From ‘doing school’ to learning 2day…

I’ve just had my first experience of a #Learning2 conference and loved the opportunities to…

  • engage with big ideas.
  • be challenged and have my thinking pushed.
  • be inspired by the messages of passionate, thoughtful educators.
  • present my ideas to others.
  • learn with and from educators of diverse ages, experiences, backgrounds and roles.
  • connect with people who share my interests and people willing to share theirs.
  • identify problems and develop ideas to overcome them.
  • listen, talk, share, think, question… and dream.
  • tailor the learning experience to to suit my needs!

The ‘Disrupt Strand’ was a different kind of experience, not least for the opportunity to work with facilitators Sam Sherratt and Rebekah Madrid and other educators who care deeply about learning and the state of education. Other people who, as the descriptor on the website states:

  • prefer learning in an inquiry-based, unstructured environment.
  • are comfortable with the unknown and enjoy working in teams.
  • are happiest when learning is messy.
  • are often the ‘early adopters’, the ‘lone nut’ or the innovators at their school.

It was a personalised learning experience, in which the participants had the opportunity to work in teams to develop something we would like to implement over the next school year.

My team (which had representation from Australia, Singapore and China… as well as South Africa, India and New Zealand, if you count where people are from, not just where they work!) grappled with ideas for shifting from ‘doing school’ to the way we think learning should look today. We refined our ideas after chatting with a couple of grade 5 students from ISM, who shared their perceptions of school, what’s important to them and how it could be better. 

The problem: How can we break the restrictive moulds which limit the learning in our schools? (Single subject silos, rigid timetables, confined classrooms, grouping by age) and work towards a more flexible model that allows for more personalisation, choice and ownership? 

Our pitch: What if school was like #Learning2?

Pitching to the judges
IMG_2773 (2)
Pitching to the whole conference
The team

Can we (that includes you) introduce one LEARNING2 day at a time, until eventually it becomes LEARNING TODAY? 

Watch this space if you want to join us!

Does your practice align with your beliefs?

The power of filming and then watching yourself teach has become evident during our coaching and growth review processes. What did you notice? What are the patterns?  What do they make you think? What surprised you? Does what you see yourself doing match what you think you do?

On a larger scale, having educators from other schools visit us in the past few weeks has provided a similar opportunity. Viewing ourselves through the eyes of others and becoming aware of different perspectives has been both validating and enlightening. In the process of planning for and evaluating the visits and observing our school’s practice through a different lens, we have asked ourselves the same sorts of questions. Does our practice align with our beliefs about learning?

Some years ago we spent time collaboratively developing a set of learning principles that encapsulate our beliefs about how learning best takes place. Since then we have worked at deepening understanding of these principles and ensuring that they underpin every decision we make in regard to learning within our school. 

Our learning principles:

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning includes acquisition of skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to different contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and is enhanced by collaboration and interaction.
  • Learners need to feel secure, valued and able to take risks.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, which support learners taking ownership of their learning.

Developing learning principles is the easy part.

How do you ensure that practice aligns with beliefs?

Initially this reflection led me to thinking about the barriers; factors that are often out of my/ our/ sometimes-even-the-school’s control, but I’ve started building a list of things that are working well so we can consider how to amplify those. (This is the influence that exploring coaching has had on my thinking. I can even coach myself now!)

As educators we live the learning principles ourselves through…

How does your school ensure that your practice aligns with your beliefs?

What kind of teacher would you rather have? (Or be)

A is new to Melbourne, T is new to teaching and they are both new to my school. Neither is new to thinking about learning, which is what makes my introductory session with these passionate young educators so exciting. They both have deep beliefs about how children learn and they seek the best ways to build learning experiences on those foundations. They question existing systems and challenge the status quo of schooling in their quest for the best for all learners.

A visitor from another school, participating in our conversation for a while, told us about a group of willing new teachers at a school where she worked, who always accepted and agreed with everything. She didn’t talk about their practice and perhaps they ‘run lovely classrooms’, but I wonder how great a teacher you can be if you don’t constantly strive to understand how your learners learn, if you never challenge the way things are done, if you fail to question others and the system… and yourself.

In a recent conversation, a friend from another school expressed concern about a new teacher she has been mentoring. This teacher demonstrates passion for teaching and learning. She is a deep thinker, with strong beliefs about learning, who is reluctant to go through the motions of delivering prescribed programs and assessments that she does not believe are purposeful. On the other hand, she has yet to develop skills in classroom management. Her mentor is frustrated by her lack of organisation and attention to classroom behaviours.

I think you can learn classroom management. Can you learn to be passionate about learning if you’re not? Can you learn to care deeply if you don’t? Can you learn to base your practice on beliefs about learning, if you don’t really think about how learning takes place?

What kind of teachers are being trained in our systems? What kind of teacher would you rather have? What kind of teacher would you rather be?

A (massive) collaborative curriculum review…

How (and why?!) would we involve over a hundred teachers in a curriculum review? What could we hope to achieve? Wouldn’t it be easier to have a small focus group reviewing our PYP program of inquiry?  How could we make this IB requirement into a meaningful learning exercise? How would we make it a valuable experience for all staff?

According to feedback from staff, we certainly achieved our goals last Monday, despite our reservations…



  • To gain an overview of the big picture of the whole school Program of Inquiry and see how it works.
  • To interact with different people, across campuses, across disciplines, and engage in educational dialogue.
  • To share observations and questions that might assist in tightening the Program of Inquiry.

Group roles: (A choice of the following)

  • Facilitator – Facilitate the discussion, making sure everyone in the group has a voice.
  • Recorder #1 – Record big ideas and important thinking on your group’s Google doc.
  • Recorder #2 – Record questions and wonderings.
  • Tweeter – Tweet key ideas as the discussion unfolds.
  • Back Channeller – Share and discuss with other groups via the back channel in TodaysMeet
  • Time keeper – Keep an eye on the time to make sure tasks are accomplished.
  • Observer – Observe and record what you notice about the how the group collaborates.
  • Spy – Visit other groups to hear their conversation and get ideas.


  • See Think Wonder – Get a sense of the big picture of the POI.
    • What do you notice?
    • What are your initial thoughts, overall?
    • What are you wondering?
  • Horizontal review – Check the units across one year level (not your own).
    • Will the unit invite student inquiry?
    • Will it be globally significant addressing the commonalities of human experience?
    • Will there be opportunities to develop understanding through multiple perspectives?
    • And several other questions from the IB guide.
  • Vertical review – Check the units from K-6 through one trans-disciplinary theme
    • Are all aspects of the trans-disciplinary themes explored at some point in the programme of inquiry?
    • Will the units in this theme challenge and extend students’ understanding?
    • Is there is a balance of key concepts used throughout this trans-disciplinary theme.
    • And several other questions from the IB guide.
  • Personal reflection – Add your thoughts via the Google survey.
    • Place yourself on a scale of 1-10 to represent your knowledge and understanding of the whole school program of inquiry.
    • Sum up your overall understanding of the POI in one sentence.
    • What does the POI have to do with YOU?
    • What did you notice about yourself as a learner during the session?


Comments from some of the participants:

  • There is always more to learn and collaboration is crucial.
  • I was able to gain more of an understanding through the discussion and asking challenging questions helped us dig deeper into the POI.
  • I was part of a temporary community of learners and we went on a journey together.
  • I felt supported and it felt good that my ideas were included although I know very little about PYP.
  • I noticed that I’m still a learner – I was able to expand my thinking and to look at the POI from a learner’s point of view and not just from my subject area.
  • It helped me feel part of a bigger thing and that I’m not alone in my line of thoughts.
  • I feel more confident to express my views and listen to others in an open-minded manner.
  • It was great to realise how my learning continues to grow and I could make a contribution even though my area of teaching isn’t mainstream.
  • I can ask too many questions and I love critically analysing things but it can be irritating for others.
  • I was able to discuss and share concerns with my colleagues and discovered that colleagues had similar concerns.
  • Having a clear role to play supported my active participation.
  • I noticed how valuable it is to work collaboratively with people across different teaching areas. The different perspectives were really fascinating.
  • As a facilitator I noticed myself being a much better listener. I asked questions to keep the the conversation flowing and invited everyone to share their thinking.


  • Great to see the entire teaching community actively engaged in educational dialogue.
  • Everyone has something to contribute. Fresh perspectives can be valuable.
  • Teachers appreciate protected time for collaborative discussion, exchange of learning and airing concerns.


It’s valuable to see everything as an opportunity for learning!

The school effect…

Do you encourage learners to construct meaning and make sense of the world around them?
Or do you feel bound by the constraints of the curriculum?

Do you encourage creativity, imagination and initiative?
Or is it more important that students learn to play to the game of school?

Are you constantly seeking ways to pique learners’ curiosity and provoke thinking ?
Or are you usually covering content and ensuring they learn what they need to know?

My curious grandson Shai is a fearless explorer and learner at the age of two, and I often wonder what effect school will have on him.


Here’s what four year olds said about imagination…

What is your imagination?

  • When you think about something that’s not real.
  • It could be something that you dream about like a dragon that could bite you.
  • My imagination is a rainbow coloured.
  • It gives you stories.
  • It gives you pictures in your head.
  • I think my imagination starts in my head but then it just pops out of your head.

Do adults have an imagination?

  • It’s only for children because it’s very special.
  • I think adults do have imagination as well, but children’s are better.
  • Adults think about real things.

And then here’s what Grade 2s said about stories…

(They had just been exposed to a range of lovely stories told in different ways!)

What do you know about stories?

  • They have a beginning, a middle and an end.
  • They have words in them.
  • They have to be read.
  • Some are fiction and some are non fiction.
  • It can’t just be short.
  • They have characters.

Why do we tell stories?

  • To get information.
  • So we can learn from them.
  • To use up time.
  • So we learn new words.

Hmm… Is that the ‘school effect’?

Surprise in the cloud…

It should have been a disappointment that my School in the Cloud session is cancelled today, as I was looking forward to reconnecting with the girls at GGSS in New Delhi after their summer break. Instead I end up enjoying a delightful individual interaction with a surprisingly articulate twelve year old…

Jaya, the first student back at school after the summer, greets me with a ‘Hullo Mam’ and I wonder momentarily how we’ll manage to last the forty minute session in limited English, without a whole group to share the conversation. After a brief introductory chat about family and how much she enjoys playing with her three year old niece, I ask about the school holidays.

Jaya draws herself up and talks confidently about an organised school trip to various sites around Delhi. I’m captivated by her enthusiastic description of the hands on activities at the Science Museum, an exciting visit to  Chhatarpur Temple and an interlude at Indira Gandhi Park. She talks about her first ever encounter with soldiers, what she noticed and what she found out from them. She tells me about games they played in the park and offers to demonstrate next time when the girls are back at school. I’m impressed by her thoughtful commentary on what she observed and how she learned from each experience.

I ask Jaya whether she feels she learns more at school or through experiences such as these. We talk about the difference between this kind of experiential learning and the kind that happens at school (especially traditional Indian school) where the focus is on marks and tests. When poor sound or unfamiliar accents limit communication, we use written chat to confirm mutual understanding.

‘I think you can learn much more on your own,’ she says. I ask if she knows that Professor Sugata Mitra, founder of School in the Cloud, believes that children can learn by themselves. ‘It’s true,’ she says… ‘but you still need school and teachers to teach you other important things.’

When time is up, I congratulate Jaya on her English and tell her how much I’ve enjoyed our conversation. After the call, the site coordinator sends me a message to say how impressed the school is by the progress Jaya has made through these interactions.

Hours later I’m still thinking about the grace of this lovely young lady, her eagerness to learn and her appreciative retelling of the kind of excursion that students at my privileged school take totally for granted.

Once again I am reminded of the opportunities for mutual learning which these interactions create.

* If you’re interested in joining the Granny Cloud, read more and apply on the School in the Cloud website.

Becoming a true digital citizen – a bit like a first date

Guest post by Michael Stafford, newly active digital citizen…

Becoming a true digital citizen was quite nerve-racking. After a workshop focusing on Digitial Citizenship, I was inspired to change the way I interact through digital media. 

After a quick self-reflection it was obvious that I fell under the label of ‘consumer’. I consumed goods through the platform of Ebay, I consumed professional resources through a range of teacher websites and I consumed a range of useless facts and irrelevant updates about people I hadn’t seen since I was twelve through Facebook. I wasn’t creating anything for others and there was nothing I could consider meaningful interaction. I guess I was ready for things to change.

Here is where I’d like to introduce my vehicle to becoming a true digital citizen – Twitter. This is where the first date similarities flood in. I was entering an arena where I did not know much at all. The layout, etiquette, basic functionality, hashtags, little @ symbols….. how on earth did this work? As far as I could tell everyone was an expert already except for me. I wanted to get involved but for some reason was strangely nervous. Self-doubt crept it’s way into my mind. What if I did a bad tweet? Would I come across as an idiot? Would they like me? How would I sound professional in my bio without sounding like I was big noting myself?

After asking the Twitter world a few questions and getting quick and informative answers, I could see the benefit of it all. First date going well…. not sure what I was so scared about. However, one of my questions threw me right in the old deep end. “Would anyone be willing to help out my class with their learning?”. Within a day I had attention from India, South Africa, China, Singapore and just up the highway in Melbourne. They were all keen to connect through Skype. This digital relationship was about to go to the next level. Besides the sweating, increased heart rate and mental over-preparedness, the first Skype call actually went really well.

The students’ learning has been amplified through rich, authentic and meaningful connections and we now have peers that we can reconnect with in the future. I am now extraordinarily excited to see what else comes out of it.

It all came down to risk vs. reward really. Risk a bunch of little ego related worries and the reward can be huge. I’m glad I took the risk.


Making the PYP really happen…

It was the first time I had led a ‘Making the PYP Happen’ workshop and it was for teachers at my own school, so I approached the planning with a strong sense of responsibility. How would I ensure the workshop was valuable and would impact on practice?

MTPYPH is a workshop for teachers new to the PYP and its name describes it. The purpose of the workshop is to support participants, not just in understanding the principles and practices of the PYP, but in actually ‘making it happen’ for themselves and their students in their own particular learning environments.

The philosophy and underpinning principles of the PYP correlate closely with my school’s beliefs about learning. One of our new teachers (with a background in PYP schools) said ‘ The difference is that you LIVE the PYP here’. I’ve thought a lot about what that means! It means we go beyond fulfilling requirements and ticking boxes. It means we are not afraid to question or challenge the aspects that are less compatible with our beliefs. It means we constantly reflect on how best to make it meaningful in our context.

So planning the recent workshop, with my colleague Joc, included thoughtful consideration of how to take it ‘beyond the book’ and make it relevant and thought provoking. We wanted to focus on the big ideas in order to  help the teachers make connections between the separate elements.

This unit map was helpful in pulling the elements together and went far beyond the original intention (as learning experiences do when the learners take control!) The teachers changed the directions of the arrows and added their own as they realised connections and developed new understandings. This led to ideas for how to improve and develop the unit map for future use.

Draft only

The workshop focused on  inquiry, concept driven learning and constructivism. Teachers explored the PYP curriculum model and essential elements through the lenses of these big ideas, by inquiring, focusing on big ideas and constructing meaning themselves, both collaboratively and through individual reflection.

It’s been gratifying to hear them reflect on the shifts they are already making…

  • What I previously saw as disasters, I now recognise as opportunities for learning.
  • I’m realising that the less I talk, the more students do and learn.
  • I’m not planning the learning in advance so much. I’m allowing the learning in each lesson to shape further learning.
  • I’m accepting that learning is messy and realising that students are not all on the same learning path.
  • I’m not so stressed about ticking boxes and completing tasks. The learning is more organic as I hand over more to the kids.
  • I’m stepping back a bit, allowing the students to lead more, reflecting more as a teacher…
  • Relinquishing control, choosing intentional questions so the children can have more ownership of learning.
  • Providing more opportunities for student choice.
  • More opportunities for problem solving and collaborative thinking.
  • Trying to make more connections across different learning areas.
  • I’m reflecting more with my class on the learning.
  • I’m allowing myself to be more of a messy learner, pursuing my own learning and developing the bigger picture of the whole child.

Seems like they ARE making the PYP happen.

Screen Shot 2015-06-05 at 8.55.51 am
Collaboratively reflecting on what we can learn about students from various samples and photos…

A sense of loss…

Layla, my colleague and friend, has retired very suddenly for personal reasons. Processing my sense of loss, I have this to say…

Would you like to work in a place where you have time to absorb and process one idea before racing on to the next? I’d rather work with Layla.

Would you like to work in a place where you have the space to just be, without disagreement and constantly being challenged? I’d rather work with Layla.

Would you like to work in a place where things are always crystal clear, precise and well mapped out for you? I’d rather work with Layla.

It’s easy to work with people who think in the same way as you do (or don’t think much at all) – You make a suggestion, they agree. They make a suggestion, you take it up. No argument, no raised voices… no progress?

New staff witnessing dialogue between Layla and me are often taken aback. We argue, we disagree, we force each other to examine our beliefs, clarify our goals and adapt our thinking. This is real collaboration and what grows out of it, is dynamic and exciting … often leading to meaningful change.

It’s easy to relax and go with the status quo, accept things because they are good enough or because they have always been done a particular way. It takes courage to constantly question and to fight for what you believe in, even if you upset people along the way.

I’ll miss my thinking partner. I’ll miss pushing her into a corner and making her explain her thought process, examine her motivation and justify her thinking. I’ll be looking out for someone passionate with strong beliefs about learning, who’s not afraid of change… because I need to be pushed in exactly the same way myself.

If you’re someone who doesn’t like being challenged, who doesn’t value debate, who isn’t able to take the seed of a creative idea and use your imagination to grow it yourself into something flourishing… then you might not miss Layla.

I know I will.