Natural Born Learners

As students enter the class in the morning they choose a literacy learning task

“Give the pupils something to do, not something to learn; and the doing is of such a nature as they demand thinking; learning naturally results.”            John Dewey

The traditions and culture of education are deep and resilient across all grades and subjects and it is often a challenge to overcome the inertia of  the “we have always done it that way” stance. In a program such as Kindergarten, this can be even more apparent. Quite often, the practices and approaches applied in K programs are seen as sacrosanct and part of the canon that can not be overturned or challenged. This is exactly why I believed that the addition of Full Day Kindergarten to Ontario’s schools would be a great opportunity for creative disruption.

Along with a revised curriculum that adresses the need for developmental learning, inquiry and authentic documentation of learning came the creation of a partnership between Early Childhood Educators (ECE’s) and Ontario Certified Teachers (OCT’s). These two forces, along with the investments made in program resources are serving as the catalyst for some rich learning, for kindergarten students and the educators who work with them. An example of this?

A few weeks back I was engaged in a conversation with one of our Park Avenue PS FDK teams (@BrewerBerryman1) on the challenges they were facing with structuring their learning environment in a way that would allow them to better document the student learning using the iPads we had provided. This is a classic teaching problem of practice; we are so busy teaching, we don’t have the time to observe and assess what the students are learning.

We were fortunate in that we have an FDK team at a neighbouring school that has done some detailed work in this area; and @TechieAng and @KimberCoombes were more than happy to open up their classroom for an observation and reflective conversation on how they were managing this challenge. We observed how, in this class, rather than wait in a large line up the students entered the classroom with @KimberCoombes (the ECE) in small groups as they arrived, unpacked and then headed off to the learning centres that were set up around the room. Over the 10 minute entry time (prior to and after the morning bell) all 27 students followed this process calmly and with varying degrees of independence.  During this time the OCT and ECE interacted with students, providing prompts and gathering assessment data. It wasn’t until 28 minutes into the morning (I timed) that the students were called to the carpet for a whole class learning activity.

That was about a month ago. Over the past few weeks I’ve been peeking into @BrewerBerryman1’s class to see how their efforts are progressing in making this change of practice; the photo above is evidence of their efforts. The day starts with much more focus and calm, students are interacting with each other and the team has lots of time to gather assessment evidence to inform both their lessons and the practice they set up at the learning centres. The students have responded positively to the defined autonomy that this entry routine provides.

It is also worth noting that this is also evidence of the impact of collaborative, inquiry-based learning between professionals, through face to face interactions, Twitter  and blogging. It was the reading Angie’s tweets and blogs that our team had their curiosity tweaked in the first place and this collaboration is continuing as they carry on their inquiry along with @TechieAng and @KimberCoombes.

So I have two questions related to my leadership as a principal: How can I continue to help our teachers re-examine traditional practices? (like starting the day with ‘carpet time’)  and How am I supporting the use of joint work through face to face and online networked interactions to help our staff structure and guide their own professional inquiries?

For me, it is important to remember each of us, when given the chance and choice, will choose to learn; we were born that way.It is also important for me to note that this is one example of how our staff are working to make inclusion, inquiry and innovation the foundation of our school culture as we move forward.

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