The Landscape in Which You Live

Submitted by Lori Jeschke – Director of Education in Prairie Spirit School Division, Saskatchewan


“Tell me the landscape in which you live and I will tell you who you are.”

Spanish Philosopher Ortega Y Gasset

What do we want to be known for in Prairie Spirit?

When I get to share about the work we are engaged as a School Division with other Divisions in our province and across Canada, I describe some of our Learning for Life stories, how they reflect our My Prairie Spirit Classroom (MPSC) document (#mpscpssd) and the learning leadership evident in our schools.

If we believe and practice the big ideas behind the statements in MPSC with adults, then I can confidently tell others that I believe our teachers, in turn, are practicing this with their students and that this cannot help but impact student achievement. Talking about this makes me reflect on our School Division’s mission: Learning without limits in a world of possibilities. Our vision is: Learners for Life.

Our work, our business, our moral imperative? LEARNING! If I’m looking for evidence to answer the question, ‘How do you know?’, then what does learning look like? Sound like? Feel like? As I get to share our MPSC document with others in more detail, a common question emerges: How do we know that this MPSC pedagogy/way of being and doing is impacting student achievement?

My first response – “Great question!” I would go on to describe that we believe in risk-taking. People are surprised when I tell them that we share “I Blew It” stories with our new teachers.

They can’t believe that we would have teachers trying something new and being terrified, yet looking forward to going back the next day to try it again because of how engaged their students were.

I tell them we believe in side by side learning. They are shocked that we would dare ask teachers and administrators to think about 80/20 in classrooms, staff meetings and PD.

I tell them that we believe in reflecting on our practice and again, they can’t believe that our principals and vice principals are willing to turn and talk about their thinking during our Administrative Leadership Team (ALT) meetings.

What do our learners look like? Sound like? In Prairie Spirit, our main response to these questions would be the tenets of My Prairie Spirit Classroom. This document is our anchor chart or learning focus and provides us with a common language and practice for all of our learning opportunities.

As a learning leader in Prairie Spirit School Division, I am always asking myself how I will approach every learning opportunity as a My Prairie Spirit Classroom?

Sandra Herbst reminds us that leading is a learning person’s job and asks the question: “What will other people learn because you were in the room?”

Einstein said: “I never teach pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” How will what you do and say at meetings, PD, interactions, provide the conditions for learning that reflect what you believe about learning or who you are as a learner? How will the landscape in which you live tell others about who you are?

“The critical skill of this century is NOT what you hold in your head, but your ability to tap into and access what other people know.” (Wiseman, 2014)

Our Learning for Life focus for this year involves a Question of Practice:

How do we know that the learning that we are focusing on—held in the statements within My Prairie Spirit Classroom—is impacting student achievement?

We are focused on three areas:

  1. Digging Deeper into our My Prairie Spirit Classroom document – to unpack, discover and reveal what lies within the statements… #relevance – what does that look/sound like? #mpscpssd, #mpsc, #allstudents, #sidebyside #relationships
  2. Feedback/Coaching – we began the work of mediative questioning with Sandra Herbst this past year. She modeled the practice of classroom visits, helped us to notice in relation to teacher set goals, and provided us with the opportunity to craft mediative questions to invite further thinking. This year, we want to dig deeper into providing feedback and enter into coaching conversations.
  3. Evidence of Learning – in order for us to answer the question of “how do we know?” we need to gather evidence to help us tell the story of what is happening in our classrooms, our schools, and in the Division. How will we be able to show what we know? In other words, if you are describing your school as a place where MPSC is actualized in everyone’s classrooms and the person you are telling responds with “show me”, what will they see, hear, experience that would help answer that question?

What evidence do we need to collect? What conversations do we need to have? What will we notice? What might be our first next steps?

I shared a TED talk called “Music is a Language” by a famous bass guitar player, Victor Wooten, with our Admin Council during our committed Learning Time at our weekly meeting. . The focus was on the importance of learning; he connected the process of learning to talk with learning to play music or an instrument.

He used the analogy that “as a baby, you were not sent to a room a few hours a week with other babies to learn how to talk… no, you were allowed to jam with professionals when you were learning to talk.” Jamming is not a performance, but it’s an interactive experience that can be deeply personal and emotional.

I had the opportunity to jam with some amazing learners at the CAfLN Conference and Symposium over the past four years. This opportunity to ‘jam’ continues via our Facebook group and also within posts on the CAfLN website.

We are looking forward to this year’s CAfLN Conference 2018 – Sailing Forward with Assessment for Learning – May 3-5 in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. The opening and closing sessions of the conference will feature live rehearsals with the Halifax All City Wind Ensemble conducted by Nathan Beeler and moderated by Lorna Earl featuring a guided discussion and discovery of the key “look-fors” present in high quality Assessment for Learning. Conversations will focus on how this transparent and engaging example represents and models the best practices associated with AFL and how this can transfer into the everyday classroom.

What might it be like for you to jam with other learners? What might you learn that you could take with you into the classrooms you engage with? How might those interactions add to our responses to the question “How do we know?”


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