The popular saying: “two heads are better than one” has come a reality for one Primary Years Programme (PYP) school in Mexico. In this article you will read about how the entire school experienced a student-centered environment since implementation of whole-staff brainstorm meetings to enrich units of inquiry.
Undeniably, PYP schools have many things in common: committed teachers, great learning communities and, yes, time being tight for collaborative planning.
Time to collaborate, to make room for clever and innovative ideas is not always easy to find. Even if you are a school in which those times are scheduled, there is always the sense that time is a bit short. So instead of finding more time available, we came up with a solution to make the best out of the time we have.
Involving every teacher
At our school we have 45-minute a week grade-meetings and not every specialist is available to attend them. So we figured that we could hold a 1-hour meeting at the end our additional monthly training sessions, and brainstorm with specialist teachers and any other faculty member who might contribute to different stages of the inquiry process for the units.
A guiding question
The idea was to motivate every teacher to cooperate in any way, shape or form that they might think of. No specific method to the madness. We had a very simple PowerPoint presentation with the transdisciplinary theme, central idea and concepts to present each unit (grades K-6) to the attending staff.
We started the session with a simple guiding question: What can we do to improve or expand the inquiry?
Little by little, ideas started to flow and most teachers were enthusiastic about pitching in; suggesting ideas, sharing information or contacts they knew. We had no structured system to collect the data; we tried to take notes to not forget any good ideas. At the very beginning there were lots of ambitious ideas, such as getting students to long school trips abroad inviting famous entrepreneurs or politicians to come and visit our students, budget-demanding projects, etc. Beautiful, but sometimes complicated or non-realistic ideas.
Where to go from there?
Logically, some of those ideas could not materialize, and we did not want the team to feel frustrated or lose interest. So, during grade meetings we addressed the ideas with the teachers to find ways to incorporate them.
Every teacher took the responsibility to lead one or two initiatives, mostly the ones they suggested or came up with. Our specialist teachers found out about different resources to get their content a new perspective and collaborate in a more transdisciplinary way. We had the opportunity to book some school trips to new and interesting places, and to attain books and store webpages with relevant information. We discussed videos, documentaries and lots of apps that were very helpful and resonated with our students beyond the units of inquiry. We involved parents and students from other grades in true love-learning processes.
A bit more structure never hurt anyone
As we grew more accustomed to brainstorming sessions, we created a more structured way to categorize the ideas and suggestions so it would be easier to assign a responsible person for the follow up.
We use a Google Drive document that is shared with everyone and it includes categories such as: school trips, specialists who might share with students, arts and crafts, music, technology related, physical and emotional health, and others.
On this document we have the transdisciplinary theme, central idea, key and related concepts for each grade, so it is visible at all times and we stay on track during the meeting and the lead teachers present their summative assessment with the rest of the staff to enrich the information and guide the suggestions.
The outcome and what lays ahead
For our school, this strategy has worked wonders, collaboration is still flowing, fun and motivating. It has given the opportunity to build stronger working teams and to connect with peers in other ways. It has allowed us to know each other and appreciate our value as individuals and educators.
For this school year, we are planning to include some parents in our brainstorm session to further enrich the contents and focus on agency.
Mariana Resa is a PYP coordinator at Noordwijk International College in Mexico. She has 8 years of experience with both the PYP and MYP and is a passionate educator with more than 20 years of experience teaching and leading teams of teachers. You can read some of her articles in www.futureskillseducation.com and follow her on Twitter @MarianaResa1.