Open-up to open-ended challenges.

“Of course the internet being the internet…there was a rapid outcry.” Scott McLeod

Snowballing happens when nothing gets in the damn way.  The honest reason that more teens aren’t using social media to change the world is because there are so many teachers in the way.

I’ve been that teacher.  We have all on occasion been more of a hurdle and less of an inrun.

8577295645_aaf98d957a_m Photo Credit: tomfkemp via Compfight cc

A huge shift in my teaching and learning happened seven years ago.

Thanks in part to NIST

I applied to be on a small team of educators who would shape the house program.  We coordinated a range of activities big and small, we brainstormed ways to inspire a culture of mentorship and community.  The key to that coordination was two part:

a) Empower student-driven activities

b) Provide open-ended opportunities

Coordinating our house program wasn’t about coordinating kids.  It was about fostering creativity and collaboration.  Navigating that challenge is only possible if you trust the students.

Want to see what happens when you get out of the way of students?
We need to shift the way we think about assessments. 

My former colleague Brian Jackson is a true trailblazer in this regard.  He knows that we need to give our students the opportunity to think for themselves in regards to the methodology in which they can demonstrate learning objectives.  Brian Jackson often constructs rubrics with the students.  This shift in collaboratively constructing units of inquiry is hugely needed.  The top-down approach no longer fits our flat context.

The reality is, students have publishing, programing, and production opportunities at their fingertips.  The options for demonstrating learning have quadrupled. 

As an MYP and DP teacher, I think of myself as a thinking-facilitator.  My primary purpose needs to be fostering globally-minded citizens.  That’s huge.  That’s why teachers get summer vacations.  If I am not asking my students to practice being thoughtful day after day after day, I have no hopes of achieving my primary purpose.

It is difficult to ask someone to be thoughtful and creative if you keep students out of the planning phase. 

Schools that don’t make time for this are short-changing the entire community.  I’ve long been an advocate for protecting ‘teacher-time.’  When I am short on time, my planning suffers.

“Nobody needs telling that meetings are a catastrophic waste of work time. But even so, it’s a little alarming to learn just how much time they can waste. In the Harvard Business Review, three consultants from Bain report the results of an exercise in which they analyzed the Outlook schedules of the employees of an unnamed “large company” – and concluded that one weekly executive meeting ate up a dizzying 300,000 hours a year. Which is impressive, given that each of us only has about 8,700 hours a year to begin with. Including sleep.” Taken from The Guardian’s “Meetings: even more of a soul-sucking waste of time than you thought.”

Most schools prioritize teachers meeting with other teachers and administrators.  Shouldn’t we place more emphasis on the time we each spend with students?

Teachers and administrators can also be hurdles.  What might happen if we hosted a ‘meeting-free month’?  What creativity might ensue from those pockets of time?

Much in the same way we need to challenge our students, schools also need to challenge their own practices.

Empowering learners is not only about empowering students.  How can we empower our colleagues?

Make room.
Make time.

Assume your community will use both wisely.


Photo Credit: .scribe via Compfight cc

Published by TriciaGpers

I blog about all things Global Perspectives!

5 replies on “Open-up to open-ended challenges.”

  1. Hi Tricia,
    I have really enjoyed reading your post and I can not agree with you more when you say that the key to build a strong culture of community that fosters creativity and collaboration is trust. We do need to give students more choice and voice in their learning ( I like the idea of trying to involve them in the planning phase and the creation of rubrics).
    This week has also been crazy with meetings at my school : HS meeting after school on Tuesday, PD workshops for half day on Friday, 2 department meetings on Monday and Thursday…. and the whole time, I am wondering when I’ll be able to plan my classes, work on my PBL unit and read about my fellow coetailers’ blogs! Our administrators want us to bring best teaching practices in class but I do feel we do not have enough time to research and plan for successfully implementing those new practices. It can be very frustrating at times.

  2. This is a fascinating, and scary, post. Of course from a selfish standpoint I bemoan the wasted meeting time–not because I would be out enjoying the city but because that takes away from my planning/student time.
    I think this idea has implications in the classroom as well. How much time is wasted in a larger ‘meeting’ with students when we need to follow that up immediately with a number of clarifying one-on-one meetings. I had never seen the use for flipping an English class–“lectures” are few and usually very, very short. But most lessons begin with something. You post has made me realize that the time spent on the initial setup or prompt or preamble for a lesson does add up. And maybe that’s where the flipping happens: if students watch the preamble before class then the ones who understand the open task can make wise use of their time; the ones that need clarification get that immediately from the teacher in the more effective one-on-one session. Thanks for reminding me that there is always opportunity to make time and make room for the students.

  3. Hi Matt,
    The flipping happens well before that preamble. I regularly spend 2-5 lessons at the beginning of every unit constructing the unit plan with the students. (2 for my veterans, 5 for newbies to my class).

    I give them the curriculum outcome/s we are looking for and then I say to them so what vehicle (text) will we use to get there? We negotiate a text. We then choose a critical literacy lens through which to examine that text, ie marxist, feminist, resistant etc. (I start this with G7 students by the way and they are AMAZING in what they do that other teachers think they are too young to do… but I digress.)

    Then they give me alternate texts and forms that can add to our learning for intertextuality. Next up the students come up with the in-class learning experiences that will be the more obvious formative assessment tasks at milestones along the way. The students and I then go through the given rubrics from the curriculum and we translate them into English we all understand and then modify them to the summative assessment task for the unit.

    The take-away for this is simple. The students own the unit and understand EVERYTHING we are doing so they are engaged. I have no problem with homework from any of them. And the best part is for them, their achievement is usually 25-40% higher than other classes doing the same exact unit and activities but without their involvement in the development of the unit.

    Older classes G11-G12, they even help me choose what outcome they need to work on the most. Give the students’ ownership, its the only way to stay relevant and compete with all the other super-cool diversions pulling at their attention.

    1. Thanks for weighing in one why your practice is so darn good, Brian Jackson. #mentor!

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