Providing time for collaborative reflection and planning

This year our Week 0 started with Positive Education professional development and then two full days of collaborative planning and reflection, followed by one day of learning area meetings and classroom organisation. Historically our College has crammed as much PD as possible into Week 0 with a hectic agenda, leaving teachers exhausted by the end of the week and having not even stepped foot into their classrooms. This has proven to be extremely stressful for teachers, with most commencing the year in an unprepared and stressed state. Not a positive way to commence a school year. However, this year was vastly different.

The Positive Education professional development was an extremely enjoyable and engaging two day Appreciative Inquiry into just what we as a collective body seek to become as a College. We then transitioned into two days of shared practice and collaborative reflection and planning. We structured these days to follow a flexible agenda with multiple 10-minute spotlight sessions of shared practice to break up the two days. We intentionally only had two curriculum leaders present so teachers could have the platform, as they are not only the experts who understand the pedagogical theory, but for 21 hours per week put this in practice in the classroom.

I’ve just jotted down some reflections on what I have observed over the past week as we prepared for the 2016 school year.

  • As MYP Coordinator I have the privilege of working alongside each of the eight MYP subject groups. With teachers in a relaxed frame of mind I was able to observe multiple copies of MYP: From principles into practice and subject guides being poured over, highlighted, annotated and discussed. Each table had at least three or four circular scribble planners being collaboratively developed at one time and assessment tasks were being picked apart and rewritten.

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  • I overheard conversations, discussions and arguments about how a task was designed to allow for the demonstration of a students factual, conceptual and procedural knowledge and metacognitive engagement.
  • I observed factual, conceptual and debatable/provocative questions being pulled apart and further developed in order to have deeper engagement.
  • I observed teachers from multiple disciplines going from table to table to develop interdisciplinary conceptual and global context connections and seeking to share the responsibility of the explicit teaching of ATL skills.
  • I even heard a conversation that made me smile where two of our excellent Science teachers decided to separate an inquiry unit into two inquiry units, because the conceptual framework for both topics was being compromised and the inquiry could not be as in depth and rigorous. They felt the learning was superficial and did not allow students opportunity to truly inquire and create investigations that are worthy of the scientific discoveries the students will be making.
  • We have 17 teachers new to the MYP this year and it was great to see them starting their journey as MYP inquiry-based teachers alongside experienced practitioners. They were able to ask questions, develop understandings of the Key and Related concepts, Global Contexts, Inquiry questions, Learner Profile, ATL skills, Open-ended and rigorous task design, MYP objectives and all else that the MYP offers. The IB can be very daunting to those new to their programmes, but having teachers working alongside them for two days helped remove most of that fear and encouraged them to simply take one risk at a time.
  • I also observed multiple student profiles open on laptops and these profiles being used to inform planning. With teachers having the time to reflect and plan collaboratively, planning was not just developing inquiry-based programs, but planning for the students and their needs. Student-centred planning was occurring with holes left in unit planners to cater for student-led inquiry. Our goal for MYP unit planners to be “living documents” was being actualised.
  • I saw group emails popping up on laptops, resources being shared and developed, OCC teacher support material, blogs and articles being read and shared in order to inform planning.
  • We are a very large College and our office areas are spread throughout the various buildings, which is great as they are lovely office spaces, however, it does mean that often time (just for example) our Arts or Design team rarely collaborate with our Physical and Health Education or Mathematics team. Hearing and seeing how other disciplines engage our students in inquiry-based learning from the perspective of a different discipline, helped deepen our understanding of our shared approach to teaching and learning within the MYP and created opportunities for the development of interdisciplinary inquiry units.
  • Lastly, teachers had the time and opportunity to really be passionate about what they teach, which will no doubt be reflected in our classrooms.

Although as both a teacher and curriculum leader I highly value professional development and discover opportunities for growth and inspiration from all it offers, I have come to realise that inspiration comes and growth more often that not occurs when teachers collaboratively reflect, share practice and collectively design learning experiences for the students in their classroom.

I encourage school leaders to value and prioritise collaborative reflection and planning. I received feedback that our teachers understandings of inquiry-based learning, concept-based curriculum and engaging teaching practices were enhanced through conversations and shared inquiry and research more than the traditional professional development approach we usually employ. (Although, this is still very valuable and absolutely has place in educational organisations.)

The same way we don’t cram content in the classroom, but allow time for those rich discussions and inquiry-based collaborative learning experiences, our collaborative reflection and planning/professional development needs to model this approach to our profession.

Not only was this valuable collaborative reflection and planning, there was a relaxed and happy atmosphere throughout the College grounds. When we left yesterday afternoon classrooms were set up, office spaces personalised, resources created and teachers were walking with a spring in their step rather than slumped in exhaustion knowing they face a weekend of independent planning and preparation. 

When teachers gather at 7.30am around the coffee machine on the first day of school – it will be with the students in their classes in mind, how they have designed the inquiry-based learning experiences for their students, a sense of collegiality and hopefully with a deeper understanding of their personal journey as an inquiry-based teachers being continuously developed by one risk at a time and through collaboration, rather than isolation.

Below are just three of our spotlight sessions that our wonderful MYP teachers delivered throughout our collaborative planning and reflection.

1. Language Acquisition Coordinator, Caroline Barker sharing her thoughts on Concept-based learning.

Concept-based teaching and learning

2. MYP Drama teacher, Jade Briscoe, sharing how she uses GRASPS task model to develop assessment tasks.

GRASPS task design

3. MYP Language and literature teacher, Shona Ford, sharing the Year 10 Language and literature Global Journeys poetry task.

Open-ended, rigorous task design

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