Walking the Talk
An Argument for Explicit Skills Development
The Ladders for GIS Students
Garden International School students can utilise these ladders in many ways. They are a guide for personal development. By identifying and actioning ways of moving up the ladders students will become more skillful, empathetic, and well rounded people. Through the evidencing of personal progress, and considered reflection upon this process, our students will be genuinely prepared for the wider world that awaits them.
The Ladders for GIS Teachers
The skills ladders are a guide to aid the continued development of our learners across the length and breadth of the school. They are common goals that transcend the individual areas of the curriculum and unite us in a shared belief of what young people can, and should become. They are a tool to help teachers plan and deliver meaningful skills based learning opportunities.
The Ladders for Parents
The skills ladders demonstrate to parents our aspirations for their children. We hope and intend for parents to read them and use them at home. The creation of opportunities to develop these skills and qualities are all around us. We believe that our parents join us in a shared responsibility for the development of these skills, and the value we place in them.
The GIS Learner Skills have developed and evolved over the last seven years at GIS. Originally drawn from our student vision they were created to explicitly state what skills, qualities and competencies we believe all students should develop, grow and nurture during their time at GIS and beyond. If they do, they will have much of what they need to lead successful and happy lives.
We have become increasingly interested in ensuring that we “walk the talk” in this area. After all, we are certainly not unique in explicitly stating that we want students to be able to work together effectively or develop strategies to manage their emotions. In order to achieve this we recognise that there is a responsibility placed upon us to create real opportunities to develop these “skills” within our curriculum.
This in itself becomes problematic. We can of course hope that through a process of osmosis like learning the young people in our care will just get better at these things through being exposed to them. We are not convinced by this. An empirically solid example might be that of collaboration. We know from our experience and what we see in both the child and adult world that simply working in groups does not automatically lead us to being more effective collaborators. For this to occur we need some kind of intervention. Self awareness, third party coaching or meaningful personal reflection are all examples of methods to improve. Without any intervention however we are essentially just hoping it happens. For many it doesn’t;. Just think about the last team you worked or played in!
So this has led us to some really difficult but very important “wicked questions”.
How you effectively plan and implement skills learning?
How do we track progress?
Both questions are being answered to some extent by the creation of the GIS Learner Skills Ladders. These ladders map out what progress could look like across our 15 skill strands. They are not age specific and they do not imply that all students should reach the top of every ladder. Instead they act as a guide for the development for our students, parents and teachers.
Tracking progress of these kinds of skills or qualities is a real challenge. Many of the ways schools traditionally gather data on student progression are woefully inefficient. There are those who say we should not try. The argument goes that for something like our strand of “managing emotions” it is almost impossible to master. As we through our lives new and unfamiliar situations will arise that will take their emotional toll. Therefore one can never reach the “top” of this ladder.
This argument makes sense at a surface level but by accepting it we find ourselves returning to the “osmosis” problem. Just hoping that we kind of work out how to deal with stressful situations or emotionally challenging occurrences. It also betrays the advocate as someone who is thinking in terms of a “when it’s done, it’s done” model of education. No wonder really as our systems tend to lead towards a summative assessment that produces a final grade. If we think of the ladder in this way it is fatally flawed. The point is that this is not how it has been designed. If we can lose this baggage and hold firm to the belief that we never stop learning, and that new learning will almost always be built upon old then we start to open ourselves up to exciting possibilities.
The managing emotions ladder sets out a guide. It forces students and teachers to explore and utilise strategies. It promotes self reflection and continuous learning based upon that reflection. In other words it aims to provide a learner with a solid base from which to draw upon when those difficult and unfamiliar emotional challenges arise. It does not matter if this is when you are 14 or 40. By verbalising what personal development in managing one’s emotions (and it can be developed) looks like, we are much more likely to have success in cultivating these strategies in young people.
Athena is our bespoke portfolioing mechanism that allows students to build up a set of evidence and reflections documenting their personal skills journey against the ladders. The development of professional and reflective portfolios is becoming an increasingly important skill in industry and higher education, and it seems like an effective way of charting progress for some of these more fluid concepts.
The system is designed for iPad but also works well on a Macbook. Students upload evidence against steps on the ladders and, when ready, write or record a justification as to why they have achieved a step. Where the system is different to other portfolios is that their “application” is then sent to a peer who has been trained as an evaluator. The evaluator decides on whether the application has been successful or not and provides the applicant with detailed feedback and possible next steps. Students have ownership of a process that in itself promotes effective reflection and the development of critical evaluation. Teachers moderate and quality assure the process within the system.
Athena is currently in a trial phase involving 120 students and 20 teachers from across the full range of the school.
The Learner Skills, Ladders and Athena provide us with a “triple threat” set of tools to take on the challenge of developing these skills within our learners. We have set ourselves ambitious, challenging and necessary goals. We accept that the world is a changing and we accept that education needs to be aware, if not ahead, of these changes. If our students go out into this world without having the necessary foundations to be able to succeed in it we will have failed. Plain and simple.
Watch the video below for an overview of Athena.
This is GIS Learning Culture.
To download a copy of our iBook “Enjoy the Journey – Creating a Learning Culture at GIS” please click here. Kindly note that the link wil