Teachers as learners…

‘How do bloggers find their voice?’

Joc is facilitating a meeting with a team of teachers, exploring blogging as a writing form…

‘Through their passions?’ someone asks. Taking a stance on an issue? Sharing experiences? These are some of the possibilities raised by the the group. They have all read blog posts, but not written any.

‘By writing’, someone says.

I think back to eight years ago when I first started blogging.

My first three posts, which I soon deleted, sounded as though they were written by different people, as I struggled to find a voice. It was only when I let go of preconceived ideas, stopped trying to impress an imagined audience and just wrote, that I found a voice… my own.

It’s best not to over think or over plan. Try not to agonise over whether your writing is good enough. Write, check, publish, done. You can always write another post when you’ve developed your thinking further or changed your perspective. Just write. A lot. Or you will never find your voice.

Now write’ says Joc. She has provided links to some mentor texts (blog posts) and wants the teachers to experience this themselves, before they ask it of their students. Initially there is resistance. Anxiety even? Realisation dawns that this is what our students experience every day and our awesome teachers throw themselves willingly into the learning pit

Teachers in the flow of writing their posts.

And this is Megan’s take:

Today I was asked to just write for 30 minutes…. Easy right? Go for it? Ummm no, I thought…

About what? Where do I get my ideas from? Geeze….is this how I make the children feel when I say…”Just write about whatever you want”  Do they freeze up like me?

How am I meant to encourage children to be authors and find their voice, if I am unsure of how to find my own? I have never seen myself as a ‘writer’ but find such contention with this because I know how important it is, as a teacher, to model to the children, to show them different styles of writing, to show them what it might look like to take a leap and enter the world of being an author!

Have I ever written something as an author? I really can’t say. I have recorded my opinion while listening to someone speak…Is that being an author? I have modelled story writing with the children in class…Is that being an author? I have written my reflection or opinion on things…Is that being an author? I write questions to my children in response to their learning…Is that being an author? Perhaps I am just a little unsure of what being an author ‘looks like’ or perhaps I just lack the confidence in my own skills to ‘have a go’. I encourage that ‘growth mindset’ with children everyday, yet haven’t been able to apply it in my own world. Why?

If I really think about it, I am a writer everyday, I just don’t put my words in to writing.

My younger sister recently had a career change from Lawyer to Transformational coach – what a huge leap of faith she took. And, while following this niggle has lead to great things, she has also come across road-blocks when it comes to writing and expressing her voice. Being new into the industry she feels her voice isn’t valued or worth something…yet! And although she has felt this way she has realised that it is the only way to share her feelings to have her voice heard and to inspire people…so she did it!! She writes blogs, facebook posts, reflections, coaching seminars, she uses anything she can to share her passion and her voice. She was terrified…she didn’t know how it would be received….but she did it!

So……really I am just being a big wuss…look out blogging world, I am coming in hot!

By Megan McKenzie

What do inquiry teachers believe?

1. What is your ‘image of the child’? 
How do you view the learners in your class? Do you believe children are inherently intelligent, curious and creative? Do you recognise their rights and their capabilities? Do you trust them to learn?

2. What do you believe about learning? 
Knowing what and how to teach is not enough. Have you, individually and as a school, thought deeply about how you believe learning takes place? Have you carefully examined the extent to which your practice aligns with your beliefs?

3. Who do you believe should hold the power? 
Is your token nod to agency allowing the learners a choice when you decide it’s the time? How much of what your students say and do has to be channeled through the teacher? Do you make most of the decisions? Or do you believe the learners can really lead the learning? Is initiative valued over compliance?

4. Do you see every learner as an individual? 
Are you tempted to refer to the class as ‘they‘ or do you always consider each individual’s personal story? Are you aware of what influences each student’s  learning? Are your beliefs evident in your language, your expectations, the routines in your room and in the relationships you build?

5. Do your learners believe in themselves? 
Do you group your learners on perceived ability or do they have opportunities to learn with and from others with varying strengths, challenges and interests? Is a growth mindset fostered? Are learners motivated by learning itself, rather than extrinsic rewards that encourage winners and losers in the game of school?

6. Who do you believe should do the heavy lifting?  
Do you explain everything in detail, sometimes several times in different ways? Or do the learners have a go at experimenting and tackling problems first and you step in at point of need? Are you able to release control so that the heavy lifting is done by the learners?

7. Who owns the curriculum? 
Do you have secret teacher business? Do you always decide what to cover and how to teach it? Or do you believe that students can be empowered to explore curriculum requirements via their own inquiries, in their own ways?

8. How important is measurement of achievement?
Do you teach to the test? Do you believe everything has to be formally assessed and what can’t be measured is less valuable? Or is the process of learning perceived as more significant than the outcome? Is process valued over product?

9. What is the language of your classroom? 
Do you talk about work and tasks or does everyone speak the language of learning? Is how we learn as much a part of the conversation as what we learn? Are students aware of who they are as learners? Are learning dispositions noticed and named? Do you and your students believe that reflection and metacognition are integral parts of learning?

10. Is there a safe space for risk-taking and failure? 
Does the learning culture encourage students to take risks and make mistakes? Do learners seek and grapple with challenging problems and unanswerable questions? Do you (and they) believe that failure is an opportunity to learn and grow?

If you’ve thought about your ‘why’, the ‘how’ is much easier to achieve.  Are you asking the right question?

* Influenced by the Modern Learners podcast The Answer to How is Yes. Now reading the book by Peter Block.


Unit planning isn’t linear (either)…

Following on from our  non-linear consideration of curriculum, we approached collaborative unit planning in a similarly holistic way, with the child at the centre, to ensure a focus on our goal of developing the whole child.

As teachers considered the desired conceptual understandings and the content requirements of our curriculum, the potential to develop skills and dispositions in an authentic context were revealed…

Following this process with different year level teams and different units of inquiry led to a number of insights:

  • Making thinking visible is an important part of the collaborative planning process.
  • Considering all the elements simultaneously makes it easy to visualise the potential big picture.
  • The visual process allows for collaborative construction of meaning.
  • While always conceptual, some units are more knowledge based, others more skills based, and that’s ok!
  • A holistic vision of the unit highlights  opportunties for natural connections that strengthen learning.
  • Opportunities are illuminated for split screen teaching (inquiring into content and developing skills & dispositions simultaneously).
  • Standing around a table might trump sitting behind computers for collaborative thinking!

Curriculum shouldn’t be linear…

Learning isn’t linear. Consider your own learning… How do a range of separate experiences contribute to the development of your understanding? How does that understanding deepen, the more you engage with the same conceptual ideas in different contexts?

So, why had we historically planned the order of our units of inquiry in a linear way? (When would one unit end and the next unit begin? How many weeks would we need to devote to each? What dates would work best?) The time had come to view the process in a different way.

We started from the most beautiful questions that drive change –

Why?’ ‘What if?’ and ‘How might we?’

Why should curriculum be viewed as linear?

What if we put the child at the centre and considered the learning in a more wholistic way?

How might we approach the big picture through the lens of transferable concepts, rather than the calendar?

In each team meeting, we began by writing the ‘related concepts’ (PYP terminology for the big transferable ideas) in each unit on individual sticky notes and arranging them to allow us a visual perspective on the learning as a whole, then underlining the concepts that are most transferable.

This simple activity raised a number of insights, such as:

  • There are opportunities for further development of understanding, through concepts repeating in different units.
  • Some concepts are more highly transferable across different areas and more applicable in life.
  • Sometimes a unit has too many concepts, leading to less depth in the learning.
  • Some combinations of units have concepts that interconnect more, while others are more subject specific.
  • Some units lend themselves more to transdisciplinary learning than others…

Approaching the exercise conceptually, visually, in a non linear way led teachers very quickly to valuable conclusions about the big picture of learning – which units would flow on most logically from each other, which units might be best run concurrently and which units lend themselves to ongoing learning, woven throughout the year.

Some examples of ongoing, concurrent or even year-long, units of inquiry:

A Prep unit, exploring reading and writing as an inquiry.

Central Idea: We can receive and communicate meaning through symbols. 

Lines of inquiry:

  • How sounds and words are represented
  • How we  receive and communicate meaning through written text

A Year 5 unit which, after the initial provocation and exploration, will continue as a Genius Hour project, with learners pursuing their own inquiries and action.

Central Idea: Ideas inspire possibilities for action.

Lines of inquiry:

  • How we bring our ideas to reality
  • Skills and attitudes required for taking action

And our whole school, year-long central ideaOur choices define who we are as individuals and as a community, with different lines of inquiry at each year level, such as:

Prep (self)

  • How our choices help us learn
  • Choices in how we express our learning
  • How we choose to use our environment to support our learning

Year 3 (individual and community)

  • Who I choose to be  as a member of our learning community
  • Choices that affect our learning community
  • How diversity enriches our learning community

Year 6 (personal, local and global)

  • Active citizenship
  • How choices and decisions are made
  • The impact of our choices and decisions  – personally, locally and globally

Learning isn’t linear…

The ‘so what’ of learning…

Action is the ‘so what’ of learning…

“PYP schools can and should meet the challenge of offering all learners the opportunity and the power to choose to act; to decide on their actions; and to reflect on these actions in order to make a difference in and to the world.” (Making the PYP Happen)

At the start of our PYP journey, we used to think…

  • Action was a separate ‘thing’.
  • Action usually happened towards the end or after the unit.
  • Action needed to be visible.
  • Action was only about what students ‘did’.
  • Action needed to go beyond the self in order to be valuable.
  • Student initiated action was the most desirable kind.

Now we think…

  • If learning is active, relevant and meaningful, action will be integral.
  • Learner agency implies ongoing action of all kinds.
  • Some of the most valuable forms of action are not overtly visible – shifts in thinking, deepening feelings, development of dispositions.
  • Action might be shifts in what learners think, say, feel, have, believe and become… not just what they do.
  • Action often begins with shifts in the self.
  • Shifts in thinking can lead to visible action. Action can lead to shifts in thinking.
  • Demonstrating attitudes and skills can be a form of action.
  • Sometimes an idea isn’t initiated by students, but they can take it and run with it resulting in highly meaningful action.

Do you consider these to be examples of action? Try placing them on an iceberg, depending on whether they are overtly visible or not and see what new ideas emerge?

The PYP review update suggests the following lenses through which to view the demonstration of action: social justice, advocacy, participation, lifestyle choices and entrepreneurship. We have applied the model of action below (shifts in thinking, having, saying, feeling, being as well as doing) to unpack what each of the new lenses might look like… in action.


When viewed in this way, it becomes apparent that concepts like social justice can apply just as much to 5 year olds as to older students and that any one of the lenses can be just as relevant in the classroom context, the school, the local community or globally.

What action will you be taking next?

An opportunity to stop and reflect…

‘What do you love about the Primary Years Program?’ is the check-in for today’s LTL meeting.

Our Learning Team Leaders, one from each grade level and a couple from specific learning areas, gather for our weekly meeting. With thoughtfully planned Meeting Wise agendas, clear objectives and protocols in place for everyone to have a voice, these meetings are a valuable space for collaboration, shared learning, community building, analysis of ideas and collective problem solving.

The objective of today’s meeting is to share the latest updates on the PYP review. Responses to the check-in question include the fact that it is purposeful and relevant, the attitudes it fosters, the culture it creates, the value placed on learner agency, the common language and understandings, inquiry as a stance, the concept driven approach, encouragement of ownership and action.

While all have access to the whole document, for the purpose of this meeting each participant receives one item from the review to read and consider. We then each share the gist of that particular change, using the ‘plus, minus, interesting’ protocol, followed by discussion and questions. This turns out to be a successful approach, encouraging everyone to engage with the big ideas and become familiar with the coming changes, while providing an opportunity to reflect on our growth as a learning community over time.

We finish with insights and puzzles:

  • Great to see that even the PYP is reviewed and updated – always moving forward.
  • How flexible will expectations be, once the changes are in place?
  • We are well on the way already to many of the things that are ‘new’.
  • What will the new planners look like?
  • Our students have so much agency already. We need to notice it more.
  • There is so much we are already doing. Will we still be able to be innovative?
  • It’s encouraging me to be reflective about how my teaching aligns with the changes.
  • Where to next?

It’s satisfying to note the understanding, passion and pride with which these educators talk about what has become, for us, not just a way of learning, but a way of being.

Are you ready to innovate?

Dear educational leader,

You don’t have to be an IB educator to embrace the universal attributes of the IB Learner Profile...

1. Are you a thinker?

Do you think critically about everything that happens in your classroom, your team, your educational institution? Have you thought about the ways the world has changed and whether your school reflects this? Are you thinking, right now, about why innovation is critical in education?

2. Are you open-minded?

Are you open to new ideas and different ways of doing things? Do you seek and evaluate different perspectives and grow from the experience? Are you rattled by change agents or do you seek them out?

3. Are you knowledgeable?

Do you constantly explore and question educational concepts, ideas and issues? Are you keeping abreast of new ideas and approaches to learning? Do you make it your business to learn from the people you lead?

4. Are you reflective?

Do you  constantly reflect on your own practice? Do you thoughtfully consider and evaluate every aspect of life and learning in your school? Do you invite your team to reflect collaboratively with you? Are you willing to take action as a result of your reflection?

5. Are you an inquirer?

Are you curious about new possibilities and other ways of doing things? Are you constantly researching, exploring, discovering and encouraging your teachers and students to do the same? Are you willing to take an inquiry stance and see how things unfold?

6. Are you principled?

Do you have strong beliefs about how learning takes place and what education should look like today?  Do you consider the alignment of practice with beliefs? Do you stand by your principles and fight for the change you believe in? Are you honest with yourself and others about why you might prefer to maintain the status quo?

7. Are you a communicator?

Do you communicate effectively with your entire learning community? Are you aware of the unintentional messages you deliver?  Do you invite dialogue and discourse? Do you listen more than you talk?

8. Are you a risk taker?

Are you willing to experiment even if the outcome isn’t clear? Are you willing to explore emerging practice, rather than find solutions in the known? Are you comfortable in the zone of confusion?

9. Are you caring?

Do you work at making a positive difference to the lives of others in your learning community and beyond? Do you have the capacity to place yourself in the positions of others and understand their feelings? Do you go out of your way to be kind and supportive towards others and encourage them to grow?

10. Are you balanced?

Do you understand the value of intellectual, physical and emotional balance to achieve well-being for yourself, your teachers and your students? Do you embrace the necessary changes to achieve  this?

‘Why is innovation critical in education?‘ George Couros asks us to consider in Episode 1 of the Innovator’s Mindset MOOC. Just observe the changing world around you and you’ll have your answer. I’ve chosen, instead, to ask the above questions of educational leaders everywhere. And this one…

Are you ready to innovate?


Reference: International Baccalaureate Learner Profile. 

What if collaborative meetings always led to action?

What if collaborative meetings always led to action?

Starting with the end in mind, our team leaders considered what they would like participants to FEEL, THINK, BE, HAVE, SAY and DO after their collaborative meetings…

The consensus was for people to come out feeling motivated, empowered and challenged, with a sense of purpose and shared vision, eager to move forward with the implementation of new ideas. (Meeting Wise!)


How might we create a culture of productive collaboration?

Team leaders reflected on the culture of their teams by using match sticks to represent their team dynamics, which proved to be both an interesting exercise in visualisation and a powerful reality check. (Thanks, @kjinquiry!)

The next step was to consider the conditions that might contribute towards a productive collaborative culture. Which of these are most important for all team members? How would you prioritise these and what would you add?

  • having a positive image of the child
  • being comfortable with cognitive dissonance
  • having autonomy/ a sense of agency
  • feeling safe
  • assuming positive intentions of other team members
  • having a clear purpose
  • contributing actively and equitably
  • being willing to grow, see things in new ways and open to change
  • having knowledge and understanding of pedagogy

And then…

How do we develop  a culture of productive collaboration within our teams?

Some of the ideas that were shared:

  • Create an essential agreement and agree on meeting norms
  • Acknowledge mistakes and share insecurities
  • Celebrate successes
  • Constantly reflect – individually and as a group
  • Listen to and acknowledge all perspectives
  • Ensure agenda is available in advance and input is open to everyone
  • Celebrate the zone of discomfort and ask people to try things
  • Be non judgemental
  • Develop trust and respect so tensions are easily talked through
  • Listen to each other
  • Always focus on the child
  • Ensure everyone has a voice
  • Compromise, affirm, reassure and encourage
  • Allow time. Be creative in finding time!
  • Keep asking questions  – Why? What if? How might we?
  • Be flexible
  • Try to understand where everyone is coming from
  • Take turns to plan and facilitate meetings
  • Bring others/ experts into the planning and reflection process
  • Be available as much as possible
  • Know when to lead and when to follow

And also…

How do we ensure our meetings are valuable?

Team leaders jotted down things they currently do in meetings and then evaluated those against a list of criteria that make meetings really valuable…

Collaborative planning and reflection meetings should: (adapted from IB PYP standards and practices)

  • take place regularly and systematically.
  • address all the essential elements of the PYP 
  • be based on agreed expectations for student learning.
  • consider the different learning needs of students.
  • address horizontal and vertical articulation.
  • include analysing and responding to student learning eg looking for misconceptions and patterns
  • involve teachers modelling the attributes of the learner profile.
  • ensure that our practice aligns with our learning principles.
  • take an inquiry stance, eg through framing inquiry questions.
  • consider the development of conceptual understandings.
  • include planning provocations, addressing our agreed purpose and criteria

These are some of the wonderings that came up as a result:

  • Who needs to be at meetings and how often should they take place?
  • Are there other ways to deal with administrative matters, outside of meeting time? 
  • If we spent time setting the tone for our collaborative meetings, would they be more productive?
  • How can we support teams which are not functioning productively?
  • How can we work around timetable constraints?
  • How can we share what we value about culture and content with our teams?
  • How might we address challenges in a solution focussed manner?
  • How can we get people to step up to facilitate a meeting?
  • What kinds of student data should we bring to meetings?

And coming full circle to where we started…

What action will this collaborative meeting lead to?

What will our team leaders (and you, the reader)  FEEL, THINK, BE, HAVE, SAY and DO as a result?