The Branco Weiss Pedagogical Greenhouse

20.04.2016

Once a week, every week, throughout the year, the teachers and guides of Branco Weiss meet for a two-hour study session.

During the first hour of the greenhouse meeting, the students (!) participate and the teachers don’t just talk about pedagogy, but demonstrate it and practice it with the help of the students; they get real-time guidance. The guide trains with observance, with responses, with patience; commends and empowers them for their bravery to practice and their actions. The students are cooperative, willing to try and practice, inquisitive, provide feedback and surprise…

During the second hour only the teachers and the guides remain to discuss the pedagogical situations that were presented in the lesson; we share the issues that bother us, the educational questions and dilemmas.

This learning is done by teachers from different disciplines. The greenhouse includes teachers in grades 7-12 of mathematics, physics and science. These are teams from the same school and the learning is done in their home court – their own school.

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The main question that kept the pedagogical greenhouse developers busy was: what will enable the teachers to grow professionally? Is the dimension of knowledge and knowing the only dimension in pedagogy? What are other ways to learn? What helps us grow?
We asked: what are the lines that shape the image of a teacher that will help his students grow in all dimensions?

A teacher who sees himself and his students; who can create a safe “ecology,” within which he summons learning situations that inevitably come with failure; with complete trust in his students. On the basis of his trust in them;

A teacher who brings his abilities of productivity and entrepreneurship; who allows for many opportunities to practice, and who is specific in training tasks;

A teacher who brings his knowledge as a primary basis for thinking and provokes the students into cognitive appeals and questioning, which drive him into the search for more knowledge and the construction of new perceptions;

A teacher who brings into the class his love of man; his care and concern, with a true interest in the well-being of his students;

And eventually, a teacher who brings his creativity into the classroom and dares to break through boundaries; encourages to step out of the box, invites his students to create their own thing, something new, exciting and surprising… something that even he couldn’t dream up.

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This is why the pedagogical greenhouse guides want to create and to allow for the presence of these central elements in the five growth dimensions:
Learning climate/ecology – a judgment free zone: to trust, to rely upon… to see the student and the teacher. To accept mistakes and failures as a natural part of a meaningful learning process. An autonomous space in which everyone can experiment, to get out of their comfort zones…
Emotion and communication – caring: to help others in their task. Feedback, empowerment, love.
Knowledge – honing the pedagogical language: observing, listening, conceptualizing pedagogy: a representation of what I or others are doing in teaching, identifying principles. Researching pedagogical subjects like the purpose of teaching, motivation for learning, feedback, failure in learning, evaluation, fruitful questions and waiting time.
Performance – practicing teaching: exemplifying, practicing, experiencing, transparency – improving with the help of the students.
Creation of new ideas: taking risks, appealing and questioning, originality and growth.

 

Program evaluation

In accordance with those five dimensions, the teachers’ development over the first year of training was evaluated (from the beginning of the schoolyear to the end). The goal was to understand how teacher evolve as learners through training with those five dimensions. After two years of observations, interviews and questionnaires for teachers, students and school principals, some interesting findings and insights were revealed.

The learning ecology climate dimension

In the beginning of the year, teachers were quick to judge every student and teacher, with no patience or errors, without regarding class security as a significant aspect, and thus also without providing it or feeling it. But they had changed a lot during the training: at the end of the year they became teachers who can delay judgement and acknowledge the significance of nonjudgement. As a result, they started creating and encouraging a climate in which errors are important and even needed for the learning process.
One of the teachers said: “it feels like I’m being supported, that someone wants the best for me, that I’m not being judged and that no one will laugh at what I’m saying, that everything’s possible… that I’m being respected.”
And one of the students: “I loved how open the teachers were with the students and how free the classes were. You didn’t have to be afraid of anyone laughing at you…”

 

The emotion and communication dimension

In the beginning of the year the teachers were a handful of people from two different schools without any affiliation or connection, they were not interested in each other or shared their emotions. They were not interested in the training, in meeting or sharing with colleagues and were resisting the cooperative learning. At the end of the year things were turned upside down. The teachers became a close, sharing, open, sensitive, loving and inclusive group. They were eagerly expecting every week, and did not miss a single meeting. Throughout the year they became a community of teachers, who deal with, breath, feels and speaks pedagogy. A community in which teachers feel that they belong, and that they are a part of something big.
Moreover, the teachers became people who integrate emotions into their teaching, and acknowledge the significance of an emotional connection to each and every subject.
One of the greenhouse teachers: “I can’t wait for the meeting. I feel like I really belong with the group. I learned about closeness. I learned how to be close to the students. Closeness is new to me. I understand how important it is to be close to the students.”
One of the students describes a lesson: “the greenhouse teacher brought a lot of emotion into a subject that could have been very dull. That’s new for her. She showed us a video about a hereditary disease and was clearly moved by it. We were all moved together.”

 

The performance dimension

In this dimension there’s a need to cope with the difficulty in changing teaching habits. Also, there’s emphasis on the long process the teachers need in order to make the transition from theory to practice. And yet, there was still visible change in the teaching style. Teachers who started out regularly standing by the board, lecturing and who believed that the teacher is the main source of information and power in the classroom, adapted a teaching style that allowed the students to learn independently, to explore, ask questions and to experiment and experience quite often.

One example is a teacher who started the year with the Pythagoras theorem in the traditional way of showing the equation and inserting numbers into it. After six months in the greenhouse she taught the same subject in a completely different way. She gave every student a kit of triangles and squares and asked them to prove the theorem on their own by using those shapes.

 

The pedagogical knowledge and perceptions dimension

In the beginning of the year teachers did not know how to conceptualize their teaching, they didn’t know how to define what they thought was good pedagogy, and didn’t even think to question these issues. At the end of the first year of training, the teachers were using sophisticated pedagogical terms and were able to define their own idea of good teaching and its main aspects.

The principal of one of the schools in the program said: “I see the greenhouse teachers, they are people who learned a pedagogical language, which helps them conceptualize teaching and explore it thoroughly. They have a pedagogical glossary that supports and guides their way in the classroom.”

 

The creativity and originality dimension

Development in this dimension involves a more complex process than the others. It was clear that the awareness and exposure to curiosity, creating interest, originality and invention in teaching, are not to be taken for granted. Even though teachers know how important those elements are, they still need time, guidance and assistance when they’re required to create their own interesting and creative teaching. However, at the end of the year some of the teachers had already started writing their own new materials. Teachers started thinking about every class and how they can use it to take something boring and make it interesting. In the final questionnaires, the teachers redefined good pedagogy as one that can “intrigue the students, and make them want to know more about everything.”

One of the classes that focused on creativity was about parabolas. Students were asked to invent a new machine, which will be based on at least one of the parabola qualities. The students worked in groups and invented different machines, like a specific tanning parabola and a disco made from a parabola that had separate areas for noise and silence.

From the class observation: “the students were hard at work. Each group came up with a different idea and sketched, drew, thought. The teachers were amazed at the levels of creativity and were also swept away by the joy of learning and creation.”

A student who actively participated in the greenhouse summarized the year in the following statement: “at the greenhouse we respect all opinions, even if we don’t agree. The teachers give lessons that make us think, use our imaginations, and linger in uncertainty. Learning is good because teaching is good. Everyone is heard. Everyone has something to say… I am being heard. Someone is listening to me.”

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So what makes our pedagogical greenhouses so special?
5 meaningful characteristics of the project:

1. The space in which the training is held signifies its character: once a week for at least two hours, two project guides from Branco Weiss meet leading teachers from schools, and half of the meeting is in a classroom with students. Although that the students benefit a lot from the meetings, their job is to help with the training process, and allow the teachers and experience and dare to examine new possibilities in real situations, and yet feel safe and protected from any judgment. An enabling and non-judgmental space, and the intensity and deep, ongoing processes are the pillars of the training.
2. Applicability – since the training is performed within a classroom of students, the level of connection to the field is very high. What works sticks, and what doesn’t shows clearly and immediately. The teachers and guides see demonstrations and experience giving instructions and lessons. From generic lessons, that deal in subjects such as opening introduction or no judgment as a tool, to lessons within the discipline, like how the Euclid geometry is leverage to growth, or what we can learn from the scientific idea of the three Newton laws. Doing and not just hearing about is one of the main ideas of the greenhouse.
3. Language – in the beginning of the training, the article called “The Limit of Language is the Limit of Thought” is taught, and the language that is honed is a rich, multi-dimensional pedagogical language. The next step is to find out that in acquiring the language we acquire a tool for observing, setting boundaries, implementing pedagogical practices and ideas of guidance and training. The language allows a new creation within the traditional pedagogy and provides new contents to insert into the existing structure. And mostly – the language enables a productive, professional and rich dialogue in communities of specialists, and the development of a long-lasting pedagogical culture. Professional language as the platform to a renewed and long-lasting culture is a central idea of the greenhouse.
4. Sharing – the nature of the training is to create synergy. In naturally connects people, schools, disciplinary experts, and colleagues. The training summons the activities that bring together knowledge and experience of pedagogical leaders from several schools. The training brings the guides and teachers face to face with their shared challenges. They learn to help each other and enjoy the extensive experience shared by the community. The perception of the pedagogue as a part of the community, who is helped by it and also contributes to it, is also a main focus in the greenhouse.
5. Development – the training glorifies the school’s autonomy and the vast range of activities that the teacher possesses. Tools of research and development are taught and are immediately used to solve daily school problems and to develop new instruments in management and teaching (for instance, lack of time, alternative evaluation, peer instruction and other problems from the field). The pedagogue as a creator is a basic theme of the greenhouse.

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