Change is inevitable. And where you find change, you will often also find innovation.
At Queen of Apostles School in Riverton, WA, the staff were looking for a way to remodel their own teaching initiatives to better suit the ever-changing needs of their vibrant young learners. With the help of the Wabisabi team, their wish was realized. This is their story.
In the beginning, Queen of Apostles had a picture of what they wanted to accomplish and knew where they wanted to focus their efforts. Although historically they had enjoyed favourable NAPLAN and PAT results, they still were able to identify key deficit areas they felt the need to address, including:
- A small percentage of students being disengaged from their learning
- Lack of students’ collaborative skills and a need for more group initiatives
- A very linear approach to problem-solving with only one or two strategies ineffectively relied on (e.g. personal disputes being settled only with teacher/parent intervention)
- Predominantly teacher-directed learning with no student voice in the classroom
- Missing opportunities for students to learn to think more creatively
“Our teaching and learning before was very much teacher-driven,” lead teacher Michele Colley explains. “We were very aware of what we needed to teach and what our outcomes were, but we weren’t necessarily making those very explicit to our students.”
The staff at Q of A were no strangers to inquiry-based learning either, but up to that point had not experienced much success with it. “Inquiry-based learning is something we had tried many years ago, but it never fully took root and was sustained,” admits Principal Shaun O’Neill.
However, hearing Wabisabi president Lee Watanabe-Crockett speak about the shifts of practice and the inquiry cycle gave him the push he needed to try again.
Any new initiative or change that you want to embed in a school is always a journey, and it always begins with taking that first step.
“I had heard Lee speak at a couple of national conferences, and it occurred to me that this could be the answer,” Shaun says, “and a way of developing those higher-order thinking skills.”
Ultimately, they wanted to empower their learners with skills for becoming creative and critical thinkers that understand they are also citizens in a global world. The 10 Shifts of Practice of Future-Focused Learning as a tool/structure for their teachers provided exactly the roadmap for change they needed.
In as much as change is natural, that doesn’t mean it will always be easy. So it’s not surprising that initially there were feelings of resistance and apprehension towards making this shift at Q of A School.
“When we started going into the future-focused learning process, there was a lot to take on,” lead teacher Holly Jacob says. “Before that, we definitely found there wasn’t a huge amount of student involvement.”
Wabisabi team leader Kathleen Baker-Brown works with a group of learners at Queen of Apostles School
Assistant Principal Jennifer Anderson echoes this sentiment. “Any change is difficult,” she cautions, “and if I said it was an easy process I’d be lying because we’ve got to make staff aware that this shift is a benefit for the children. Because what are we there for? We’re there for the children.”
For the sake of simplicity, the staff began by adopting shift 7, which centers on sharing the learning intentions openly with the students. This is certainly unfamiliar ground for practically any educator, and most of Q of A’s lead teachers had mixed feelings about it. However, with further support and clarification from both Lee and Wabisabi’s Australian director Kathleen Baker-Brown, the path became much clearer.
“Teachers were a little bit hesitant at first about sharing learning intentions because they didn’t think students would understand,” says lead teacher Michele Colley. “Kids are sometimes more capable than we give them credit for.”
As things progressed, teachers found creative ways to connect their learners’ awareness of what was expected of them, and to the intentions set for the day. This also let learners take charge in ways they hadn’t been able to before.
Michele Colley explains: “Some of the early childhood teachers have rewritten the learning intentions into words the students would find easier to understand, and some have used pictures to identify what the words mean. Our primary and kindergarten teachers have experienced a lot of success with this.”
Kids are sometimes more capable than we give them credit for.
Many teachers displayed the day’s learning intentions in an easily viewable poster format, which learners responded to. “Instead of us just telling them what they’re going to be doing, they have a deeper understanding,” Holly Jacobs says. “Students are going back to our learning intentions posters, asking how they can be more successful, and they’re seeing a purpose in their learning as well.”
Kathleen and the teachers of Q of A school reflect on the day's progress
In addition to openly sharing learning intentions with students, teachers also engaged them in co-creating success criteria—something that has definitely given Q of A’s learners a higher sense of responsibility, and a renewed excitement for learning.
“Having to step back a bit and let the kids take a bit of control can be a bit difficult at times,” says Holly, “but it has been really successful. We feel we have a really successful model for how we’re implementing learning intentions.”
Since adopting the shifts of practice and working closely with the Wabisabi Learning team, the staff, students and administration at Queen of Apostles school have seen a number of beneficial changes happen with teachers, learners, and the overall culture of their school. Here are some of the benefits they have reaped from their experiences.
The students of Q of A school have experienced a renewed vitality for their learning, and a greater sense of responsibility and creative control in how they learn. So what has changed for learners?
- Clearer expectations and understanding of how to be successful
- An increased focus in the attention of students
- Student “buy-in” with their learning
- Students ownership of their learning as they help develop the success criteria with their teachers
- Increases in students’ accountability for their own learning
- Increases in teachers’ transparency with what they are teaching
The Shifts of Practice ultimately make a teacher's job much easier by reducing workload and shifting responsibility for learning. Here is what has transformed for the Q of A staff.
- Children are now leading their learning and focused on what they are doing
- Teachers are more accountable, especially when meeting the curriculum outcomes
- Teachers are transparent with what the learning intentions are
- Students are not passive learners; they are now owning the learning
- Students clearly see the purpose of a task/learning intention
- More conversations about learning with students, and also between students
Ultimately any shift of pedagogy and philosophy will have a lasting effect on the whole-school culture. After working with Wabisabi, this is what's happening at Q of A school.
- Learning and teaching have both become more engaging and dynamic for everyone
- Higher levels of accountability in both the teachers and their students
- A significant move away from traditional teacher-centred learning to learning that is more student-centred
- The shifts of practice are slowly being adopted as standard practice at every level of teaching
- Teachers are learning to step back and let learners take control of what’s important to them