Making space for innovation…

When did you last spring clean your school events calendar? Are there items that you’ve had for years and may be ready to be modified, improved, replaced or thrown out? Are there things that don’t match any more? Don’t fit any more? Don’t work any more? Don’t excite you any more?

In today’s leadership meeting, we brainstorm some of our traditional ‘events’ and ‘customs’, each jot them down on sticky notes and then place them on a continuum according to our personal feelings about them:

Loathe it – Lament it – Live with it – Like it – Love it.


Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 6.34.30 pm

It’s a refreshing, honest activity, where we say what we think and the data is fascinating.  Apparently there are still lots of things we do because… well we’ve always done them. It’s the first step towards a thorough spring clean in which we will address which items to modify which to replace and which to give away entirely.

The next step is is to conduct the same exercise with teachers and then students!

Looking forward to making space for innovation…


Do you doubt you have anything to offer?

I start today’s collaborative planning session asking each of the teachers to share what strengths they think they bring to the new team. (Two have worked together for years, one started this year and one will join the team in the new year.) People are reluctant to share what they see as their own strengths and, instead, they each take a turn to say what they think the others bring the team, which is delightfully affirming.

Do you doubt you have anything to offer?

We’re excited to be organising Unleashing Learning, a conference by educators for educators, the success of which (among other things!) will depend on our own and other teachers presenting workshops. What’s becoming apparent is that there are excellent educators who doubt they have anything to offer. They measure themselves against others and judge themselves as inadequate. Is this you?

Are you ready to share…?

Unleashing Learning…

Unleashing Learning… 

A conference by educators for educators -13/14 March 2016

Imagine and experience the powerful learning that happens when learners feel they are valued members of a learning community, empowered by ownership of their learning.

  • Be inspired by the personal messages of other educators in the field.
  • Participate in interactive, hands on workshops engaging with big ideas.
  • Choose your own learning from a broad range of options.
  • Connect with educators from other schools in Melbourne to exchange ideas.
  • Have an opportunity to reflect on your practice and share it with others.
  • Suggest ‘unconference’ topics for impromptu discussions with like-minded people.

Join our learning community in any of the following ways:

  • share ideas for and help organise the event in any way you can
  • attend our conference on 13 and/or 14 March 2016 as a participant
  • present an inspiring 5 minute talk, based on a personal learning experience or powerful message of your own.
  • present a 90 minute interactive workshop exploring an aspect of ‘unleashing learning’ – powerful learning that happens when learners feel they are valued members of a learning community, empowered by ownership of their learning.
  • facilitate a group reflection session.
  • if you’re coming from afar, spend a few more days at our school, observing, engaging and exchanging ideas.

Unleash the Learning here!  (expressions of interest)

What does ‘unleashing learning’ say to you?

Screen Shot 2015-11-12 at 4.14.07 pmScreen Shot 2015-11-12 at 4.14.42 pmScreen Shot 2015-11-12 at 4.15.10 pm

Thanks to #Learning2 for the inspiration.

Listening to student voice…

Enthusiastic students from Years 4, 5 and 6 sit in a circle at the end of the day and share reflections on our Program of Inquiry. I tell them the teachers are considering which units to keep and which need changing and they are eager to have their say. As always, the children’s insightfulness delights me!

I ask them to write down what makes a unit of inquiry worthwhile.  They put their initial thoughts to one side and spend some time examining the K-6 curriculum document, expressing their opinions of the units into which they have inquired this year. Green stickers for the ones they have loved and felt they learned a lot. Red for the ones they didn’t enjoy at all. Yellow for the ones in between. (No sticker at all if you can’t even remember the unit!) They discuss the units in pairs, paste their stickers and record their reasons for these ratings. Next I ask them to think about all the units from the preceding years , share the ones they still remember well and consider why they remember those. One girl remembers a unit she explored six years ago because ‘It had  strong personal connections. I like units that are about me.’

Finally, they return to their original statements and refine them, now that they have reflected more closely on the units of inquiry. Here are their thoughts on what makes a good unit of inquiry:

A worthwhile unit of inquiry has/is…

  • Lots of options so kids can choose what interests them (Mischa)
  • Activities that engage you and take your freedom to another level (Brodie)
  • Ways that kids can connect to the inquiry (Jesse)
  • Excursions, incursions, projects, building things, freedom to learn. (Zac)
  • One that students have connections to. Relevance to everyday life. (Mia)
  • Fun, interactive, different materials, getting your hands dirty. (Mia)
  • Freedom for students to inquire into what interests them (Tammi)
  • Enough for kids to explore. Not too small. 
  • Open ended, so we can figure it out for ourselves. 
  • Skills and knowledge that will help for the future.
  • Freedom to lead your own inquiry. Hands on experiences beyond the classroom. (Benji)
  • Complex questions you can pursue without running out of material. (Yoshi)
  • Enough time to go deep into your questions. (Yoshi)


Their reflections about the specific units of inquiry turn out to be less valuable than the bigger picture. Ask yourself these questions about ALL the learning in your class?

  • Are there options for the learners to investigate what interests them?
  • Are there possibilities for everyone to connect to the learning?
  • Do the learners have freedom to explore?
  • Is the learning relevant to their lives?
  • Is the learning engaging and challenging?
  • Are there opportunities for play?
  • Is it open-ended so learners can figure things out for themselves?
  • Are there opportunities for development of skills and knowledge for the future?
  • Does the learning extend beyond the classroom?
  • Is there enough time to for deep learning?

Doing school vs (real) learning…

I love chatting with my colleague about approaches to pedagogy and how to encourage teachers to reflect and grow. This week’s conversation gets us thinking about a shift in focus required for (some) beginning teachers… and some who’re not beginning.

We attempt to define it. Is it a shift in focus from:

  • Teaching to learning?
  • Teacher centred to student centred?
  • Work to learning?
  • Short term to long terms goals?
  • Content to process?
  • All of the above?

How often do you say these sorts of things in your classroom?

  • This is how you need to do the task.
  • Don’t publish till you show me what you have written.
  • Your answer is ok but it’s not the one I’m looking for. (not necessarily in those words)
  • This is how you can improve your work.
  • Don’t move to the next step till I say so.
  • Stop (in the middle of what you’re doing/thinking/learning) and listen to my instructions.
  • I want you to…

Are you depriving your students of opportunities to make decisions and reflect on them, learn from mistakes, become independent learners, think for themselves and… really LEARN?

What are the effects when teachers say things like this? (Observed in class visits this week)

  • What do you think is the best way to go about this? Why do you think so?
  • Create your own experiment, if you think it will be more effective.
  • How would you teach this to students of any age of your choice?
  • It doesn’t matter what I think, what do you think?
  • How and why would you go about developing new vocabulary? (second language)
  • You know more about this than me, what do you suggest?
  • What did you learn about yourself as a learner?

Consider your practice….

Are you providing opportunities for meaningful learning?

Or are you and your students ‘doing school’?

Lauri, Year 3
“Can you go and find some good microscopes for around $100? You know more about these things than me…”
Year 6 PYP exhibition information night
Sharing with parents what we’ve been learning and what we’re interested in exploring.
Year 4 - Adventure Time
Creating emotion balls as part of an ‘Adventure Time‘ exploration of mindfulness
Year 4 Adventure Time
Getting feedback from peers before pitching to the class, rather than just asking the teacher

Adventure Time – an experiment in student driven learning…

Most formal curricula have hundreds of outcomes. If you were to address them individually, you’d need to be at school for 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for about 20 years…

What if you relinquished control and let learning happen?

What if the students had opportunities for authentic, meaningful, self-directed learning, through which many of the curriculum areas were addressed?

Last week I visited Jina’s class as they were preparing to present their pitches for ‘Adventure Time’. The couple of pitches I witnessed incorporated multiple curriculum areas and a broad range of trans disciplinary skills.

It’s interesting, then, that teachers think they can’t spare the time for this sort of learning!

I’ll be observing the learning with interest as this experiment unfolds and documenting it here.

Here’s what the kids are saying…

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
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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?