MYP Implementation

The Target Board Strategy

Action plans have numerous practices that need to be implemented. Here’s a useful collaborative strategy for prioritizing implementation.

I’ve used this with different schools including Canadian Academy in Kobe when I was working with Stephen Taylor and the CA faculty to implement creative inquiry.

The Purpose of this Strategy

The visualization of priorities using a Target Board helps group members to

  1. Understand how program facets are interrelated
  2. Dialog on the most needful to the least urgent goals
  3. Discuss and decide on the progression of implementation points

Hopefully as the group collaboratively create the target board, the conversations reveal the time continuum supporting the implementation action plan.

The Target Board CC @alohalavina

How to use the target board

The target board can be used on its own for a sorting activity. Simply, it can guide ways to use time and urgency to justify when to do certain things.

When used with an Adaptive Schools protocol such as “Here’s What, So What, Now What” the Target Board can be a tool for understanding the purposeful work that organizes both time and tasks for implementation.


Featured Photo credit: Target Board by MaxPixel CC Public Domain

I am grateful to Thinking Collaborative for their mission in creating capacity in individuals and organizations.

Why we can’t just do whatever we want (in isolation)

This blog post might end up with a nice title like “Why Collaboration is Key.” But really, it is about why as educators, we can’t just do whatever we want (in isolation).

Imagine that you are a student and that the information on this infographic represents a student’s experience in school.



Some students will be able to transfer from one subject area to another on their own. For instance, a grade 7 student might be able to connect setting and character in Language and literature and then connect these concepts to geography and how geography shapes the thinking and behavior of people.

What are the chances of most students being able to transfer understanding without guidance?

We need to collaborate

Collaboration, and guaranteed time spent doing it, is key to a coherent experience for our students. A study of an impoverished school linked knowledge to teacher and student learning and found that the connection between collaboration and reflection and learning was missing.

The study focused on uncovering how teachers attained knowledge necessary to improve learning in their classrooms and throughout the whole school. The study used semi-structured individual interviews, classroom observations, and follow-up interviews to form a picture of teacher and classroom learning. The purposive participant sample in the study was chosen based on teacher’s individual traits, experiences in the teaching career, and a reputation as an effective teacher. As the investigator gathered data, he examined the narratives for themes that emerged and coded them for analysis. What he found teaches us about how teacher knowledge and practice is influenced by available opportunities for collegial discourse.

Teachers participating in the study classified professional knowledge into four types. Practical knowledge, or knowing the ‘what’ of teaching came in the form of teaching strategies. Pedagogical knowledge, or knowing how to teach, formed the basis of how teachers planned and carried out instruction. Curriculum knowledge consisted of currency with a field of expertise such as subject content knowledge. A fourth type of knowledge was relational knowledge, which was social in nature and addressed, for instance, how to deal with student behavior.

The teachers interviewed in the study found that they experimented with creative ways of delivering content, but received no feedback and so fell back to lecture as the preferred lesson method. Often as they used the lecture method, teachers used questioning, but the questions were found to resemble a script. Teachers asked questions about content, and students quoted facts and descriptions from texts. There was also a reported lack of classroom management knowledge since the only pedagogy teachers used was content transmission. Students were observed to be apathetic, showing no love for learning, and they also lacked self-management, often showing up late to class and not submitting work.

The study also found that there were no structures for sharing knowledge in the school. Teachers were isolated because no common space was provided to congregate and talk about teaching and learning. There existed a negative attitude towards discussion; one teacher admitted that discussion feels like debating and that colleagues did not accept others who wanted to discuss teaching issues. The timetable provided no collaborative time, and there were no other structures in place that would provide opportunities for discourse about teaching and learning.

In interpreting the study, the researcher pointed out that part of practical knowledge is reflective, consisting of knowledge of a teacher’s own efficacy and agency in their professional identity.

Schools impoverished of collaboration are impoverished of learning.

Without collaborative structures in place, teachers cannot be expected to construct understanding of practical, pedagogical, curricular, and relational knowledge apart from what they learn on their own through other sources such as textbooks about teaching. In this impoverished situation, teacher knowledge resides in a bubble, isolated and static. Pedagogy stagnates in this context since it is uninformed and unformed by any other tensions that would result from shared dialog and discussion.

How teachers structure teaching and learning often reflects constructive understanding of these events. In other words, teacher discourse is a source of learning, which in turn shapes how teachers teach and how their students learn. What we learn from the above case study is that schools impoverished of collaboration tend to lose focus on learning. The implication is that student achievement suffers.

From a personal standpoint, teacher isolation impacts teacher growth. More often than not, teachers tend to use curriculum materials that work in their classrooms. If an activity works one time or more, teachers file this away in their repertoire and are more likely to use the activity again. Over years of experience, the piles of activities grow into binders of ‘tried and tested’ activities. As student needs shift, or contextual circumstances shift, the binder of activities may not address learning needs. Rather than a repertoire of engaging activities, the teacher may find that what worked in the past is no longer working to engage students. In this century, when factual and topical knowledge is literally at a student’s fingertips and readily available to Google searches, what worked in the past may no longer be engaging to students. The isolated teacher, although experienced, may need professional revitalization to address current student learning needs. If the school is full of isolated teachers experiencing a dearth of collaborative professional learning, how might professional revitalization occur?

Removing teachers from isolation and providing them with opportunities for collaboration and reflection is not just a way to sustain professional learning. It is also a way to build a culture around inspiring practice.

Providing teachers opportunities, time and space for discourse is a way of putting collaboration into the structure of a school. As teachers transfer knowledge and understanding across groups, several things may happen.

One result of collaboration is better alignment across the board. Because people talk about curriculum, there are more chances to examine how it aligns, for instance. As teachers talk about aligning the taught curriculum, the written curriculum might begin to reflect this coherence. There may even be discussions about assessment and how this needs to be coherent.

Marzano (2006) has pointed out that a “coherent, viable and guaranteed curriculum” (p. 15) is necessary to improve student achievement. Discussions between teachers, which center the development of teaching around student learning is a start to guarantee a viable learning pathway for each student in a school.

But again, we cannot leave this phenomenon to chance. Just because we institute new staff rooms doesn’t mean that teachers will automatically engage in professional discussions that will transform practice and improve coherence in a school. Like all systematic processes, we have to develop ways to sustain the discourse and make it purposeful, impactful work.

As we end another school year, we might reflect on these essential questions:

  • How will we guarantee a coherent experience for our students?
  • How might we use collaboration to guarantee that coherence?




Marzano, R. (2006). What works in schools; Translating research into action. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Photo credit: Red arrows radom by via Wikimedia Commons.


‘Thinking Things Anew’

The other day I had a badly-designed experience in a restaurant. The food came about 50 minutes after we ordered it, which was bad enough. But the real clunker was, they failed to serve the drinks, which was water for two and an orange fizz for the third. That we had to wait for 50 minutes for at least the water was unacceptable. Then when my friend complained after the food was served, the waiter said, “It’s your fault. We could not serve until your soup was ready.”


What I took away aside from the decision never to go back to that restaurant again was that a badly-designed experience could be made better by ‘thinking things anew(Wiggins and McTighe, 2007, p. 40).

Two things stand out. First is that an experience can be designed. Second is that fresh thinking about the design can improve experience.

When we think about the experiences students have as they go through school, it’s a worthy inquiry to explore how we might better design experiences and put some fresh thinking into what we do, how we do, and why we do what we do in the ways we do.

The big question is, How do we design school holistically?

Wiggins and McTighe suggest some facets for designing the experience of school (2007, p. 41):

  • “ The goal of curriculum is not to take a tour of the content but to learn to use and investigate the content, right from the start. Curriculum is thus inseparable from the design of valid, recurring performance tasks.

  • “If autonomous transfer and meaning making is the goal, then the curriculum must be designed from the start to give students practice in autonomous transfer and meaning making, and make clear via assessments that this is the goal

  • “An academic curriculum must be more like the curriculum in law, design, medicine, music, athletics and early literacy: focused from the start on masterful performance as the goal.”

The first implication is the centrality of the assessments we use to frame the experience. If assessments are the experiences of success for students, what considerations might we take in designing experiences students will have so they are able to use content, investigate content, rehearse knowledge, skills and understanding, until tasked with a performance of these in the assessment? And how do we align the plans and instruction to the assessments?

The second implication is that transfer and meaning making or understanding must be rehearsed deliberately. This means that the formative experiences we give our students must be intentionally crafted. Understanding is not gained by chance but by purposeful behaviors toward the goals of transfer and meaning making.

The authors also provide a set of learning principles, a few of which are quoted below.

Engaged and sustained learning, a prerequisite of understanding, requires that learners constantly see the value of their work and feel a growing sense of efficacy when facing worthy challenges” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007, p. 113).

This principle suggests that in planning learning experiences, we need to draw upon authentic connections to the students’ prior learning and to their lives and the world. Drawing upon these contexts helps the learning experiences to gain meaningful connections to the students’ own experiences and hastens the cementing of relationships between school and scholar and life.

An understanding is a learner realization about the power of an idea. Understandings cannot be given; they have to be engineered so that learners see for themselves the power of an idea for making sense of things” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007, p. 113).

An inquiry makes sense with authentic connections, and part of the design is the anchoring of learning experiences to large, significant ideas, such as our common humanity, what constitutes a personally-relevant and responsible action as a response to what is being learned. These connections provide opportunities to link classroom experiences to the world, breaking the boundaries between real-life and school in ways wherein students can realize the power of ideas at work in their lives and the world.

The capacity to deeply understand depends greatly on the capacity to think things anew (and other related habits of mind), because any insight typically requires the refining of earlier ideas. Becoming willing and able to rethink requires a safe and supportive environment for questioning assumptions and habits (of mind)” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2007, p. 113).

The above principle is loaded with program implications.

First, the design of learning must provide experiences wherein students must draw upon habits of mind, those attitudes and approaches to learning, which must be rehearsed while rethinking ideas afresh.

Second, how a school or classroom provides a ‘safe and supporting environment’ asks of schools to design its culture – for example, how is risk-taking and failure viewed in the school? What are the attitudes toward failure? How does a school honor its students’ interests, strengths, prior learning? These are but a few considerations when we think of how safe and supportive a school might be.

Third, how students learn how to construct and use questions is a key part of design.

Fourth, how students are explicitly taught to use a repertoire of learning approaches is important in creating a culture of confident inquirers who feel safe to take intellectual risks and pursue personally- significant inquiries.

Some design considerations

To sum up the ideas above, we find that the design of learning experiences needs to consider:

  • How assessment aligns with instruction and instructional intentions.
  • How learning engagements provide authentic contexts for learning.
  • How students gain meaning from their learning experiences.
  • How to create learning experiences so that students arrive at large, powerful ideas (such as concepts and statements of inquiry).
  • How learning experiences are designed to draw out dispositions and approaches to learning and how these become visible to students in those experiences.
  • How to design a safe and supportive learning environment.
  • How to honor prior learning, interests, strengths of students.
  • How students learn how to use questions to pursue their own learning.
  • How to explicitly teach approaches to learning and build a confident self-directed learner.

If we take the patterns within these considerations, we find that these correspond to principles we must turn into practice so that our students experience a coherent, relevant, and challenging program in which each one grows and achieves.

We find that the systems of curriculum and instruction link to systems for assessment. We discover that social emotional learning is built in to the structures that support academic goals. We might also realize that collaboration and reflection are keys to this holistic implementation of a well-designed learning experience.

Making connections between systems

In their book about Coca ColaDesign to Grow: How Coca-Cola Learned to Combine Scale and Agility” (2015, p. 27), Butler and Tischler write, “Problems don’t exist in isolation. You can’t solve one without affecting another. This is where design creates value that’s hard to see or quantify, in that, by connecting things more smoothly, the entire experience improves.”

Essential takeaways seem to be that design is about making connections and that effective design makes for a coherent and meaningful experience.

From this we arrive at some essential questions in our program design. A few might be:

  • What connections can we make explicit between how we plan, how we learn and teach, and how we assess?
  • What connections can we make explicit between the soft skills and the academic ones?
  • What connections can we create between the resources in our environment and the perceptions of safety and support?
  • What connections can we facilitate between the students’ lives, the world and the classroom inquiries?

The fresh thinking that we need as we design learning experiences is mirrored by the fresh thinking we would like our students to do as they experience these.

What connections are you making between your learning and your students’? How might both these experiences gain meaning and transfer?

Just as a restaurant must make connections to make the dining experience a pleasant one, we are tasked with making connections between systems in our schools to make the experience one that our students will savor.



Butler, D. and Tischler, L. Design to Grow: How Coca-Cola learned to combine scale and agility; (And how you can too). USA: Penguin.

Wiggins, G. and McTighe, J. (2007). Schooling by Design; Mission, action and achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.

Photo by Carl Heinrich Bloch [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.


Weaving threads of understanding into school culture

When faced with the challenge of implementing new practices, often organizations go through an implementation dip because previous expertise no longer suffices in the new programme.

The organization can support teachers through some processes, which when combined provide what Drago-Seversen (2009) calls “holding environments” for professional learning. Holding environments are specific structures and processes, which help practitioners feel safe as they experiment, innovate, and create to enact implementation goals.

Support functions for teachers in implementation

MYP schools are fortunate to have teachers remain. Having knowledge and understanding of the MYP remain within a school as schools grow is a benefit to the overall culture of a school. How might a pedagogical leadership team provide support functions for teachers, as they grow and develop their MYP practice?

How might we support teacher thinking as teachers implement their plans in their classrooms?

The four support functions available to pedagogical leaders have inherently distinct purposes and ways of communication, and they each use assessment in very specific ways.

Evaluation as a support function

Evaluative Support is a more direct form of supervision. This is most familiar to us in many of the traditional appraisal systems, where the supervisor provides a formal process and criteria for teacher evaluation; there is a formal set of conversations that accompany the evaluation, and the teacher is bound to provide a formal, documented response to the evaluation. Evaluations are often useful when teachers are perceived to be not meeting expectations in a school, and the communication between the supervisor and the teacher consists of judgments of the teacher’s practice.

Evaluation as a support function usually comes from the supervisor. The assessment stance of evaluation comes from the formal appraisal system and its purpose seems to hinge upon a transactional contract, specifically the transactional contract between the teacher and the school as employer. The limitations of the evaluative support function lie in its inception; since the assessment is from a point of view outside of the teacher’s identity, the teacher’s default response to the evaluation is compliance. The response may take on more in-depth self-assessment, but this may not be an inherent element of the evaluative support function, unless it is specifically spelled out in the process itself.

 Consultation as a support function

Consultation as a support function is more two-directional in that its initiation can come from the supervisor or the teacher. Consultation means the direct instruction of aspects of practice, for which the consultant (often the supervisor) has expertise, which he or she transmits to the teacher. Either the supervisor can provide the consultation by directly arranging instructional meetings with the teacher, or the teacher can ask for consultation from the perceived expert. Whether the start of a consultation is from the consultant or the teacher, consultative conversations have a more flexible transactional contract than evaluation; if the teacher is the one asking for a consultation, there is an implication of prior self-assessment that has led the teacher to seek advice.

In both evaluation and consultation, the relationship between the two parties is not collegial, in that one party is providing the instruction for changes necessary to practice, and the other party receives or responds to this instruction.

Collaboration as a support function

Collaboration as a support function is collegial in nature. In a collaborative situation, colleagues gather to engage in dialog or discussion. Dialog has the purpose of reaching a shared understanding, while discussion has the purpose of reaching a decision together (Garmston and Wellman, 2013). Both of these conversations require that colleagues equally participate in meaning-making, and they use collaborative norms to contribute to the shared outcomes.

Because collaboration helps group members to contribute to shared outcomes, collaboration might be less stressful as a support function and more engaging. Each colleague contributes, each idea is honored and acknowledged, and all have ownership of the outcomes. Successful collaboration involves active listening, and norms, which when practiced make for effective, powerful work (Costa and Garmston, Ellis and Hayes, 2013).

Collaboration is multi-transactional, in that each person independently finds his or her contribution, but the group also finds its collective co-constructed contribution. This support function increases interdependence, or what Costa and Garmston (1994) term holonomy. Collaboration might also be transformational, in that the process and outcomes of collaboration increase a sense of agency and efficacy in individuals and groups (Brody & Hadar, 2010).

By Zarood (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Zarood (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

Coaching as a support function

Finally, coaching as a support function shifts the focus of the relationship in the support structure. Whereas collaboration requires that “we pay attention to self and others” (Costa, Garmston, Ellis and Hayes, 2013), coaching is wholly other-centered. Coaching is being attentive to another person’s thinking, and helping the person’s thinking move from one state to another, desired state. A coach conveys the person, through reflective paraphrasing and mediative questions, from a state of pondering into a state of knowing and understanding.

These support functions help teachers in implementation, and the pedagogical leadership in a school can thoughtfully apply each of these support functions in a range of situations deliberately assessed and provided the support to help teachers develop and grow their MYP practice, and embed understanding of the MYP within the cultural fabric of the school.

Supporting the Implementation Dip


“There’s a lot of assumed knowledge here.”

This statement by a teacher who was struggling to successfully transform his teaching in an MYP classroom was overheard almost a decade ago during a faculty meeting. It stuck with me because in transitioning to MYP: Next Chapter this year, I have heard similar sentiments as teachers make the shift from the previous MYP model to the current one.

The Implementation Dip

Fullan’s (2006) work on change management gives us some reassurance that learning is a way out of what he calls the “implementation dip,” that temporary slump in practice as practitioners struggle to learn new ways of practice and let go of the old ways, to enact a necessary change.



The “implementation dip” happens when we have to learn new ways of practice because old ways do not address necessary change.


The dip happens because old ways no longer suffice for implementation to occur. The way up and out of the dip is through learning the new ways of practice.

For those of us tasked with supporting teachers in enacting the MYP, we are mindful of the dip and each teacher’s approaches to learning and implementation. Perhaps, avoiding assumptions that teachers naturally learn to enact change, and providing support for these adult learners as each one struggles out of the implementation dip into approximations of mastery, help us to transition into new practices and transform our classrooms. Through supportive facilitation, pedagogical leadership helps teachers to transition and transform practice.

Unit planning as an approach to learning

From a teacher’s perspective, the daily teaching and learning is the priority. The way in to the professional knowledge necessary to transition to new practices might rest on careful and thoughtful planning for units of work.

By giving support in unit planning, we actually learn so much about MYP practice. What can we learn about the MYP through the practical planning we do for units of work?

Form and Function

Just in the first section of the unit planner, we uncover some pressure points for transition.

The first section of the unit planner asks for key concept, related concepts, global context, and these are synthesized into the statement of inquiry. The statement of inquiry is then unpacked through factual, conceptual, and debatable questions.

The structure of the Inquiry section of the planner assumes that teachers are familiar with key concepts, related concepts, global contexts and how each of these function. By asking teachers to synthesize these into a statement of inquiry requires understanding of the “structure of knowledge” (Erickson, 2008) which hold concepts as key to arriving at generalizations by seeing topics and facts become illuminated and organized through concepts. Breaking down the statement of inquiry into questions helps the teacher to grasp the interrelatedness of concepts to content in the unit.

Factual questions have content-based answers, so these questions show direction and scope of learning through content.

Conceptual questions engage students in analysis and synthesis. Conceptual questions ask for concept formation and attainment by students before application, analysis and synthesis. This helps a teacher understand the work that must be accomplished before asking students to express synthesis.

Debatable questions bring in the global context into the students’ engagement. Debatable questions necessarily call upon a choice of critical lens, or perspective, allowing students to draw upon authentic connections between the concepts and content learnt in a unit to the wider world beyond the classroom.

Pressure Points

A teacher’s pressure points in developing the conceptual framework of a unit might be implied in some of these.

  • How is concept formation and attainment facilitated?
  • How does an inquiry approach look like, sound like, feel like in my classroom?
  • How do I approach conceptual teaching and learning through inquiry?
  • How do I help my students learn to ask the questions?
  • What might it mean for me to allow students to ask the inquiry questions?
  • What might it mean for me to let go of some control and hand it over to the students?

Some of the above questions imply different levels of thinking that teachers engage to plan a MYP unit. All of the above are conceptual questions, in that they require teachers to examine concepts like form, function, structure, context, and even identity.The implications we might extrapolate from the questions above could be:

  • Knowing the Subject Guide and Principles into Practice documents thoroughly.
  • Understanding how concept based teaching and learning differs from content based teaching and learning.
  • Understanding inquiry approaches to teaching and learning.
  • Applying requirements in the Subject Guide and in Principles into Practice.
  • Analysing what is required in the subject criteria, what it looks like in student performance
  • Synthesizing knowledge and understanding
  • Evaluating what works
  • Creating new pedagogy that supports new learning objectives
  • Reforming professional identity as a teacher who uses a constructivist approach to teaching and learning

As we progress through a unit planner, we touch upon essential elements in the MYP framework. We learn that MYP teaching and learning is:

  • learning how to learn (ATL framework)
  • inclusive (differentiation)
  • constructivist (learning engagements and teaching strategies)
  • authentic (service as action)
  • reflective (reflection before, during, and after teaching)

At each step of the planning process, the teacher is challenged with new knowledge and understanding, new pedagogical opportunities, and even perhaps tensions within their professional identity. How these challenges are provided support directly impact the successful negotiation over the implementation dip.

How might we support learning toward successful implementation? Share your ideas in the comments.



Making meetings more meaningful

Now that we are only some 80-something days away from the end of the school year, thoughts turn toward what we are completing in our action plan this school year, and what we want to accomplish next school year. As we think about achievements and goals, we are thinking about which protocols to use for which meeting to help us realize the purpose of each one.

Why we use protocols for our meetings

Last year in May, our faculty met to focus our goals for 2014-2015, which was officially the first year of MYP: Next Chapter transition. In the past two school years, our goal was focused on conceptual teaching and learning, and we spent those two years developing a conceptual framework for our subject overviews, and experimenting on implementing conceptual teaching and learning in our classrooms. However, the Next Chapter presents us with some tough implementation goals, which I am sure is similar for all other MYP schools worldwide. Our problem was the number of new implementation considerations. How might we focus our work so that we do not suffer what the Powells describe as “organizational ADHD” ? (See Powell, W. and Powell, O., The OIQ Factor; Raising your school’s organizational intelligence, 2013)

We have been working on using protocols in our meetings, to maximize learning and minimize meeting meanderings that do not propel our organizational purposes. These protocols are from The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative Groups by Robert Garmston and Bruce Wellman.

2012-03-10 11.38.23

Expecting products that make group thinking visible helps to increase shared ownership of group priorities. This product was from a meeting focusing on assessment.


Example – The Focusing Four Protocol

One protocol that we use quite often in our teams’ collaborative work is called the Focusing Four. We decided last May 2013 to use the Focusing Four protocol to decide on our priorities for 2014-2015, to help us narrow and align our goals for Next Chapter transition and make this first year a more ‘intelligent’ year for our MYP.

How this protocol works and how we used it

There are four steps in this protocol, and to run it successfully, there needs to be a facilitator who is knowledgeable about the protocol, and a scribe, who writes the group’s ideas and choices as the meeting progresses. The documentation needs to be visible to the whole group, so this meeting needs a large board or a series of charts on which the scribe records the ideas and choices.

Step 1 Popcorn Brainstorm

The goal is have a brainstorm and record all the ideas from the group. This is an unedited collection of ideas and works much like popcorn: allow the brainstorm to continue as long as there is not a very long gap between the previous idea and the next idea. When ideas slow down, the facilitator closes this step.

Step 2 Clarifying ideas

The goal of this step is to gain shared understanding about the ideas that popped up in the brainstorm. Group members can query specific ideas that are listed on the charts or board, one at a time. When someone asks to clarify a specific idea, the author of that idea provides a brief explanation of the idea to clarify. This step continues for as long as there are queries for clarification. When all in the group are satisfied that they understand the brainstormed ideas, the group moves on to the next step.

Step 3 Advocating for ideas

In this stage, group members reflect on the ideas in the list and decide for themselves which ideas they might advocate for. Individuals can advocate for their own or others’ ideas. They raise their hands and when called on by the facilitator, they might give a brief justification why this idea is valuable.

Step 4 Choosing the focus

In this stage, group members are asked to choose and vote for a third plus one of the listed ideas. The top one third plus one of ideas that got the highest number of votes become the focus for the group. This one-third plus one is a strategy from Adaptive Schools.

Why the protocol works

Step 1 is important in that it allows all ideas to be visible to the whole group. By giving all members a chance to suggest ideas, each one is valued as a contributing member of the group. Step 2 helps to facilitate shared understanding of the ideas that have been suggested, and allows authorship of ideas to be acknowledged. Step 3 in the process allows for each person to consider the prioritizing of ideas in the holistic context of the group. It also provides ownership of the group’s work toward which goals might emerge as the group’s priorities. Finally, the one-third plus one strategy in Step 4 helps to efficiently identify the urgent items in the list without a meandering discussion. This also avoids hurt feelings that could result if instead the ideas in the whole list were ranked one by one.

This protocol is useful for decision making and sorting out ideas for any group. I’ve seen it used by subject departments, student government groups, clubs, grade level teams, and entire faculties.

In that meeting last May 2013, the faculty came up with over 186 ideas in Step 1. Going through the steps in the protocol, the group was able to cull that list and identify the top 10 implementation items in MYP, which the group believed were important to our faculty’s first year with new subject guides and new criteria.

Making meetings more meaningful

The value of using protocols like the Focusing Four in our collaborative planning and reflection rests on the protocols’ design. By thoughtfully considering meeting goals, we are able to decide which protocol helps us to propel the work during a meeting to meet that meeting’s goal. We are able to avoid meetings that meander through and become sounding boards for personal anecdotes, so we don’t waste anyone’s time. Meetings become learning engagements, so they might more likely energize our practice. We also increase our ownership of the programme because in these meetings, we are visibly thinking and learning together.

How might you make meetings more meaningful? What protocols do you use to make meetings constructive and engaging? Share experiences and ideas in the comments!


Five keys for cultivating a culture of collaboration

“The lone genius is a myth. The most interesting mysteries lie at the intersection of minds.” Stuck in my head is this quote overheard and jotted down during the Thinking Collaborative conference last April.

Implementing the MYP reflects the constructivist approach the IB holds at the heart of its pedagogy: the facilitation of sense-making built collaboratively, each designer and co-constructor reflecting on personal learning and significance, and the intersection of thought becoming shared understanding. Our approaches to implementation mirror the approaches to problem solving that we teach to our students.

Understanding is at the core of implementation. Merely reading a subject guide or the From Principles into Practice gives the educator knowledge, but not necessarily understanding, that deep internalization of principles and the consequent practice in action. More than comprehension, understanding and taking action on understanding means the educator applies through problem posing and problem solving; synthesizes what is understood in a series of actions; evaluates and reflects each step of the way; and creates elegance in integration and implementation.

All this is guided by the leadership of the MYP Coordinator. The programme works well when all practitioners share understanding of it, when barriers to shared understanding are dissolved through the work of the MYPCo.

Such complex work, and work that perhaps is most successful when it is not driven by the lone genius, but inspired through the intersection of minds.

Knowledge, as it is, essentially lives isolated in a mind. Without being communicators, our knowledge remains hidden in our brains. What allows knowledge to deepen is when it is exposed to interactions with other ways of thinking. Whether challenged, affirmed, or states in between, this tug and pull on knowledge creates tensions and pressures, which allow new knowledge to emerge. Isolated, knowledge does not become shared practice; collaborative thinking  produces shared understanding, and shared understanding means coherence and consistency in practices that create a MYP.

The MYPChat on Oct 30 addressed some of our questions about collaborative cultures in the MYP.

The MYPChat on Oct 30 addressed some of our questions about collaborative cultures in the MYP.

What might be keys to implementation? How do we create our MYP together? And what resources might a MYPCo cultivate in him or herself and facilitate for other minds so that together, they might craft a successfully implemented programme?

Decades of work and foundational research by Art Costa and Robert Garmston names these resources. These resources might be keys to how a pedagogical leader cultivates a collaborative culture in schools.

Craftsmanship names how thinkers strive for precision and mastery, refinement and specificity, accuracy of thinking and thorough considerations of all aspects before taking action. For example, if we want a coherent approach to Research Skills in the MYP student experience, a person taps into craftsmanship to co-construct with colleagues well-designed learning engagements through the use and rehearsal of research skills. A person high on craftsmanship is constantly honing his or her craft by keeping up to date, for instance on the OCC and through learning networks, deepening understanding through publications and other resources, such as dialogs with colleagues.

Interdependence results from a collaborative approach to implementation. It is a key to the quality of being an independent practitioner, but also one who is collegial and collaborative. An interdependent MYP educator engages groups of educators and students in collaborative, constructivist learning. Some models of interdependent educators in the IB world are workshop leaders, who are able to independently learn nuances of programme practices, but are highly collaborative in their approach with both workshop participants and other IB educators.

Interdependence requires flexibility, the ability to see through others’ perspectives, being able to engage with multiple solution designs. The flexible educator uses tools and skills according to the situation and context, giving them an innovative stance toward implementation. This is the state of mind used as a resource in collaborative work; attention to self and others means that there is thoughtful engagement in dialog and discussion, allowing the collaboration to be respectful, effective, fruitful.

Flexibility is facilitated by what Costa and Garmston termed the state of mind of consciousness. The term denotes a state of awareness of self and others. Reflective educators are high in consciousness, mindful of learners and learning. They engage in metacognition often, and their high awareness and reflective approach allows them to empathize effectively. A lot of MYP work involves professional learning; the complex work in designing, planning and carrying out implementation requires supportive environments for the adult learners tasked with making the MYP happen. A leader high in consciousness pays attention to how others learn and finds ways to support each learner so that he or she is able to engage and find meaning and pathways to action.

The state of mind of efficacy results from consciousness and craftsmanship. Efficacy manifests in someone being deliberate in word and action so that intentions become outcomes. Efficacious individuals are resourceful and hold an internal locus of control, and this gives them a deep resource for problem solving to address the complex implementation of the programme. Those with high efficacy are characteristically optimistic; we speak of them as always thinking that challenges are only opportunities to get better at what we do.

Costa, A. L., & Garmston, R. J. (1994). Cognitive coaching: A foundation for renaissance schools. Norwood, MA: Christopher Gordon.

Costa, A., Garmston, R., Ellison, J., & Hayes, C. (2013). Cognitive Coaching Seminars foundation training: Learning guide (9th ed.). Highlands Ranch, CO: Thinking Collaborative.

Drago-Severson, E. (2009). Leading adult learning: Supporting adult development in our schools. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.