Saturday, 7 March 2015

Keeping Us True to Our Plans

I just looked at my Blog and realised its March and Ive written one blogpost in all of February. Don’t think I quite made the one blogpost a week goal I set in January. Time to get back on track.

So amongst the normal hectic February setting things up for the year stuff what else has got off track?

We have been struggling to help some students manage themselves. We’ve been encountering some behaviours we hadn't seen for quite a while. Refusal to engage in learning, physical fighting and trying to set up fights, lack of completion of any quality learning, inappropriate use of devices etc etc We tried various strategies to manage and manipulate these behaviours all of which fell over fairly quickly. So putting aside some valuable time we sat down as a team and put aside our ideas of “how to fix,” and thought about what was wrong. Who did we have concerns about and where did we think the concerns were emanating from? With a couple of explainable exceptions basically all of our concerns were about learners who were new to our learning programmes- either this year or late last year.

Now thats not surprising in itself. We operate with high degrees of self regulation. We teach integrated inquiries. We have 90 learners aged from 11 through to 18 in the same environment working with six teachers. Every learner has their own device and we don't operate a stringent net nanny programme. We have an open learning environment and when learners aren't required to be at a workshop with a teacher they can choose anywhere in any of the seven learning spaces in the hub to be working independently. We use restorative practices and there's no yelling at kids and no detentions. We don't have bells- what we say to our learners is “we expect you to manage yourself to be back in your learning environment at the right time,” because we believe thats a powerful way to authentically build self regulation for their futures.
When we explain to some of these students that we and other students learning are being affected by their choices and behaviours some of them are genuinely surprised because ‘no-ones ever yelled at me, and I haven't been on detention so I thought I must be being ok.” 

So its really no surprise that a significant group of new learners they were struggling and we were seeing some of these behaviours.  For learners that have been entrenched in a traditional system where they are told what to do, when to do it and how to do it, being thrust into an environment with so many choices and so much freedom is scary and unknown. Especially when you aren't as aware of the structures  that actually underpin all of those choices that the learners who have been with us form the beginning do get and understand.

But my concern me as a leader is that we foresaw this last year. When we created our charter and curriculum plan for the year as a leadership team, and then as a BOT and staff we spent a good chunk of time identifying barriers to the success of our vision. And then another significant chunk of time on how we could mitigate those barriers.

New learners to school not getting what we do and why we do it and therefore not engaging and and possibly derailing other kids was definitely a key barrier we identified. We were going to mitigate this by developing and running an induction programme for learners- an in-depth induction more than just a 30 minute this is how we do things here session. In fact writing that induction programme was on my Wunder List ( from Day 1. I kept deferring it to another day because I thought it wasn't as important as something else I would get doing. And then I got caught up dealing with the behaviours that were emerging- behaviours that ironically I may have been prevented if I had made sure that barriers document and a learner induction plan was a living document we acted on from Day1.

We now have implemented a strategy to help these learners. Its taking a lot of man power and time and energy but thats exactly what they need. There are huge structures underpinning what we do and they need to be directly taught those structures and the purpose for them and how that is displayed in the practices we use in the learning environment in order that they in their turn can become constructive members of the learning environment we run.

I’ve taken pride in the fact that we run, and continue to run in depth induction prroarammes for all staff at the beginning of each year- returning staff and new staff, teaching staff ad support staff. We spend days exploring the charter for the year, our curriculum plans for the year and how our eldership will work and support learning.
I’ve never wanted those documents to become something written to sit on the shelf.

Why did I forget it was as important to do the same with our learners?

We had barriers documented and plans to mitigate them but we weren't quick enough putting something in place. This weekend I will be revisiting that list of barriers and seeing what else we need to plan for now rather than waiting  until we get to a place where we have to be reactive.

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