Today, we did Genius Hour at school. There were no children here. It was a teacher’s professional development day. Teachers did Genius Hour.
Our principal, Mr. Josh Perkins, introduced Genius Hour, a concept that was new to most people. He said it was “a movement that allows students to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom. It provides students a choice in what they learn during a set period of time during school.” Definition from Geniushour.com
He then went on to immediately explain that the Genius Hour we would do for PD would be defined like this: “Genius hour allows teachers to explore their own passions and encourages creativity in the classroom. It provides teachers a choice in what they learn and develop during a set period of time during the professional development time.” It was about here that we all decided we like the name Genius Time better.
I thought the plan was perfect. He asked for professionalism in carrying out this short plan:
- Question – What do you want to learn?
- Explore – Learn about it!
- Master – Become better at it!
- Present – Help the rest of us learn!
We will “turn in” our inquiry question at the beginning and the presentation at the end. We will plan, explore, and learn on our own. He will post all our learnings on our school web page to share with the world.
Now, our school happens to have an atypical communication barrier. We are about half Arabic speakers and half English speakers. (And other languages too, which we don’t even take into consideration!) The Genius Hour overview was presented tag-team style in both English and Arabic. Throughout the day, we noticed not only was some of the introduction lost in translation, but also these ideas are huge when heard for the first time and need extra time to absorb.
That’s all good. It’s part of my philosophy as the chief learner in my classroom. We all have questions that need to be answered along the journey. (And the journey is the best part, I believe.)
Because of those big ideas we were trying to explain, there were bound to be misunderstandings. Some people seemed to hear that Genius Hour was something for the children, and they ran with that forgetting about their own PD. As we answered questions, I began to think maybe we shouldn’t have called it Genius Hour or Genius Time, after all!
However, later I realized I was wrong. It was an unexpected, but awesome misunderstanding. We had scores of teachers today talking about Genius Hour. We weren’t just talking about something wordy: “self-directed professional development time.” Many of the teachers were even talking about how they were going to make Genius Hour work in their classrooms.
- “How will it work with all the students doing Genius Hour in different subjects?”
- “Can we do it for 15 minutes each period?” (No, please don’t.)
- “Should we call it Genius Hour or something else because our class periods aren’t one hour?”
Wait a minute. I began to realize they thought they MUST do Genius Hour with their students in their classrooms.
We aren’t doing Genius Hour with your students, I said during an impromptu meeting. That can come later, I continued. (And hopefully it will!) Today, for the next few weeks this is about you! About you improving your craft–becoming more adept at content knowledge, pedagogy, and technology to bring about learning for your students. We need to focus on 21st century learning skills. (Yeah, since by the time half of our students graduate from high school this “new” century will be a quarter over.)
We introduced a unique-to-every-single-person professional development opportunity. Instead of doing one-size-fits-all PD for the next two months, we each get to make our own learning adventure! (Or with a partner or two–it’s limited to 3 in a group.)
Imagine around 50 different PD programs going on in just the next nine Tuesday professional development hours!
What are the chances of that happening? It can happen, but only if all the teachers own their own learning.
Here are just a few of the thoughts some teachers had for their own unique PD sessions, with possible inquiry questions:
- How do you engage very young children to want to know English? And can I get them to practice by communicating their own knowledge to others?
- How can I teach flexibility and adaptability by providing students with many ways to solve math problems, starting with the abacus?
- How can I inspire students to be self-directed learners, going beyond the vocabulary in our lessons to searching out the multiple meanings?
- Can I build students’ collaboration and communication skills by learning about and teaching Accountable Talk for small group discussions?
- How can I help students to be responsible and discerning digital citizens; who can justify their use of technology for educational purposes?
- How can I present information in a way that is more engaging to the students, and promotes independent and analytical thinking?
I loved hearing people talk about Genius Hour today. The discussions were amazing. Some of us met for four hours today, instead of the originally scheduled two hours. It won’t be easy, but our school has heart, and we will figure it out together. (I’m particularly excited to see the Arab teachers’ share their Genius Hour learning in the Arabic language. They will be Genius Hour innovators for the Arab world.)
Al Raja School can have hope in a bright Genius Hour-y future for students and staff alike. I look forward to it!