The basis of my Inquiry project is the Living Schools Classroom Planner. I have used this as an opportunity to reflect and plan for new and improved learning opportunities moving forward.However, before I share that document with you, I would like to introduce you to my home away from home…Room 123 at Montrose School in Winnipeg, MB!
I’ve also uploaded some of videos taken at school (at the end of last year and this year so far) from events I have helped organize and facilitate. Developing community is really important to me as a teacher in my own classroom and is also a priority (not in the write down on the school plan to submit to the division kind of way but is very important at a school level kind of way) for our school. By creating school wide, vertical team and grade group learning opportunities we strengthen our sense of community!
-This video was taken last June at Indigenous Peoples of Canada Day. The whole school came together in a round dance led by our amazing music teacher and one of my grade 3 students (such an amazing opportunity for her to share her gift of a beautiful voice with the school)
-We started our morning off with a whole school Yoga sequence led by our Yoga teacher (he teachers Yoga once a cycle and is our Inquiry/Innovation support teacher for the other 5 days of the school cycle) on International Yoga Day in June. It was a really great way to start off our day!
-The Yoga was so much fun in June that we came together as a school again, this time as an ending this year’s “Take Me Outside Day”. The entire school spent a little over two hours outdoors doing a variety of activities to celebrate outdoor learning. The students were able to come and go to each ‘station’ as they pleased and experience the afternoon in a way that made sense to them. No timers at each station or groups they had to travel with…it was their time and they were able to choose how they spent it. Some activities included: carpentry, yard weaving, giant Jenga, design your own obstacle course, learn to juggle, Indigenous games, backyard BBQ games, pots and pans music, student designed scavenger hunt and nature art!
-When you are learning about rocks and minerals and one of the moms is a geological engineer, you invite her in and learn from an expert! She was pretty excited to share her passions with the students and set up 8 stations for them to learn from…including everyone’s favourite: the eruption that happens when Mentos meet Diet Coke! It is really important for us to have parents, grandparents, community members in the classrooms to create connections between home, school and the community.
Living Classrooms and Schools
After learning about Living Schools and Living Campuses I wanted to focus on what I do at school in my classroom as well as how that extends into the school environment. When Catherine offered the draft document for the Living Classroom, I was happy to accept it! I wanted to explore and reflect on what I’ve been doing within the classroom setting, then see if and how it meets the criteria of the Living Classroom.
*After using the Living Schools document I also have some thoughts about that process as well (check further down in this post)
Note: My responses to the questions in the planner have been based on what I am currently doing in the classroom as well as what we did last year, as it is early in the year and it made more sense to use examples from both years.
What is a Living Classroom?:
I shared my Inquiry project idea with my grade 3/4 students and asked them what they thought a Living School might be. Here are some of their responses:
-it is a whole school community that spreads kindness
-it is learning about all subjects and even learning at recess
-it is tidy and organized
-kids are treated nicely, there are no bullies and everyone is respected
-learn in new ways (like using technology, Genius Hour and figuring things out on our own) and not like people did before (only from teacher talking and having to read from textbooks)
-use multiage classrooms to support learners (stay with teacher for two years, older students help younger, etc.)
-has a feeling like a home when you come into the school
-work together using the 4Cs (communication, collaboration, critical thinking and creativity)
-connect to the community and not just thinking about ourselves
-there is a focus on the future and what we need to learn to make things better in the world
-kids have strong skills because you practice skills in lots of different ways
-learning happens both inside and outside
-kids learn about being healthy because it says living and living means alive
-uses a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset
-accepts people and celebrates differences
-kids learn how we can all live in peace and be happy
It turns out that they had a pretty good idea of what a Living School represents…and that’s because it is how they are used to learning and is what helped to shape my own Inquiry.
Living School Classroom Planner:
Below is the link to my Living Classroom Planner. Over the course of a few weeks I was able to go though the planner and reflect on my role as a teacher, my methods of teaching, my connections to the students, staff, school and local communities as well as the world as a whole.
Upon filling out the Living Schools Classroom Planner I think that a lot of what I do really does fit in with the philosophy of a Living Classroom and we have many strong attributes of a Living School. When I first read about Living Schools I was inspired and motivated as a teacher. I wanted to visit these schools and campuses and see how everyone is able to accomplish and facilitate such amazing learning experiences for and with their students. After spending the past few weeks reflecting on my own classroom I can honestly say that I am still very inspired and motivated and would love to visit these places, but also that I personally have a lot to share on the topic as well.
I’ve asked my grade 3/4 students to share something about our class and am so proud of their responses. They are deep and thoughtful as well as important life skills that are connected to the world around us.
Here are a few I’d like to share with you…
“Remember that story I wrote for you last year? Well my friends and I have taken it and turned it into a game. It’s so fun because it was such a good idea!” Grade 5 student shared this with me while I was on recess duty!
Student 1:”I can’t explain why I don’t feel shy anymore” Student 2:”It’s because you know it’s safe to take a risk in here!”
“I like that in this class I have made new friends and that people care for each other”
“Our class feels like a family because of the warmth and kindness. I try to bring these feelings into the classroom too so I can share them with others. It makes me happy to see others happy.”
“I like the forest visits because we get to be in nature and learn how to care for nature so we will still have a place to enjoy when we are adults. When we keep going back to the same place we feel connected to it and want to care for it even more.”
“We are lucky because not all schools and classrooms get to learn the way we do. I’m glad this is my classroom and school.”
“We have voice and choice and that’s really good!“
Personal Thoughts Living Classroom Planner Document:
After using the Living Classrooms Planner Document I have compiled some notes of my experience.
-I really liked the set up of the document and the first few pages of an overview. This makes it easier for people who are new to the idea of Living Schools and don’t need to search for what it actually entails. For example: the headings and descriptions of Values & Vision, Leadership, Teaching & Learning, Nature & Place-Based Orientation, Health & Well-Being gives you a ton of information at a glance and allows you to get an great overall sense of what Living Schools represent
-the planner was thorough, although maybe slightly repetitive at times
-it was very thought provoking, but I’m not sure if teachers who are less passionate about the idea of Living Schools would want to fill out something so lengthy
-pardon any typos, without spellcheck I am certain there are some poorly typed words!
-there was one section that I was confused by the wording and because of that left it blank
-I couldn’t get the feedback form to expand which is maybe something to look into before opening the document up to teachers, so I will write what I was going to type here:
I am pleased with the quality of questioning used in this document because it really made me think, reflect and plan. Because of this I have been able to think about what I do in my classroom and at my school to enhance the education of our learners. I’m proud of the things I do and am motivated to move forward with new teaching and learning opportunities. I think that the planner would be useful for teachers who are interested in a similar type of inquiry that I have done and also when creating classroom and school plans for the future. The planner was a fairly large time commitment and for the purpose of my inquiry was great, however I am not sure if the majority of teachers who are new to the idea of Living Classrooms/Schools would be willing or able to put so much effort into it. At times, I felt like my answers were repetitive and that the questions were asking similar things. I really feel that by adding so much of the sustainability component, this planner is much more holistic than using a the planner from Health Promoting Schools. The Living Classroom document encompasses health in all aspects, including the connection to sustainability which feels more up to date with current teaching practices and the direction of education. Thanks for creating this document!
Personal Inquiry Final Thoughts: Future Plans & Frustrations
Doing an Inquiry project on my own classroom and school environments has been pretty enlightening. Since we are an Inquiry based school we talk a lot about Inquiry with the students and now it was my turn! I feel like I’ve ironed out some of my own curiosities and wonderings and am allowing myself to feel pretty good about how I have evolved as a teacher and learner over the past few years. I work really hard at using a growth mindset and “practicing what I preach” to my students! I’m trying to be more accepting of compliments from parents and colleagues and realize that I am doing my job in way that I set out to do. Pausing and reflecting has been good for me personally and professionally. It has motivated me to keep doing things that I’ve been doing as well as seeing areas for growth. It also has reminded me that small changes are still changes. Everything cannot and will not change overnight!
Personal Inquiry Process:
I also wanted to reflect on my personal Inquiry process so I can use that to share with the students when we are using Inquiry at school. We are currently working on ways to redevelop our Genius Hour process and going through the process myself will be helpful with that.
-I thought about what I was really interested in and wondering about
-Developed a big question: Does my classroom have attributes of a Living Classroom?
-Daily work with the planner for about a week, answering questions and using the set criteria to compare with my own classroom environment
-Made notes about thoughts and ideas (about the questions and about the planner itself)
-Decided on possible ways to present my findings (gathering photos) and choosing one that I wanted to pursue
-Created an iMovie to help others to get to know my classroom and school a bit better (which has felt like an inquiry within itself, but taking a risk is part of this whole process!)
-Compiled everything to the blog
-Reviewed work and made revisions
-I plan on focussing on sharing more at my own school and with an extended community, realizing that I can help others who are interested in learning ways to incorporate health and sustainability practices into the teaching
-I plan on working with the staff to build community amongst us and enhance our well-being. We could all use some reminders of the great things we are doing. We can be guilty of putting pressure on each other to do too much sometimes instead of being more supportive. We are there for each other for the “big” things, but need to be there for the “small” things too
-I plan on exploring and sharing the idea of Living Schools and its connections with overall health and wellness with a sustainable focus with the staff and see where that takes us
-I plan on exploring authentic ways to connect to the world around us in a meaningful way to the students and facilitate ways to incorporate 21st century skills that help to consider the future
-The way I teach doesn’t necessarily match up to our provincial reporting system and writing report cards can be challenging
-The data expectations from the school division takes time away from inquiry and project based learning
-Sometimes it can be challenging to balance all the things I want to do with the things I have to do, so there is work to be done with that!
-To the staff and students at Montrose School for allowing me to share the photographs and your words for the purpose of this Inquiry project
-To Catherine O’Brien for the use of the Living Schools Classroom Planner
Living Campus framework citation: Murray, S. & O’Brien, C. (2019).
Living Schools website as retrieved from: https://www.livingschools.world
O’Brien, C. (2016). Education for sustainable happiness and well-being. New York, NY: Routledge.