some may stay in the immersion phase throughout projects, while others transition earlier to the project phase. 

Source: Lisa Squire.

Our team planned, reflected, challenged, wondered, sought feedback, took some risks and produced a rather shot-gun style planning document. But I feel it's been integral to our success this round. We've had a very clear idea of what we want to achieve and teach but have allowed enough room to be responsive to the needs and interests of the class as they develop. Ultimately, we've collaborated! Any of us could have planned and taught the immersion topic individually. However, I doubt it would have been as effective, as the collaboration has contributed additional value compared to the individual expertise.

Relationships have been important too, knowing the children, their needs, interests, recording their student voice before entering. Developing our own systems for their success throughout the day and personalising their learning so that each could navigate the immersion island in their own powerful way. One of the activities we'd forward planned was for some work on assumptions, did we have those children who literally thought that milk came from the supermarket? Salt was the amongst the first assumptions to arise, someone had wondered if it was made from flour, but this had been preceded with the observation that "all foods have ingredients, but where do the ingredients come from?"

The magic that has happened is born of these ingredients: relationships, collaboration, planning systems, reflection, teacher intellectual capital and a fair dose of teacher passion. Having the ingredients and creating the right spell/recipe can be quite separate however, this time we've just got it right as a teaching team and I hope that we can repeat it in the future.

While we've taught, provoked and immersed our children into this world of food, they've responded with enthusiasm and curiosity. They've shared their wonderings about the intricacies of their digestive systems, or their taste buds, they've been designing the most amazing cakes and talked about "synthetic" cheeses and questioned if milk is the liquid and cream is the solid. For projects, they want to run Master Chef and bake Extreme Cakes, they want to learn more about their taste buds and learn about stomach acid. A non-writer is wanting to write a recipe book, another is sharing his cake designs and using actual measurements. Teachers are happy, proud and feeling like something positive is happening.

Magic is happening!

Planning is easy, most teachers can complete a topic planning outline to a reasonable degree. Turning that recipe into something magical is more than just the right ingredients and resources with a healthy seasoning of teacher passion. It might just be timing or having students who are receptive to this topic. I suspect that if I reflect enough I can unpack a myriad of rationale for the contributing factors, but like my daughter I choose magic! There is a synergy at work this immersion that is greater than the ingredients, it has raised the bar in LC5 and I await the project phase with excitement. What will this magic create?

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