Today our community dug the first shovelfuls of earth on the way to build a new purpose-built campus. This building will give back to the city, absorbing enough solar energy to power our whole school year, with the produced energy throughout the year yielding enough to put back into the city at the summer’s start. Our building will be a zero-emission structure. We’re very excited about its design.
Today we also marked the beginning of another kind of design. Teacher inquiry groups met for the first time today, each teacher sharing their hunches for a year-long, collaborative inquiry into a point of practice which they want to implement in their classrooms. Instead of a physical design, we have created cognitive spaces that we share to learn together.
The idea of space, physical space and cognitive space, is an important part of our school-wide conversation. How do we design learning, so that the physical spaces optimize learning that is relevant to each person? How do we design our cognitive spaces, so that we are able to arrive at shared understanding and coherence in our programs?
The authorship of space and its role in learning puts us all in a collective metacognitive state as a school community.
“Some of us are concerned with the physical design of our spaces,” one teacher shared, “and we need to also ask ourselves, so what if we have beanbags and pilates spheres? So what if we have standing desks and flexible furniture? How will these environmental factors provoke and sustain learning?”
He adds, “What about cognitive space? What does that look like, so that we fuel inquiry and a culture of curiosity?”
Architecting the design of cognitive space is a line of inquiry we seem to all share.
What does shared cognitive space look like?
Like many inquiries, it’s open-ended and provides multiple entry points.
A group is looking at how students can use data from assessments, internal and other, like the MAP tests, to create ownership of their learning. They intend to investigate how students can make data meaningful for their own learning trajectories. “It’s not different from what we’re doing,” one teacher says, “because as we become better at collaborating for improvement based on data in student work, we become better at facilitating this process for our students.”
Like many inquiries, our collaborative cognitive spaces hold opportunities for metacognition.
A teacher in another group asked, “What might be our goals for our students as we grapple with our professional inquiries for the year? How will our learning impact our students’ learning?”
The design of a learning community has been in the literature for years; and how might we use this body of knowledge to enhance the ways in which we ourselves create communities focused on learning?
As our community gets ready to move into a new physical space, we are already in a new cognitive space. Our collaboration is becoming embedded in the ways we behave, in the ways we think together.
There’s a powerful hunch that providing a cognitive space between teachers launches a powerful energy source for school development.
The questions that we asked today of our practice embody the school culture we want to create.
We embrace ambiguity
When a culture shifts to a stance of inquiry, there are more questions that comfortably sit in the cognitive space of ambiguity. Culture is an open-ended task. We do not yet know how we will reach the levels of implementation that we describe in our vision. And we are fine with that; we embrace the fact that we do not yet possess the conclusions to questions we have about how we do things the way we do them. We embark on a journey to find those answers for our context.
We embrace open-ended tasks
We don’t know how we might construct collaboration toward learning goals. We sift through the questions and answers, and co-create ways to approach them.
We embrace shared cognitive space
We trust that our positive intentions to use collaborative and reflective practices will yield for the community a sustainable, emergent truth to start from the beginning of each learner. We value each other’s perspectives as we co-construct approaches to the fundamental questions (Dufour, 1998) guiding a Professional Learning Community:
- What do we expect our students to learn?
- How will we know they are learning?
- How will we respond when they don’t learn?
- How will we respond if they already know it?
Designing the cognitive spaces, so that we have opportunities to address these important questions together, is key to our school-wide inquiries. And it’s a tremendous source of energy that will keep giving back to us and our students.