My blog, much like my diet and exercise plan, seems to have taken a backseat to my depression during this ongoing pandemic. All those months spent in crisis mode with online learning kept me busy and somewhat motivated to be in a healthy routine during school, but the summer has found me sinking to the bottom of this quarantine pit with little to no distractions. Of course, there are several factors at play here. First, we haven’t been home in over five long months. For those of you keeping track at home, that’s 175 days of not being able to sleep in our own bed, 175 days without cuddles from our fur babies, 175 days of living out of a carry-on suitcase, 175 days of freeloading off of our relatives, standing by helplessly as our country of origin implodes and realizing that there’s no real end in sight. It’s just a lot to take in.
Writing has often been helpful for me in processing difficult feelings and situations, so I guess that’s what I’m hoping this post will ignite. I need to make time for introspection, time to focus my energy on something other than how unhappy I am. So, in today’s post, I want to revisit the end of the school year and do some reflecting.
Much of my time and energy at the end of the school year was spent supporting the Grade 5 teachers and students in carrying out the PYPx virtually. Thankfully, a few people within my PLN had already completed theirs by the time our share-out was scheduled, so we had some examples to look through when deciding how to organize ours. Ultimately, we decided that students would create a screencast to talk through their process and then share any additional artifacts or project creations (digital posters, videos, websites, essays, etc.) to showcase their learning. I made a webpage for each class on our WordPress site and started to build out the homepage with what photos, quotes, and graphics I could find or create until student work started rolling in. This system was far from perfect, but we all learned a lot, and at the end of the day, isn’t that the ultimate goal?
Looking back on the exhibition process and knowing what we now do, there are some things that brought real value to the unit that we hope to keep, and some that were ineffective or simply not worth the effort. Here are the ones that come to mind:
Things to Keep
Meaningful Mentorships- It was the first time we opened up the mentorship opportunity to both campuses and expanded our pool of teachers who could act to guide and facilitate these student inquiries. This partnership did a few things to enhance the exhibition experience. First, it distributed the weight and workload for those teachers in Grade 5 so that they could focus more specifically on developing skills and supporting the academic side of the PYPx. Secondly, it helped bridge a gap between the primary and secondary campuses and showed that we are indeed a connected community. And finally, it helped bring different perspectives and expertise to the students, which enriched the learning tremendously.
Embedding Agency- A key tenant of the PYP is the idea of empowering student voice, choice and ownership, and the exhibition is the best example of this. Students selected a topic of their choice and developed it from the ground up, making decisions and reflecting along the way. I feel like we successfully moved this unit from a guided inquiry to one that was more student-led and process-driven. I hope that we can take this a bit further in the upcoming year and give students even more opportunities to collaborate, give feedback, co-create success criteria and take action on a larger scale because there’s so much value in this.
Leveraging Technology- I suppose I’m seeing this through my own lens and role in IT, but there was a tremendous amount of creative technology use throughout this unit, by both students and teachers. While being in a fully virtual setting certainly contributed to this, I hope there were valuable pieces that will remain even when we return to our in-person classes. Students and teachers learned to take risks and try new things (even if they didn’t always work), they learned to troubleshoot and solve problems, they gained some valuable technical skills and ultimately, they are more prepared for our upcoming hybrid school year.
Prioritizing the Process- This, more than anything else, is what I most hope we keep for next year. Too often the exhibition and other large celebrations/sharing of projects become about the end product. The fancy bulletin boards, laminated posters, large displays. And I get it. But it’s supposed to be about the learning that’s been done along the way, and this year, despite how challenging it was, we did stay true to this and I would like to see that remain a focus for years to come.
Things to Change
Saving it for Last- One of the greatest missteps from this whole experience was not starting the process sooner. Considering the PYP Enhancements that were released last year, we should be running the exhibition unit all year instead of pushing it to the final 2-3 months of school. So many elements are embedded in this culminating experience (skills, ATL’s, learner profile attributes, etc.) that starting early just makes more sense.
Rigid Structure- Operating in a sustained crisis mode did not lend itself to free inquiry. As a team, we decided to scaffold and structure a lot of the unit to ensure all students were on track for completion. All of this limited the opportunities for responsive teaching and for students to make most of the decisions. As we look ahead to a new school year, with even more uncertainty than last year, we need to consider how to release the reins a bit and respond to those teachable moments as they happen. I’m not saying we throw out the structures altogether, I’m just saying we need to build in more agency.
Self-Doubt- A major barrier to success in the spring semester was how helpless and unsure we felt. Spread across time zones, varying connectivity and access to devices, waning engagement, personal trauma and isolation, etc… All of this took a toll on our abilities to lead and empower our students. With the new school year just weeks away and some new approaches and systems in place at the school level, I hope we can be better at compartmentalizing and moving forward through the uncertainty that awaits.
While this post really just scratched the surface of reflecting on the end of the school year and how the exhibition unfolded for us, it was a helpful first step in processing some heavy emotions and getting back into a blogging routine.
I’m interested in how others are taking the time to work through and process the end of the school year and whether they’ve had success with a certain strategy. If so, I’d love to hear from you! Until next time, enjoy what’s left of your summer and I hope you take some time to do your own reflecting.