We were greeted by both the administrative team as well as a student welcome committee. We spent the day in animated conversations with teachers and students alike, sharing thoughts, ideas, questions, concerns, and experiences. This sharing was enriching to say the least. To best share what I’ve learned, here are my 5 main takeaways.
5. SCHOOL CULTURE
In my experience, change and progress can only happen when combined with the right school culture. Many of my questions revolved around this topic: how do you get your staff to buy-in to new initiatives?
It is obvious that the team at Park Maitland has spent a lot of time thinking about this topic too. Over lunch, they explained that the two most important ingredients to their success has been having a growth mindset and valuing the role of collaboration.
In fact, even their professional development model is founded by these values. Their staff PD days often involve TTTs- Teachers Teaching Teachers. Teachers will either volunteer to run a mini-workshop or will peer-nominate each other to share something amazing that they have going on in their teaching practice. This model naturally enables collaboration, and sharing, all while valuing the staff’s knowledge and wisdom.
They have also built time for one-on-one collaboration between staff members. Evelyn McCullough, the school’s Lead Innovator, not only teaches, but is also available to guide and support teachers in their professional development. She works at the teacher’s level, to move their pedagogy forward together, and develop new ideas. Emily Blomquist, the teacher in charge of the Tinkering Lab, builds all her projects in collaboration with homeroom teachers, in order to best support student learning.
It is clear the school is guided by these principles; the way teaching posts are created, the manner in which PD is run, are driven by the belief in collaboration and growth mindset.
4. EMPOWERING STUDENTS
Educational technology lends itself to a constructivist pedagogy. This means teachers are letting go of control, and rather, support and scaffold their students in learning.This often translates to giving students the tools they require to tackle projects- teaching students how to think, as opposed to teaching them what to think.
We saw a few examples of this happeing at Park Maitland throughout our day. In the Tinkerlab, teacher Emily Blomquist explicitly teaches her students technical skills, such as hot gluing, using masking tape, and using the stapler. She does this all while teaching them to self-evaluate; her students, some as young as 4 years old, are developing the metacognitive skills that are so important for today’s learners. The investment into basic tinkering skills also empowers students later on, so that they may have a repertoire of skills to choose from to solve a problem, or build a project.
In the makerspace, lead innovator Evelyn McCulloch dedicated the required time to showing her students how to use a green screen. In teachers’ homerooms, students have been taught how to use the tools at their disposal- for example, students now use Google Classroom (often reserved for a teacher’s use) to create and run their own study groups. I even had a conversation with a pair of sophisticated grade 6 students, who were able to tell me why they preferred using Weebly to produce their project websites over GAFE sites or Wixx. In my opinion, this type of higher-level thinking is evidence of student-led learning.