What questions did you ask at school today?

With years of experience working in an IB school, I became used to starting new units of inquiry by discovering what questions students had about their new topic of study. When I returned to working in a non-IB school, I forgot at what point students need to be used to an environment where they are invited to ask questions, versus being in a learning environment where it is the teacher asking most of the questions. From my early days working at an IB school, I saw how quickly students were so excited to learn because they felt like what they were learning came from their interests and their questions. This so quickly helps change the culture of “why are we learning this, because the curriculum says we have to learn this” to students being excited to learn because they were the ones that asked questions about the topic and want to further their knowledge in that area.

Having experienced this, I am quite passionate about promoting student questioning, to see curious and engaged learners who are eager to learn the “required content”. By simply changing up the way you start a new unit, by exploring what students would like to learn, can completely change the outcome and direction of your unit, while covering all the required material.

I could probably go on writing all day about encouraging student questioning, however being limited to the suggested 200 words, I would like to finish off with the following recommendations:

Teachers:

  • Encourage your students to ask questions, no matter what the question is, keep challenging your students.
  • Model different types of questioning so students can slowly reach higher level questions. 
  • Start a new unit of by asking students what they would like to learn, what questions to do they have about this unit.
  • Learn more about helping students vary the types of questions they ask and visit Sonya Terborg’s blog post on Concept-Question Cards – This is a great resource to guide you in creating opportunities for students to ask questions. To download a PDF set of the cards that Sonya talks about in her blog click here.

Parents:

  • I challenge you to change the dinner table conversation from “how was school today?” and “what did you learn today?” to “what questions did you ask at school today?”

Let us all be curious together!

-what questions did you ask at school today--

 

Modeling self-directed learning

For the next few months, I will be reading Cognitive Coaching – Developing Self-Directed Leaders and Learners by Arthur Costa and Robert Garmston, while I participate in the #CogCoachStudy book study and Twitter chat.

In our first week of reading, I discovered the (multiple) meanings of Cognitive Coaching and was asked to reflect and share how I model self-directed learning.

From the very first day that I set foot in my own classroom, I always told others that I saw myself more of a coach to my students than a traditional teacher. I expressed this because I always encouraged my students to be self-directed learners, and I saw my role in the classroom to be the one to provide my learners with the tools they would need to accomplish this. Over time, as I have worked my way up into a leadership position, my “students” are now teachers. However, my teaching philosophy has not changed and I continue to provide teachers with the tools they need to be empowered with a willingness to be life-long learners, like myself. To accomplish this, I model some of the following skills that encompass what it is to be a self-directed learner:

  1. I am resourceful – I am an active participant in social media. I participate in Twitter chats and online book studies, to develop my PLN of like-minded educators and leaders in educational technology. I am not afraid to ask questions and to seek out help and advice. I visit other schools and contact other Directors and individuals in a similar role to learn about their school, their strategic plan, their challenges and successes, and I learn from their experiences.
  2. I am goal orientated – I set professional and departmental goals each academic year and put them up in my office. In addition, I set personal goals at the beginning of a new calendar year. I revise, edit, and update those goals, and I ask my team of teachers to also set their own goals related to educationally technology and innovation.
  3. I am committed to life-long learning – My yearly goals always include learning something new, attending a seminar or workshop, reading books, traveling, etc.
  4. I ask questions – Though not currently a strength of mine, I have begun to ask more questions to myself, to reflect and challenge my own reasoning when making certain decisions. In addition, following the viewing of Start With Why – Simon Sinek TED talk, this past summer I have begun many conversations with my team, with the question why?

As I continue to be a role model in my leadership position, I look forward to developing the foundational skills related to cognitive coaching to encourage my team of educators to not only become self-directed learners but also to grow into cognitive coaches for their teams.

Being a “change agent”

Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.  How are you embracing change to spur  innovation in your own context?

I try to embrace change every day and every way because I see myself as a change agent. Like George, I was also hired into a new position, as Director of Educational Technology & Innovation, to provide support to teachers and to help lead the way in innovating student learning at my school.

When I first started, I was assigned a teacher per grade level in the elementary division, as a “tech rep”, with whom I would meet with weekly to plan and discuss how we could integrate technology into their curriculum. Unfortunately, due to many challenges with technology and the school’s unreliable infrastructure, teachers felt very frustrated and found it hard to take risks in integrating tech into their classroom. Furthermore, most of my one-on-one meeting time turned into providing tech support and help troubleshoot issues, instead of planning.

After building trust in my team, and after several improvements were made to our infrastructure and tech support, I thought it would be a good time to refocus my team and get everyone back on track to invest their time with me on innovating their grade levels. Soon after, I changed their title from tech rep to innovation rep, to better reflect their role. Though we do discuss a lot about tech integration, I remind them that their role is to be a model of how to integrate, not just technology into the classroom, but to look at ways to innovate student learning. I constantly remind them that “Innovation can happen without technology, however technology can be used as a tool to drive innovation.”

The next step for me, in being a change agent for my team and my school was to help create a roadmap to help teachers build tech integration and project-based learning into their classroom. Over the past few months, we have been busy working all together to build our own K-12 EdTech Scope & Sequence.

As a result of having recently completed and updated grade level unit plans, the innovation reps have more easily been able to identify and link age-appropriate technology skills and projects into their curriculum.

Here is where the magic is happening: Because we have put together a scope & sequence and identified what needs to be accomplished at each grade level following the Alberta Ed ICT Learning Outcomes, those that have been more resistant to change and integrating tech into their classroom, have become more accepting that this is part of their curriculum. Also, in order to provide additional support to those that don’t feel as comfortable, my team has offered to go into their classroom and team teach. Furthermore, they have begun to model weekly, during their grade level meetings, a new innovative activity they are doing in their classroom. Little by little, the innovation reps are slowly becoming change agents for their grade level.

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