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Defining Effective Learning at Colegio Einstein

John Gillespie, Director Colegio Alberto Einstein, Quito, Ecuador

I joined Colegio Alberto Einstein in Quito, Ecuador as Director in August 2016. The school was founded in 1976 and it has a proud history of successes.  Since 1996 the school has been an IB World School, authorized to offer the PYP, MYP and the IB Diploma Program. We have been a member of AASSA since 2008, and in 2010 Colegio Einstein was accredited by AdvancED. From my previous visits I had quickly understood that it is a very good school with a committed and experienced faculty and support staff, engaged parents and bright students.

The faculty had been used to a good deal of collaboration in the separate sections of the school, but I knew that it would be beneficial to bring colleagues together in a whole-school project.  Therefore, I wanted to identify a suitable theme for school-wide professional learning.  It needed to be general enough to be of interest to a broad range of backgrounds but specific enough to make a concrete difference to the school.

I attended the AASSA Governance Conference in September 2016 with two Board members, and it was there that all became clear!  All the sessions were of top quality and they succeeded in stimulating thought on a number of important topics, but Kevin Bartlett’s presentation on the Systemic School proved to be especially inspiring for me.  There was one slide in particular which stuck in my mind:

That was it: defining learning would be this year’s whole-school collaborative goal. If we could define what is, after all, at the heart of all we do, this would help us to unite behind common learning principles underpinning a common learning culture.

On returning to Quito after the conference I proposed the initiative to our heads of Preschool, Primary and Secondary at one of our weekly meetings. They agreed enthusiastically with the idea and we quickly developed a strategy.

First we worked in groups in each section of the school.  Preschool teachers worked on a definition for Preschool, and Primary teachers developed a definition for Primary.  Secondary teachers worked in departments to define learning for that specific department.  We gave relatively little guidance except that the definitions should be brief, trying to concentrate on the essentials.

After about a month of group discussions, our teachers had created a fascinating variety of definitions, which appear below.  The fact that the majority are in Spanish reflects the mother tongue of the majority of our faculty.

Aprendizaje es un proceso interactivo de construcción de nuevos conocimientos, habilidades y destrezas a través de experiencias significativas para desarrollar seres humanos integrales. Aprendizaje es el proceso autónomo y guiado de adquisición de conocimientos y desarrollo de habilidades y actitudes, a través de vivencias significativas, que habilita para la toma de decisiones que permitan la mejora de un mundo en constante cambio. El aprendizaje es una acción donde conocimientos y vida se vuelven uno. Quoi? On apprend des savoirs, des savoir-faire et savoir-être. Comment? A travers l’acquisition et la transmission de nos expériences (personnelles et p Dans l’apprentissage scolaire, on apprend grâce à des activités motivantes, signifiantes, qui s’inscrivent dans notre réalité. Pourquoi? Pour notre développement personnel et professionnel, en cohérence avec un monde qui évolue. Quand et où? Tout au long de notre vie, à l’école, au travail, dans notre famille, dans toutes nos activités en général. El aprendizaje es…El aprendizaje es un proceso en el cual se adquieren herramientas y valores que permiten resolver situaciones que ocurren a lo largo de la vida. Learning is a process in which students gain the tools and values that allow them to solve problems that occur throughout life. Learning is a dynamic, engaging, interactive lifelong process, where students gain skills, knowledge, and abilities which transfer into everyday life. El aprendizaje es la continua construcción de la realidad con libertad, entendimiento, empatía y conciencia. Implica un cambio en el ser humano que se puede dar si es significativo. Pasa por un conjunto de formas de aprender que tienen que ver con la observación, lo teórico, la aplicación y la experiencia de la vida misma. Para concluir, podemos agregar que es un proceso de adquisición de múltiples conocimientos y habilidades conectados entre sí y siempre relacionados con el mundo real. Learning is the community-based, guided acquisition of skills and knowledge through their application in real-world contexts. El aprendizaje es un proceso dinámico y continuo que sucede a través de distintas formas de conocimiento tales como conexiones, experiencias y reflexión relacionadas mediante diferencias ramas con el objetivo de desarrollarse y desenvolverse en cualquier medio. EL APRENDIZAJE ES EL PROCESO DE ADQUISICIÓN, ANÁLISIS Y COMPRENSIÓN DE INFORMACIÓN SOBRE NUESTRA EXISTENCIA Y LA REALIDAD QUE NOS RODEA, QUE TIENE COMO OBJETIVO PODER DESENVOLVERSE EN LA MISMA COMO PERSONAS EN PLENO FUNCIONAMIENTO. Proceso de adquisición de nuevas experiencias, ideas, conceptos, que convergen con lo ya adquirido para lograr un nuevo aprendizaje.

Subsequently at a workshop attended by all Preschool, Primary and Secondary teachers we explored different learning systems and curriculum diagrams, we looked at various recent definitions of learning, different types of learning and key concepts involved.

The following week the teachers were divided into groups of six, with a mixture of Preschool, Primary and Secondary teachers in each group.  Each group firstly considered the merits of the definitions produced by our own teachers.  Then they worked to complete the sentence “Effective learning is…” to produce a definition which would be relevant for the whole school.

This time we allowed only ten words for each definition, which would ensure that the results would be concise.  Each definition was written on flip-chart paper and then stuck on the wall outside our auditorium so that everyone could see each other’s work.

The last step was to distill these ten definitions into a single, succinct version for the whole school. There was such a high level of cohesion or overlap in these definitions that it was relatively easy to condense them further.  That final process resulted in eight words:

collaborative – dynamic – connected – differentiated – skills – concepts – knowledge – values

Rather wonderfully, we have a graphic designer working in our communications department, so I tasked him with producing a design.  The brief was to create something with high visual impact and which was easily understood, with two separate sets of interconnected elements: the four adjectives (the ‘how’) and the four nouns (the ‘what’).

We considered a number of suggested options and we are very pleased with the final outcome:

Image by John Gillespie with Mauricio Vega as graphic designer

The four adjectives in the outer circle describe how learning should be – collaborative, dynamic, connected and differentiated – and these approaches are themselves connected and overlapping.  The outer circles give access to the four desired outcomes – skills, concepts, knowledge and values – which are also interconnected and which have equal importance in reaching the central objective.

I believe that in this diagram we have succeeded in capturing the essence of effective learning.  It is not ‘complete’, and it is by no means perfect: we all know that learning is an extremely complex process with multiple facets. Yet I believe that is a very useful representation of effective learning for us.

What is important is that this is ours: it is original, it was produced by Colegio Einstein teachers as a result of reflection and discussion by Colegio Einstein teachers, and it is designed for use with Colegio Einstein students.  We have developed our own “Learning Mission”.

We will be using our definition in various ways as we move forward to help us to focus on what we believe to be important in all our lesson planning and delivery, giving us our own framework for all we do.  We will have posters made in the languages of the school to place in classrooms and in other areas.  We will share our definition with existing and future students and parents.  Our definition will generate ongoing discussions about learning, as our teachers work collaboratively to unpack each word and to study in greater detail the connections between the components.

The process itself was also positive. While whole-school collaborative professional development is not exactly innovative, it certainly brought us together to work towards a common objective, it provided the opportunity to cooperate with colleagues outside our usual spheres and it encouraged us to consider broad and rich contexts.  In addition, I am sure that the success of the outcome will bind the whole school community together even more strongly in a common language and a common culture, in pursuit of our common aim: effective learning.

I am grateful to all my colleagues for participating in this process.  I am also grateful of course to AASSA and to Kevin Bartlett for providing the original inspiration.

#ColegioAlbertEinstein #Ecuador

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