What Are You Unlearning Today?

The barrier to progress is often the habits and routines that served us well in the past, but are not compatible with new directions, initiatives, and ideas.

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As we learn new ways of better meeting the learning needs of our students, we often find that the changes required necessitate us to stop using some of the strategies that have helped us be successful in the past. This may seem obvious, you need to stop doing some things, but it is a concept that can be difficult to do. We often become invested in the way we choose to operate in our class. A change of routine can be very disruptive on a personal level. I believe we need to identify the things that that we are going to need to leave, or “unlearn”, in order to make progress. This should be a question we ask ourselves as we are setting up changes.

I have lived this disruptive change many times in my life. I can remember when our school was doing work around assessment and I came to see that the methods I was using could be improved. I believed that by giving more feedback and less actual marks I would improve student writing. I had a strong feeling that this would have a big positive impact on my students, which it actually did, but I struggled with letting go of the methods I had used before. I needed to unlearn. I knew these old strategies, my students knew these strategies and what to expect when they were getting their writing assignments back. I had even photocopied a years worth of marking sheets in advance to be prepared. I pushed forward and both learned the new assessment strategies and unlearned the old ones.

The cycle of learning and unlearning should be constant in an environment where learning is important, where improvement is desired, where theories are put to the test. The possible consequences of not unlearning is doing things the same way, not keeping up with new research, not changing our instruction for the needs of the individuals in our class or school, and not improving. Please be careful, I did not say we need to adopt every idea that comes across our desks. I am saying that we should be thoughtfully adopting new ways of teaching and learning based on the areas we have identified as needs in our students.

It takes confidence to take the leap and try new ways that may lead to higher levels of success. When we see new ways of teaching and learning that we believe are promising, we are often leery to try them out as it means leaving processes that have made us successful in the past. This underlines that importance of psychological safety in our workplaces and the need to create environments where testing theories that have the possibility of failure is tolerated and permissible. We need to be able to share our successes and failures in order to move forward.

When creating a Learning Sprint, a question that might need to be posed is: What are we leaving in order to try this new way? or What are we not going to do now and what are the consequences? By consciously naming the strategies we are leaving, I believe it will help some to adopt the new ways. So the question is… what are you unlearning today?

A big thanks for the podcast Masters of Scale for the inspiration on this topic. You should check them out.

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A Planning Day – Sharing our Process

This post is part of a series related to using Learning Sprints as described by Agile Schools and Dr. Simon Breakspear. The purpose of sharing these experiences is to help other school leaders in putting in place Learning Sprints by sharing triumphs and lessons learned throughout our experiment. Our learning was facilitated by the Alberta Teachers’ Association Agile Network.

Today I want to share some very concrete ways that we organize our collaboration days when planning Learning Sprints at our school. Although relatively early in our Learning Sprint implementation, we have experimented with different ways to ensure we use our teacher collaboration time effectively. This past week, teachers had the opportunity to meet in their Sprint groups during school. The school brought in substitute teachers to replace them for a few hours so that they could meet to discuss their Learning Sprints.

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Graminia Teachers during the “Could Do, Must Do” protocol.

Our basic agenda for a 90 minute meeting looked like this:

  1. Review Past Sprint
  2. Define Broad Focus of Next Sprint
  3. Narrow the Focus
  4. Discuss Assessment & Intervention
  5. Create Sprint Canvas
  6. Review Timeline and Set Dates

Now, let me give you a few more details about what we did in these sections and the reason we chose the protocols and activities.

  1. Review of Past Sprint – Here we had all participants bring student work from our previous sprint. The conversation started from the student work and was informed by the student work. I underline this process of speaking to the actual product of learning because we have seen a big improvement in the quality of our review when we start all our analysis on what we see concretely form the students.
  2. Define Broad Focus of Next Sprint – In this portion of the meeting we intentionally keep to a broad area. We used the Boulder-Pebble-Sand Protocol, but stopped at Pebble (no Sand in this round). This allowed us to define the students we wanted to reach and the general area we wanted to make progress in.
  3. Narrow the Focus – Here we used the Must Do, Could Do Tool to drill down in the exact strategy that we were going to focus on in the coming Sprint. We found it helpful to ensure teachers were talking about their choices of strategy and the area where they put their strategy (was it a “Must Do” or a “Could Do”). We were able to group many strategies together and comment on what we thought would have the highest impact. At the end, we chose one group in the “Must Do” section as the focus of our coming Sprint.
  4. Discuss Assessment & Intervention – Now that we have a specific area to focus on, we made a section to ensure that our intervention was based on good research or refined the intervention based on what research was saying. We have been working with the book Visible Learning for Literacy by Fisher, Hattie, & Frey, so this part was rather simple this last round. We also planned our assessment strategy to ensure that we knew if our intervention had an impact on student learning. We took a moment to talk about the tool and in this case create the tool that we will use.
  5. Create Sprint Canvas – Usually at this point, I have a whole bunch of little papers around me about what our plan is but no one place where we have clearly articulated our Sprint. I made sure we planned to take a minute to complete the blank Learning Sprint Canvas.  This way we will not forget the conversations that we had about what our main focus is during the Sprint.
  6. Review Timeline and Set Dates – Here we review when our Check-ins will take place and set the meetings in our schedules. We also review when our next planning session will take place, which indicates the end of the Sprint.

That is the details of our planning day. We had 2 groups roll through this same process twice in a day, during 90 minute sessions. I would not take less time that 90 minutes for this agenda, in fact if we had another 30 minutes our conversations could have been more rich. In the end, we had 90 minutes so we dealt with what we had.

Here are the 2 Sprint Canvases that we created in this last round:

Sprint Canvas (Humanities) Dec 6 2017

Sprint Canvas (Math_Sci) Dec 6 2017

While I am sure that our process will change, I hope that the sharing of our exact process helps someone to organize this process in their own school. Happy Sprinting!