Rebecca Tupling is an Early Years (Prep) teacher at the Canadian International School of Hong Kong. As an Early Years advocate, she promotes awareness of the importance of play-based and inquiry thinking within the foundational years of school through workshops and presentations. She is an IBEN member and leads workshops for the IB, and recently presented at EARCOS on learning strategies in the Early Years. Follow Rebecca on Twitter @RebeccaTupling.
It seems each year there is a new buzzword in education. You will be familiar with words such as ‘differentiation’, ‘flipped learning’, ‘growth mindset’, ‘grit’, ‘innovation’ and more recently ‘student agency’. With each new concept, there is an expectation to implement and master quickly, often without really understanding what the buzzword actually means.
“Student agency refers to the level of control, autonomy, and power that a student experiences in an educational situation. Student agency can be manifested in the choice of learning environment, subject matter, approach, and/or pace.”
Grace, The Knewton Blog
I personally love to learn new things and challenge myself to push professionally and implement new ideas. In doing so, I follow incredible educators on Twitter, read blogs and keep up to date with others’ teaching and learning. One resource I follow is #IBrebelalliance, an idea that was started at the IB seminar in Singapore a few months ago. The goal of #IBrebelalliance is to assemble a powerful network of educators (teachers and administrators) who can find comfort, support and inspiration from each other when trying new ideas and concepts. These educators, like me, thrive in this atmosphere. But are school faculties made up of just this type of educator?
What about the other teachers?
I often compare real life to my classroom and, when I do, I often think of these questions:
How would a classroom work if every student thrived on disruption and change?
During a time of implementation or change, why is it important for others to be involved?
Finally, if you are a teacher who thrives on being challenged and trying new things, why is it important to hear feedback from other teachers?
The answer is quite simple; if one teacher is trying to implement a new idea, it can never be successful if other teachers aren’t on board. Without the support of others, any new idea, change or innovation will fall flat.
I am so incredibly lucky to work on a team that is not only innovative but also supportive and positive. As a team, we push and implement new ideas for the benefit of our students.
Recently, the grade level that I teach (Prep, also known as Year 1) went on an amazing field trip to Kennedy Town (a community of Hong Kong). This was the second year in a row that this trip was organized and the truth is that the second year was a hundred times better than the first. Why? Mostly based on the feedback from the teachers who were heard and respected, changes were made to relieve any anxiety or fear.
Both trips were planned and organized with the aim of exploring student agency. At the beginning of this unit, each class brainstormed what being part of a community means. From their ideas, nine venues were presented to the students. To learn more about the needs and interests of the community, they were then given the opportunity to choose one of the nine venues to visit. These venues were a doctor’s office, a dentist, a fire station, the MTR, a pet shop, a temple, a grocery store, a fruit market and a retirement home. The information gathered was brought back to the homeroom classes by each student and shared with the others as an assessment task. Between the first and second year, we made significant changes to the trip based on the feedback below.
Some teachers felt anxious over the idea that the groups had students from different classes under their charge and they may not know the students personally.
Solution #1: We switched our units around so that this unit was towards the end of the year (May) instead of October. This gave teachers more time to get to know students from other classes.
Solution #2: We had multiple experiences throughout the year for students to work with other teachers and practice student agency at school. For example, within the How We Express Ourselves unit, we had eight parent volunteers that offered to read in their home language and students chose a language that interested them. Each parent was accompanied by a teacher within a classroom. Through activities like these, students and teachers can become familiar with those from other classes.
Solution #3: We also planned designated times with our prescribed group, allowing teachers and students to introduce themselves and interact with each other prior to the field trip. This introduction allowed the teachers to understand their group dynamic.
The groups were too big.
Solution: The previous year, we had five venues and each venue had approximately 20-30 students. As you can see, this year we expanded the number of venues to nine with a maximum of fifteen students in each.
There was nervousness around going to an unfamiliar area
Solution #1: A group of teachers went on a recce a few months prior to the trip to understand the dynamic of the neighborhood. This was not only a great bonding experience, but it gave teachers a good understanding of how close venues were to each other.
Solution #2: I printed maps from Google that marked the exact route from the bus drop-off point to the venues. Being able to visualize where they were going helped teachers and provided a greater sense of security.
What was the result?
+ 17 teachers
+ 52 parent volunteers
+ 9 venues
= An incredible learning experience for the students!
If you are an educator who thrives on new challenges, surround yourself with a team that is willing to support you. However, make it easy on yourself by listening to those around you and adapting accordingly. Remember your success in implementing a new idea is completely dependent on the other educators around you.
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