Dreaming and Doing Project
Dreaming our Dreams
I asked my Kindergarten team to spend 3 minutes quietly dreaming up their dream school and found so much insight from each of them individually as teachers and how we come together to form a team. Thoughts came back extremely cohesive and it led to an amazing conversation.
We envisioned a school with no leveled grades, where kids can move fluidly through classrooms when they are socially and academically ready. With small class sizes of 12-15 students, teachers would really understand each and every one of their students needs, learning styles and interests. This model would include a K-3 collaboration and 4-6 collaboration. Instead of isolating teachers within their grade level there is a school wide community built through cross grade level projects, character development, and peer mentoring.
The above model would require teachers to push themselves and engage in things different than they are used to, getting out of their comfort zones. For the first time we would be spending time with colleagues (outside of our own grade level) bouncing ideas, fears and dreams off one another and bringing these conversations to reality. Teachers would embrace our IB themes and teach these units with INTEGRITY. This school wide collaboration would hopefully close the gap between teachers that are fully embracing the program and others that are still resistant to change. Due to the K-3 and 4-6 planning model, units would flow across grade levels and an elevated level of accountability is created.
With teachers working hard and rekindling their passion for teaching, students will recognize this change and feel rejuvenated with newfound purpose for their learning. They will be excited and challenged by the projects and instruction given to them and proud of the work they do. I want to see students talking about their learning on the playground and leaving school everyday with a smile.
While it is amazing to dream of small class size and the removal of traditional grade assignments, I teach in a traditional K-6 school setting. Our class sizes are increasing yearly and the academic demands on our young students are constantly being elevated. Students are feeling frustrated and we’re seeing a widening gap between students academically in our classrooms. In addition to academic gaps being increased there is a present divide between some grade levels on their move towards project based learning and teaching the IB units of inquiry.
When looking at the problems we currently face in our school, I’m seeing a need for cross grade level collaboration. At Ocean Knoll we are extremely lucky to have about 4 hours a week of grade level collaboration time. This is a unique opportunity we are given to plan units of inquiry, and progress monitor the students within our grade. The fault I’m finding is this creates an isolation of grade levels, and for upper grades there team is only 2 teachers. It’s not only important to be able to brainstorm ideas amongst different minds, but in order to create a cohesive K-6 program we need to know what is going on in other grade levels.
Making the Change and Opening the Doors for Cross Grade Level Collaboration
Through the discussions of dreams with my kindergarten team and informal conversations with various teachers across grade levels, there seems to be a need and a desire for more communication and collaboration between grade levels. As teachers are putting in hours of work for large 6-8 week units of inquiry, there needs to be a reassurance that other grades are building on the units, rather than having the same unit of study. Below are some small changes, which I believe can lead to big school change.
After being introduced to project tuning at HTH, I immediately wanted to share it with my staff. I have now hosted 2 project tunings and have received extremely positive feedback from participating teachers. We have had almost every grade level represented for each tuning and continued interest from teachers that have yet been able to attend. Through the tunings several grades have seen an overlap in material being covered by a grade either above or below them, which has initiated a great dialog between the grades.
I believe by offering a monthly project tuning on our yearlong calendar and a goal for each grade level to bring at lease one project over the course of the year, our attendance of project tunings will greatly increase. This is a fun and engaging way to get conversations going amongst different grade levels, and increase motivation for project based learning in our classrooms.
2.Bright Spot Follow Ups
I think the idea of follow up is extremely important, not only to further support colleagues, but to have some sort of accountability. I think it would be helpful to begin each tuning with a 5 min. follow up for the person who went the previous month to share about what has happened since the tuning, or a highlight of the project/unit they tuned.
To share this with teachers not present at the tuning, an additional role of the facilitators will be to record these bright spots and email them to the entire staff to keep everyone in the loop on the awesome things going on in the classrooms around them.
Steps Taken Thus Far
I have already hosted 2 project tunings, which have created tons of positive feedback circulating around our school. Project tuning has done exactly what I hoped and has created awareness between grade levels regarding overlap of units. This has led to further collaboration between the grade levels to ensure their units build on each other rather than repeating the same concepts. There are also wonderful compliments going around about what great projects they are hearing from various grade levels and how helpful the tunings have been to enrich grade level projects. For each tuning we’ve had one upper grade project and one lower grade project offered, where I’m seeing this collaboration opportunity of 4-6 teachers and K-3.
There have been several requests from grades that would like to bring a project, so the next tuning for March has been scheduled. I have already contacted the last two presenters to share their bright spots since the tuning. They are excited to share next tuning!
Branching even further out than our school, I have been asked by our Assistant Superintendent to facilitate a project tuning at the next district wide principals’ meeting. A colleague and fellow HTHGSE student will be bringing her 4th grade project and we will invite the principals to be our participants. Those that are not comfortable will just observe the process. Hopefully this will be something brought back to the other 8 elementary schools to support Encinitas teachers as they begin their journeys with project based learning!