Written by Kristie O'Neill, an Instructional Leader from South West Sydney, NSW, Australia
Learning Sprints has been one successful approach in building cultures of inquiry and creating opportunities for collective capacity when tackling educational challenges with our students. The space you develop for Learning Sprints to occur can positively contribute to teaching teams. Here are our experiences with creating an optimum learning environment for educators from an Instructional Leader perspective.
Purposeful Spaces and Zones for Learning
To ensure a space is conducive to collaboration it needs to have ample room to either move around static furniture or have furniture that is easy to move and change according to need. Our professional learning space has three zones. All areas can be used interchangeably and foster a ‘huddle’ type atmosphere for sharing knowledge and ideas. This means that the furniture is not facing a wall or an interactive whiteboard. As a leader who delivers professional learning regularly it can be easy to fall into the trap of a ‘PowerPoint’ approach to new learning. Having furniture facing the middle of the room sets your Learning Sprint sessions in the right direction, literally. To get ideas down quickly, multiple spaces for staff to write their ideas on are available. All of our tables have a whiteboard surface, but I also like the enlarged Post Its, different coloured markers and vertical writing spaces. Any way you can capture collective thought for display or future reference is an advantage in growing a culture of continued learning and reflection.
Walls That Teach
The four walls of any space are an opportunity to be used as tools to enhance collaborative professional learning, promote and challenge thinking and used to share group foci in literacy or numeracy. Our Learning Sprint Tools are displayed in pockets for easy access depending on where group discussions are going or if further clarity is needed around evidence informed practice or student needs. To compliment this, resources that are contextual to our school and that are used across K-2 classrooms are also in reach and displayed to refer to at point of need. For us, these include such things as vertical bookcases with quality literature and research, student led visible learning visuals, KWL charts to continually reflect and evaluate our practice and the tracking of vocabulary walls to celebrate and share oral language approaches for writing.
Collaborative professional learning spaces should make you feel comfortable, at ease and ready to learn. How do you create this feeling? Our space is free from clutter and has an organised feel to it. Everything has its place and is purposeful. We aim to make sure the tables are clear and ready for people to sit where they would like and make it their own. There is nothing worse than coming into a neutral space and your ‘stuff’ is lying everywhere. It makes people feel they are invading your area. For us, the key to our teacher’s hearts is food. Breaking bread in the form of baked goods or just a simple plate of lollies can set the right tone. Do not underestimate the power of food when it comes to bringing people together!
Making the Invisible, Visible
Our Learning Sprints has required us to re-design data collection in creative and authentic ways. We quickly realised that the traditional data walls that allowed us to track progress were no longer relevant as the levels of progression were too large for our short cycles of improvement. We also observed that data wasn’t necessarily evident in the way of achieving a ‘marker’ but were observed through conversations, work samples, learning behaviours or improved accuracy. Once we began looking at small, sand-sized goals of improvement, we began questioning the purpose of a data wall that wasn’t going to show any evidence of impact after a successful Learning Sprint focus. Staff are incredibly proud of their impact walls as they are a celebration of our influence as educators in our quest to provide opportunities for all students to experience success.
Walking the Talk
As an Instructional Leader I see my ultimate goal as sustainability. If I were to walk away tomorrow what would stick, what might be tweaked and what would be replaced by the familiar and stubborn habits we all tend to fall back into as humans? Learning Sprints has created a framework of reflection and evaluation cycles that we hope will become habitual and be cemented into the organisational culture of our school. How do you as a leader continually reflect and evaluate your impact on teams? I have my own impact wall that mirrors the expectations I have of my staff. I collect evidence of impact and, through collegial discussions with my team, continually look for ways to improve and refine my craft as a leader in building teacher efficacy. Collaborative learning spaces set up for processes like Learning Sprints is one effective way towards that goal.