Transformative Educational Leadership Journal, ISSUE: November 2020 | TELjournal.ca
Introducing a co-mingling of voices – that of a Vice Principal and secondary students as they share authorship of this article in much the same way they shared space in a multi-layered collaborative inquiry. The result? A student authored peer-to-peer mentorship program to tackle negative social media experiences in high school.
I have long believed that student learning through inquiry leads to deep rich learning. As a science teacher, I taught through inquiry.
But this is not the story of my science teaching past. It is the story of how as a vice-principal, I have transformed my role from the typical organizer of meetings, scheduler, learning leader and student disciplinarian to carving time and space for my office for it to become an innovative learning environment.
With an invitation into the Spiral of Inquiry (Timperley, Kaser, and Halbert, 2014), a young group of leaders has created a program to support young students in the online world and to create an ethical culture in online interactions. The Spiral of Inquiry can be used to enable students to develop learner agency, a characteristic students need in order to successfully navigate through an increasingly complex society (OECD Learning Framework, 2030). This framework also allowed me to create a highly personalized learning experience, where the students designed their learning in collaboration with each other. As a result, these students became change agents.
|From the students: We are a group of Grade 11 and 12 students from Sands Secondary. Over the years, we have worked together to build student voice and student connections at the school. Our goal was to eliminate the invisible barriers that we see within the grades and between different groups. We helped to host movie nights with Senior and Junior students to help students get to know each other. We helped with IDEAs, which was an afterschool student driven program that allows students to come out to enjoy games, hang out with friends and meet new people. With IDEAs, our main goal was student connectivity and we enjoyed doing it, but we were ready to start something new. We wanted to start focussing on something we were personally passionate about, something that hadn’t been done before, something that wasn’t curricular, something where we could make a difference. We felt passionate about social media because we have all faced negative social media experiences and we wanted to bring awareness to issues that were not widely discussed in the classroom or within the school. We knew that social media experiences such as bullying could really impact students and how they felt about school. Negative comments dissuade students from going to school. These comments make school an unsafe place and it should be safe! We felt we could do something about student social media experience and make a difference.|
The School Context
To set the context, I am the Vice Principal of Sands Secondary, a small suburban, middle class high school. Increasing students’ connection and belonging are part of our school’s broader goal in creating confident learners. In addition to the staff’s engagement in this goal through a number of initiatives, a group of students has also become engaged. Over the years, under the guidance of the previous principal, they have created events and constructs to build student connections and to make Sands a socially inclusive environment where all students belong. Over time, this group has changed players as students have moved on and graduated. We always have had a succession plan, and younger students have been ready to step into the fore.
This story starts in late winter of the 2018-2019 school year. I had a group of young leaders who were in Grade 10 and 11 and were agitating to try something new and create something that was unique for them. They were passionate about improving the life of students at Sands, and they wanted to look at connectedness through the lens of social media. As students they had experienced the effects of a youth societal digital ethics gap (James, 2014) in their own social media lives. As a vice-principal, I had certainly helped students with issues such as online bullying, harassment, extortion, the outcomes of sexting and conflicts that led to online threats over the years. Together, we believed that if students were living in an online world where their treatment of each other wasn’t ethical and was hurtful, this would certainly have an effect on how connected they felt at school. Hurtful online treatment would also affect their emotional state, a critical gatekeeper to learning (Dumont et al., 2012). My burning question was that if their social media world existed to the exclusion of adults, how can we, as a school, help students navigate this online world ethically and safely? Together, using the Spiral of Inquiry, my young change agents scanned their peers, focussed their attention, developed a hunch, and took actions to create a culture of safety and online norms for our youngest colleagues at Sands.
Using the Spiral of Inquiry with Students
I have been using inquiry thinking for so long that, as I started working with the students in the springtime of 2019, I didn’t even realize that I was setting them spinning on a Spiral of Inquiry until we were about two months in. We were well into our work when it became apparent that I was using Spiral of Inquiry language with students who were not accustomed to doing inquiry work. I was using phrases such as “We have scanned the school…”, “You have a hunch that…” and “For your focus…” This language lost them, so I explained the Spiral of Inquiry to the students. The idea that powerful work comes from using an informed framework or protocol to guide them resonated. We discussed using the framework to slow them down. They are action oriented students who wanted to start working immediately to make a difference, but I impressed upon them that they needed evidence to inform their actions, to be sure that their work would make a difference before expending a lot of effort and energy on a plan that may have no impact. Also, they were enthusiastic about wanting to be able to check back to see if their work made a difference.
|From the Students: The Spiral of Inquiry as a Framework for Our Work. The Spiral of Inquiry became our guide to help us navigate through our journey. Initially, when learning about the Spiral, we were perplexed as to what we had been introduced to because we hadn’t heard about it before. In the fall, we were at a roadblock and could not decide on what would be effective in our next steps. We decided to look back at the previous results of the surveys leading us to an important role that social media plays in students’ lives. Social media is a broad topic and in order to choose a distinctive issue to focus on, we were forced to reflect on personal social media encounters. Surveys and speaking to students can go so far, but what presentations will actually catch their attention and begin the process in their minds. In order for students to learn about something and the information to truly process in their brain, it has to be of interest to them. The relevance and understanding how much importance this has for their future and career is crucial for them to know. Approaching such a broad topic, the hunch and focus allowed us to narrow down what direction we were going. Thoroughly exploring each step made it clear of who we wanted our target to be and what the most effective way to approach them would be. We really needed to investigate the spiral and figure out how it would be most beneficial to us. When we first read over the spiral we tried to make sense of it, however still felt really confused since it was such a new idea. The spiral paper included complex language that we didn’t quite understand. We understood each individual part, but we were not able to figure out how to put it together. Ms. Macintosh was able to help us and guide us through the spiral helping us figure out how we can put each step together and form our action plan.|
With this realization also came a shift in my focus that my role now had a dual purpose. My first purpose still stood: which was that I wanted to support students by constructing a culture of safety and ethical norms for students using social media at Sands. My second purpose was to facilitate a rich, deep, personalized learning environment for my five students, within the context of the high school day where they could really take responsibility and own their learning. My role would be to build their knowledge of the Spiral of Inquiry by designing learning and experiences to deepen their understanding of the spiral and their subject area.
The Initial Scan
While my students had their own social media experiences, they also had anecdotal evidence about what they heard from others. I knew the extent to which issues arising from student social media use were brought to me for assistance, but none of us knew what the prevalence of negative social media interactions was. I personally wondered, Am I seeing a small fraction of the worst, or am I seeing the worst? Is it the tip of the iceberg? Is negativity rampant, and how is it affecting our students? Or is social media going well for most students, and negativity is affecting only a few? In essence, we needed to answer the Big Three Questions: What is going on for our learners? How do we know? Why does it matter? (Kaser and Halbert 2017, 11). This would inform the students in their work going forward: because without good data, the action plan could be all wrong.
What Was Going on for the Students at Sands on Social Media
In the spring of 2019, the students led a school-wide survey where they gathered information about the social media experiences of all students including which platforms students were using, positive experiences, negative experiences, feelings of safety and comfort in seeking help, and suggestions for the school to support students.
The vast majority of students who took the survey reported that they had great experiences on social media and used social media in a very positive fashion to stay connected with friends, family, and community and to pursue their interests. Students spoke of talking to old friends and family members and connecting to their home country and best friends there. They also spoke of having a platform to communicate interests that their friends may not have or sharing their art and getting feedback.
About 30% of students, however, reported that they had some type of negative experience on social media including experiencing threats, blackmail, receiving random uncensored photos, seeing racist and sexist posts, being bullied and having online beefs.
Students also gave suggestions about what the school could do to help. Students suggested that we could have a student group who feel comfortable with sharing their problems talk about them or have a club or having a group of trusted adults available to talk. Others suggested having presentations that focus on solutions and not scaring them, or having training and mental support for when they encounter problems. Others advocated for building awareness and resources for those who have been bullied or feel uncomfortable online.
My students had a belief that they should focus on the Grade 8 students because they could be reached easily as they would be new to the school and open to new ideas. They would also be newcomers to social media, and it would be easiest to create positive social media norms with this cohort rather than to push against established beliefs of older students. Their hunch was that utilizing peer-to-peer mentorship to create a network of trusted older peers who had already worked through social media dilemmas themselves and who also understood the intricacies of teen social media use would be more effective at creating a positive social media culture than having older adults such as teachers, police or other well-meaning adults who didn’t live in the same social media world as teens. The youth social media experience occurs to the exclusion of most adults.
Focussing on the Grade 8s
|From the students: As we dove deeper into our hunch that a peer to peer mentorship program with Grade 8s would be most effective to create a safe environment on social media, we thought about how already many students had experienced some negativity and that through their first year of high school, many more would. In our surveys we recognized that many students were very new to social media and were unaware of the intensity to how a situation can escalate and we wanted to lay down some basic practical guidelines and information to help. We wanted to support. We wanted to walk students through common realistic stories that they might experience and to give them skills and guidance for when this might come up. Through a previous year’s presentation that we had created for the grade eights we realized that the students had their walls up and that we had to break them down. In our experiences, when a student advises another student it leads to a greater impact rather than an adult. This is where our mentorship program played an essential part in making a greater impact. Personal interactions with students led us to believe that the students were in a confused state where they were not sure what was right or wrong.|
I introduced the Spiral to the students with The Spiral Playbook and they read A Framework for Transforming Learning in Schools: Innovation and the Spiral of Inquiry (Timperley, Kaser and Halbert, 2014). To continue their journey of learning, I asked Brooke Moore, Delta School District Principal of Inquiry and Innovation, to spend an afternoon with the students to work through some of their ideas about what they could do in terms of using the Spiral of Inquiry. They talked about what they had done so far and their goals. They talked about effective inquiry and the importance of going slow. The Spiral of Inquiry has been very helpful in slowing down these action-oriented leaders. After their meeting the students decided that they needed to re-scan the new Grade 8s in the building. They also wanted to get more specific information. They felt that their previous survey was vague, and the definition of a negative experience could be subjective.
In the new scan, we got more specific. We asked specifically if students had been targeted or witnessed bullying, exclusion, threats of violence, requests for nudes, homophobia, sexism, unwanted contact by strangers, receiving unsolicited pictures or other. The results indicated that ~50% of our Grade 8 class had either been the target of, or was witness to one or more of the negative aspects of social media indicated above.
The group then developed a new hunch: “As older students, we can work with younger students to create an atmosphere of safety on social media among students at Sands. We can equip students with tools to avoid social media traps and build a positive social media culture at Sands.
|From the students: Building Capacity in Mentorship During the start of our action plan, we felt that we could use the mentorship program that was already in place to reach the grade 8s. We had exposure to mentorship when we were in grade 8. At that time, mentorship consisted of older grade 11/12 students who were assigned a small group of grade 8 students and led them through various activities such as leading a school tour, learning to use a lock, giving study tips, time management and a grade 8 retreat. We feel like a connection wasn’t developed between us as grade 8s and out mentors. We believed that we could change mentorship by increasing the role and creating a year long program and make working with mentors a regular occurance to allow time to bond.
Each of us had our own experiences when we were in Grade 8 which were somewhat similar in a few different aspects, however there were also some negative experiences some of us faced. We came from different schools, mentorship impacted our grade 8 year differently as we became more connected with other students. Some of us did not feel the support that mentors were supposed to provide and others really benefited from it. For some of us it was an easier transition, as they started high school with more familiar faces compared to others. Those of us who who walked in alone had a difficult time making friends because the mentorship program being structured in a way where the grade 8s were not encouraged to interact to the others. We have tried to change the structure of mentorship for the students so that they are able to form meaningful connections with others in their grade and have an older student in the building that they will feel connected to. Our personal experiences had an impact on how we were able to change the structure of the program that in our opinion would have a stronger impact .
The Action Plan and Looping the Learning to Guide It
The action plan and the learning phases of the Spiral went together hand-in-glove because we were developing an action plan as we learned. It wasn’t a linear progression where we “did some learning” and an action plan was borne out of it. We knew that the next step of the action plan would develop from an action already in place, and as we developed the various steps, each one needed to be informed by learning. Thus we cycled from an action step to learning, to an action step, and then back to learning.
The students wanted to leverage structures that were already in place at the school as part of their action plan. The first was to activate the Grade 8 mentors. At Sands, we have a wonderful group of volunteer students who start working with the Grade 8s when they are transitioning to Sands as Grade 7s. They lead school tours, attend welcome barbecues, participate in first week activities with the Grade 8s, and run the Grade 8 retreat. Our goal was to bring mentors and students together in assigned groups regularly so that Grade 8s would have a consistent relationship with a mentor through the year if they ever needed to seek help.
|From the students: Our mentorship program was not only beneficial to the mentee but as well provided growth and weight of responsibility for our mentors. It was a stepping stone in our spiral that helped more than just our target. With routine workshops covering sensitive and important topics, we helped create a safe and positive environment online. We included interactive lessons that engaged the students and made this topic interesting for them. Our mentors were meant to be an older role model to not only talk about these uncomfortable topics with, but also with any school related questions. From not knowing how to use their lock to needing some extra help in their English class, their mentor would be there for them. Mentorship allows students to have a friendly face in the halls and make their transition from elementary school to high school as comfortable as it can be. Mentorship was the perfect verhicle for us to connect with grade 8s on a personal level.|
They set up a series of workshops between Grade 8 mentors and mentees. Each workshop took place in the library during a 40-minute Flex block. Each workshop was scheduled several weeks apart so planning and reflection could take place. In order to reach all the Grade 8s, we needed to have three sessions of each workshop because they wanted to keep the workshop intimate, an atmosphere that students would feel comfortable sharing. Each meeting addressed aspects of online dilemmas that students frequently found themselves in around topics such as sharing intimate images, non-consensual distribution of intimate images, cyberbullying, body image (on and offline), online conflict and threats in the context of a group chat, and filming and uploading recordings of others without permission (in the context of recording a fight between two students). The idea behind addressing these types of dilemmas, hopefully before most children experienced them, was that when faced with a similar dilemma in real life, on social media, without the input of trusted adults, students would be able to slow down their thinking and make ethical, safe decisions. We also wanted to affirm to our young students that there are many people in the school from whom they can seek help including the mentors who could connect them to our counsellors, our child youth care worker, a teacher, or the administration. The mentors help us build trust with our young students. The action plan was designed to address what students wanted when we asked what the school could do to help through the survey.
|From the Students: Learning through the Spiral Once we were officially introduced to the spiral, read over all the packages and met with Brooke Moore, we were confident with what we needed to do and what step was next. Yet, we questioned how much learning would be enough, how much scanning would be enough and when would we know when to move on? It was a process where at every step we learned something new along the way. With the realization that the spiral allowed us to go backwards as well we could go back to learning and learn more to inform our action plan. We understood when Ms. Macintosh brought us back to our hunch and scanning as each step aligned withother to the next, playing an immense role with each other. The spiral required a lot of patience while the scanning and learning were such significant steps that were very time consuming.|
There were a number of people that were consulted so that the group could be more effective. The students needed resources and perspectives. Early in the year, they met with our School Liaison Officer who discussed his perspective in areas where he saw students getting into trouble online. These included experiencing harassment, distribution of intimate images, and online conflict. He also talked to the students about learning he was doing with the Abbotsford Police and an education program about distribution of intimate images that they are piloting called “It’s A No” (https://www.abbypd.ca/itsano). Together, they discussed strengths and stretches of such a program. After this discussion, the students felt that to make their work different, peer-to-peer mentorship would have the greatest impact on changing student habits.
|From the Students: Learning from Experts. Earlier this year, we were given the opportunity to have a conversation with Dr. Carrie James and Dr. Emily Weinstein from Harvard University about our project. This is something that really impacted our project. Our main goal was to help make social media a safer place for students so when they do use it they are able to feel safe & secure. Negative online experiences have become so common in this generation that they can sometimes feel like they are a new norm. We came to a point where we felt stuck and didn’t really have an idea of what to do next. This is when Ms. Macintosh decided to get help. In this experience, the piece that stood out to us the most was learning that there are many out there like us, trying to change the online world for students. Learning about online decision making and ethics with them helped us see what we wanted to do next. Learning about their work and their strategies that push indivduals to think deeply while online really made our hurdle disappear. The hard part was understanding how to use these in our project, but soon after with the help of Ms. Macintosh we had started work on inputting these strategies for our next check in with the Grade 8s. Knowing that even researchers at Harvard were working on this made us feel encouraged about the changes that we were trying to implement were important. In our conversation, a piece that stood out was when they talked about creating peer mentorship programs to help tackle our topics, however the interesting part was that we had already started this process prior to the conversation. Again, it makes us feel good knowing that we are working on something for the betterment of others.|
In my role as their inquiry facilitator, I realized that I was going to have to find learning opportunities for the students and to guide their learning phase of the Spiral of Inquiry. While they set to work building their next scenario about group chats and online conflict to deliver to the Grade 8s, I set to work trying to find information about building norms and safety in online communities. I discovered Harvard University’s Project Zero: Digital Dilemmas led by Dr. Carrie James and Dr. Emily Weinstein (https://digitallife.gse.harvard.edu/).
|From the Students: Using the Decision Making Framework. Making a decision sounds like something that should take only a second or two, but we have realized that if the decision is for the betterment of others, it should be a well thought out one. We believe that you have to put time and effort into a successful decision. Last year, we had a different unstructured approach to decision making, however by using the Spiral of Inquiry we focussed on what was most important to us and we made improvements to the topics we tackled. This year we were introduced to The Decision Playbook: Making thoughtful choices in a complex world (Failing, Gregory, Long and Moore, 2019).
The Playbook opened our eyes to see what we can do and what we can accomplish with different tips and tricks in the decision making process. It made us crack down on what we wanted to be about. This was important. We feel that taking the time to think and brainstorm the many choices we had and look at our values kept us on track and focused us on our goal. Using the decision making framework stopped us from falling into confusions and traps because often we want to make a decision quickly. We each had our own opinions about what we should do next, but writing the chart and placing our values on the board allowed us to narrow it down and make the best decision on how to proceed. The Decision Playbook helped us work better together to find the best option.
Their research focuses on looking at the opportunities and challenges related to youth’s digital lives, how youth and adults perceive and respond to digital dilemmas, and identifying supports for digital well-being and citizenship. Project Zero also focusses on the use of peer-to-peer mentorship as a tool to work with students. As part of their learning, I asked the students to look through the website and I printed articles that they had written, but that was a little advanced for the students. My learning came from Disconnected: Youth New Media and the Ethics Gap (James, 2014). I found that what I was experiencing in my role as a vice-principal working with students who were experiencing or contributing to harmful social media dilemmas was very much in alignment with her research findings. James states that youth experience a blindness toward moral or ethical concerns involving privacy. She also asserts that aggressive and hostile online actions are explained with the phrase, “it is just a joke”, a refrain that I hear from students frequently. James asserts that if we are to reach students we must develop their ethical decision making skills by slowing down their online decisions and create conscious connectivity.
In order for us to continue to build a community where students would treat each other well, we wanted to slow down student reactions on social media and to start bridging the ethics gap as identified by James. I knew that my students needed to talk to Drs. James and Weinstein to learn from them and to learn about research-backed tools and invited them to do so. They talked to my students for nearly 45 minutes exchanging ideas and sharing their protocols that they had developed. It was a deep and rich learning experience for my students. They were left with many ideas on where to go next. Drs. James and Weinstein shared resources and protocols that the students poured through, and my students created scenarios around each of them. We learned the power of being bold and making horizontal connections into the wide community and the power of creating a network.
After that meeting they had so many ideas regarding where to go next. Which protocol would be the best one to use? We turned to The Decision Playbook: Making thoughtful choices in a complex world (Failing, Gregory, Long and Moore, 2019). Each member of the team had enthusiastic ideas about what to do next and where to take the action plan. Together, we followed the steps of the decision-making moves: we framed our choices, clarified our values, generated our options, explored the consequences, weighed the trade-offs, and made the decision. We met with our Grade 8s and led them through a protocol that allows students to first make a quick decision about a digital dilemma. Students then look at that dilemma through multiple perspectives, reflect on their own decision, and decide if with further thought if they would change it.
|From the Students: Informal Feedback. In addition to this project, some of us were peer tutors in grade 8 classes. We were able to listen to their thoughts on our presentations and gather feedback. We would alsobe able to ask the grade 8s on what was going on with them and the situations they encountered and how they dealt with the issues they faced in a setting where it was just me and them rather than with the majority of the people in the grade. This smaller setting allowed them to express themselves and their thoughts more due to not having the constant pressure of worrying about being judged by others. They discussed how they had found it helpful to be able to be aware of what goes on before it happens and for those that had already gone through something similar to the scenarios that we had created, spoke openly about how they wished they were aware of all the ways to navigate through it. There were a selected number of students that were not as involved on social media compared to their peers, but due to the presentations they felt comfortable to discuss with us about other issues that they had faced. All the time that we had spent in the classroom sitting with them, allowed us to have a deeper understanding on what their social norms are and the significance of the impact of our work.|
Checking – Have We Made a Difference?
The final phase of the Spiral of Inquiry is checking. The students want to know if they have made a difference. They will need to design a survey for students to take remotely now that face-to-face classes have ended with the COVID-19 pandemic. Their plan was to conduct interviews with the students to get feedback from the Grade 8s so they could refine their plans for next year. They had had some ongoing conversations with a few and the feedback they had received thus far was positive. I also have noticed that I have not had any major incidents involving Grade 8s and their use of social media in the 2019-2020 school year. I am interested to follow this cohort of students into their Grade 9 and 10 to see if the work that we have done to slow down their thinking and to help them make ethical choices continues.
Transforming the Role of Vice-Principal
The experience of leading a group of students who are action-oriented change agents through a Spiral of Inquiry has prompted me to look at this through the lens of the seven design principles identified in the OECD’s The Nature of Learning report (Dumont, Istance and Benevides, 2010). From a systems perspective, I have the ability to be flexible. I can take five students under my wing and manipulate their class schedule so that they have a class block available to meet with me together where our collaboration takes place. I also reflected deeply on these principles while I worked with the students to see if I could design an innovative learning environment in the context of the vice-principal’s office as the learning environment. Here is a summary on how this experience has aligned with the seven design principles.
Alignment with OECD Seven Design Principles of an Innovative Learning Environment
Make learning central, encourage engagement, and be where learners come to understand themselves as learners.
|From the Students: We never realized that we had already been using the Spiral of Inquiry on a daily basis. The cycle was smaller however similar. While planning events, we use the Spiral as it allows us to make a checklist that will be effective. The Spiral allows us to have a clearer understanding while approaching issues as we know what to scan and observe.|
My learners can articulate their learning very well as leaders and are goal focussed with this inquiry. They met with me regularly to design a program to create online norms and safety through workshops. My purpose was to design their learning so that their actions grew out of their learning. My role was to guide and give feedback on their ideas as they worked through the Spiral of Inquiry. As the designer of the learning environment, I developed structures and norms that played to their strengths and supported their stretches. It was a challenge for them to fully self-regulate their time and their learning to be fully independent learners. We established a check-in system with me to create a daily or weekly goal/task. Otherwise, time that should be devoted to this project was given over to studying for their other classes. I also discovered that they struggled to find their own learning for the inquiry, and I needed to spend a lot of time seeking learning opportunities for them.
Ensuring learning is social and collaborative.
My learners are learning together collaboratively, socially, and regularly with me and each other during their inquiry block. I endeavoured to set up learning experiences that connected them to the community and outside experts. Much of our time was spent problem solving, and working together to plan the most effective means to deliver the action plan for maximal effect. The learning that we set up for the Grade 8s was highly social and collaborative. Having a regular group with a consistent mentor allowed trust to build between group members and the mentor.
|From the students: The significant role a mentor can play in a student’s life has always been obvious to us. The power of peer to peer relationships grow strength, not only within students, but as well as the overall school environment. The performance of a student can depend on their comfort level in their school as most students feed off relationships and connections. Mentorship gives students security and dependability. This year has shown us the importance of mentorship and how far it can go with a student, especially in the more vulnerable times of entering high school. Grade eights enter high school with the expectations from what they have seen in the movies with a touch of curiosity and nervousness. While coming to school and having experiences can be fun, it all lies in the environments and the connections they form at school. Is there that familiar face in the hallways, do they feel comfortable asking their teacher questions? Those few things can make a world of difference for students. The table discussions showed huge progress from the beginning of the year as comfort level grew. They became more and more talkative each session. Our relationships with grade 8s grew as we began to understand them and they saw we care about them.|
Be highly attuned to learner’s motivations and the importance of emotions.
These students are high achievers and go-getters. They are highly empathic and are passionate about making the school an engaging, inclusive, and safe place for students. They believe in service and serve the school community as well as the greater Delta community through various paths of volunteerism. Their key motivation is to make a difference, which is why service learning is a powerful learning experience. Their passion to serve was a key strength in the success of this inquiry. On my end, as facilitator, it was crucial that I watch them for their times where they were overwhelmed and made this a time for reflection rather than to push forward.
Be acutely sensitive to the individual differences, including in prior knowledge.
There were two things that I needed to gauge for prior knowledge. The first was their experience with independent inquiry and how each of them adjusted to being able to work on their own. I discovered that I needed to scaffold their learning independence more that I was expecting to. This realization came with experience as we got into the inquiry.
While these students are passionate about community service, I was not sure how much experience they had with maneuvering through some of the negative social media experiences that our students were having. To enable them to gain an understanding about how students would find themselves in these situations, I purposefully paired them up with a student who was willing to share his experiences so that they could build an authentic scenario.
Be demanding for each learner without excessive overload.
The assessment throughout this inquiry has been formative in all aspects, generally delivered conversationally and through questioning that triggered reflection for the students. Students were pushed to reflect on their experiences in the action plan through a growth mindset lens.
The strength of inquiry work, where students are passionate about the service learning that they have embarked upon, is that it can be inclusive of many learning types and learner ability. Due to the learner being at the core of the inquiry, it is highly personal and personalized.
Uses assessment consistent with these aims, with strong emphasis on formative feedback.
We created a culture of self-evaluation in the group where after each step of the action plan, there was a period of self-reflection through discussion. The students reflected critically at areas of success and areas that were a challenge. All feedback has been delivered through reflective discussion through a growth lens. The proof will be when the students, who want to continue this service learning for another year, go back to their action plan to improve it for the 2020-2021 school year. A service learning inquiry isn’t based on performance tasks that can be evaluated; it is real delivery of service where each student is invested and deeply wants to be successful so that lives of community members are improved.
Promote horizontal connectedness across learning activities and subjects in and out of school.
|From the students: Although our checking phase remains incomplete, we know that adapting to the Spiral has made a significant impact to our school and ourselves personally. During our Delta Youth Advisory Council meeting, we prepared a slideshow for other schools in our district and those schools have thanked us on multiple occasions for introducing them to the Spiral as they have implemented it at their schools and find it very helpful. Ironically when we were making decisions regarding the checking phase we realized that in every decision the Spiral of Inquiry had a role. Depending on the decision the Spiral sometimes is hidden in the shadow of common sense.We know that we can use the Spiral of Inquiry on multiple occasions.|
Strong connections have been made throughout the school district and into the community through the work of these students. The students have presented their work using the Spiral of Inquiry as a framework for service learning to the Delta Youth Advisory Council (DYAC) of the other secondary schools of Delta during a district meeting. Because the use of the Spiral of Inquiry can be used multiple settings for different purposes as a framework to ensure that the work groups are doing is effective and strategic, the DYAC members of other schools seized on the framework and are integrating it into their own learning and work. Through our meetings with the school liaison officer, the Delta Police Department has become aware of the work these students are doing and is very interested in following their work. There has been interest from our feeder elementary schools to work together with our students in working with younger students who will be coming to Sands. The Drama teacher at Sands is doing a learning tasks with her students involving social media and wants to collaborate with the student leaders as well to develop authenticity in this learning. We have connected with wider community members and entered into collaborative relationships with university researchers. It is a first step in connecting with the global world.
|From the students: Being able to work on this transformative project to make school a more positive environment, has affected us in a way where we have grown with the project. We have realized that our values have changed from the beginning of the year till now, we have become more passionate about helping others and making a difference. What we think made the most impact was that this was not something that was in the curriculum but was about real life. We were able to reflect on our own experiences and pass down knowledge that can be effectively used.|
This inquiry has fundamentally transformed my understanding of the role of a school vice-principal from one of scheduler and disciplinarian to one of innovative learning designer. While facilitating inquiry and service learning for students, I have actually been learning alongside the students because through their work, I have learned about student social media culture, a world that exists to the exclusion of adults. By working alongside the students, I have been able to help them build constructs that support young students navigating the world of social media. Fundamentally, this experience has shown how when supported by a flexible, innovative learning environment, students can develop agency over their learning. This learning was self-initiated, driven by their passions, their conscience, and through a desire to improve the lives of our youngest students at the school. They had voice and choice, and through this rich learning experience they were empowered to become change agents in the school. Together, we have created a model for other students to have agency in their learning and to see that they can effect change. Looking to the future, more students are expressing interest in service learning projects at Sands through inquiry and I would like to watch this program, which is in its infancy, grow to a place where various members of the school team are facilitating inquiry spirals for students to pursue their passions.
3 responses to “Transforming the Vice-Principal’s Office: Leading and Learning Through Collaborative Inquiry with Students”
This is a fantastic story that must be read by thousands as it is so inspiring.
Thanks you all so much for this great illustration of the ways in which student power and agency can be deepened and enhanced by applying coherent frameworks with the support of a superb leader. This is a story that will be shared widely. On a personal note, as a former principal at Sands, my heart is full.
Well here is one of the first of the thousands to whom Linda just referred reading from Baltimore. And yes, it is inspiring indeed in so many ways. It is also incredibly warming to see how work that one developed at one time – the OECD learning principles – can mature to find practical application and signficance at another time, in another setting, and with other frameworks (notably Judy and Linda’s Spirals of Inquiry). Keep up the good work and I wish you all well, educators and learners alike!