September 2017 marked the beginning of our journey in to a new learning environment at Chute Lake Elementary. We use the term "new" loosely because many things have not changed. We have always been focused on student growth and learning. We had already been experimenting with differentiated seating and critical thinking was our school goal. However, we wanted to go deeper with our learning as educators to create learning environments for students that allowed every
learner to reach their potential. After completing our "scan
" last May, we had some concrete areas to focus on. We learned from our students and community, that students loved spirit days, inquiry projects, Learning in Depth (LiD), learning outside, whole school assemblies and learning alongside their peers. We also uncovered that they enjoyed learning things they were of interest to them- things that were personally meaningful and relevant to their lives. As educators, we realized that many of the things our students held near and dear to their hearts, were simply added extras to our teaching days. We saw that many of the things our students loved the most, were not a part of our day to day operations. We wanted to change the status quo and create learning opportunities that aligned more closely to what students valued most.
So began our learning journey. We began researching learning through play, optimal learning environments and 21st century learning. We visited an innovative school, Norma Rose Point
in Vancouver, to see a different system in action and we began dreaming, as a staff, how we could make a bigger impact on student growth. Additionally, we partnered our district's "Instructional Leadership Team
(ILT)." The ILT, led by District Principal, Jamie Robinson, introduced us to the OECD 7 Principles of Learning
and the Innovative Learning Environment Project
. We saw the OECD 7 Principles as the perfect anchor for our school goals.
Through the support of the district and our committed educators, we formed professional learning communities to further enhance student learning in our building. According to John Hattie's "Visible Learning
" study in 2009, collective teacher efficacy is the number one factor to improving student learning. Hattie's research combined with the OECD's 7 Principles led us to where we are now. Each week, teachers are given between 80-100 minutes of collaboration time to discuss students learning based on evidence from their classrooms. In their collaborstion time, teachers discuss what is working in their classrooms, particular student issues, and what could be done differently. Classroom teachers guide their conversations through the lens of the OECD principles. They discuss how to put learners at the center, emotional needs of students, the phyiscal environment of the classroom, assessment practices, the social nature of learning, learner differences, how to stretch their students and how to involve outside support to deepen student learning. Teachers are finding this time valuable as it gives them time to discuss, in depth, ways to improve and support student learning. They are using each other's expertise to build their "collective efficacy" (Hattie, 2009).
While teachers have their collaborative time, our support teachers, are working with the students in each of the respective collaborators' classes. The support team is calling this "Community Learning Time or CLT." Community Learning Time (CLT) involves several classes at once learning collectively together or in smaller groups. When students are all together, support teachers will teach through the lens of the BC Redesigned Curriculum's Core Competencies of communication, thinking and personal and social identity. This sometimes is a shared story or a guest speaker, large team activities or partner sharing. In smaller group time, called "Explorartory time," students are learning the ADST curriculum, Arts Education, or Physical and Health Education.
We have only begun our journey, but we are very excited about what we have seen so far:
Academically, we have witnessed the opening of doors. We have educators regularly working as partners or teams, teaching two or more classes at once. We have afternoons dedicated to student inquiry and/or Learning in Depth projects where students have agency to navigate their own learning journey. We see educators teaching to their individual passions to many different cohorts of students. We see excitement and enthusiasm around every corner from both students and teachers alike.
Physically, the classroom spaces look different, most classes offer an inviting space with varied seating for learners to choose their best learning space. We see students working at tables, desks, on the floor, on pillows, on couches- anywhere they feel comfortable. We see classes mixing together and even more multi-age student groupings.
Socially, we see new friends being made. We also see an increased awareness and sensitivity to the social and emotional needs of students. We see students being encouraged, more than ever before, to help one another out.
As was stated in the beginning, this is not all new, in fact maybe none of it is "new" but the intentionality is different. We are focused on the 7 Principles of learning. We have students at the centre of all our decision making- if it is not making a difference for students we are not doing it. We are focused on the social nature of learning and we are deliberately creating opportunities for students to share their thinking and help one another. We are ensuring that our students emotional needs are met by providing regular check ins and by allowing our students to work on things at their own pace and level. We are using inquiry as a vehicle to stretch our students, while reaching their individual needs, as well as using our collective expertise to guide our students. We are having regular, ongoing discussions with students and colleagues to provide student feedback that supports individual growth. Finally, we are reaching out to our community more regularly than in the past to provide horizontal connections to learning and the world around us. It is an exciting journey that takes resilient and committed educators but we believe we have what it takes to begin this transformation.