The big picture…

community of practice

If you read this blog, chances are you have seen this image before. If you read A Global Community, my chapter in the IB book Journeys in Communities of Practice, you’ll see it there too. And if you participate in ‘Direct Your Own Learning‘, my session at the Reform Symposium Conference next weekend (time conversion here), you’ll probably see it again.

After the first day of the Melbourne GAFE summit, (Google for Education), I wondered if the conference was more about tools than learning.  After the second day, with my thinking provoked by @mistersill and @betchaboy‘s keynotes, some new ideas inspired by sessions learning (well, yes) tools, and some good conversation with other educators, I’m re-evaluating…

It turns out the ‘big picture’ looks like the one above!

Direct your own learning…

Direct your own learning…

It’s the title of my session at the Reform Symposium Conference and it’s the essence of the conference itself. 

Do you check your email or dream of being outside during professional development sessions provided by your school? Is content dictated from above and attendance compulsory? Is it usually the ‘one size fits all’ variety of PD that rarely fits anyone? 

Put together by teachers for teachers, the Reform Symposium Conference (#RSCON4) is a ‘global community initiative to transform teaching and learning.’ It’s an online conference, in which presenters and attendees will participate from around the globe.

It’s an opportunity to direct your own learning…

Choose which sessions to participate in. Connect with educators globally. Join the conversations and add your perspective. Share practice, hear about innovative approaches, learn… all from the comfort of your couch.


I believe that all teachers need to be learners first.

I’m glad I work in a school where teachers’ learning is valued as much as that of students. I often write about different approaches to professional learning and I’ve shared some of the innovations at my school, here, here and here.

So I appreciate the opportunity to share my experience at a conference like #RSCON4. And I appreciate the learning that will come out of attending sessions by other presenters. Most of all I appreciate the opportunity afforded me by the organisers, to suggest presenters for them to invite. I’ve recommended educators I know online and some I know in person, some better known, some lesser known, but all have inspired me in some way through their ideas and their work. I choose to learn from them and with them…

I direct my own learning.

Reform Symposium Conference – October 11-13

Student Ownership…

‘It was great last year’… 

‘The kids loved it’… 

‘No need for change’… 

‘Why fix what isn’t broken?’

It’s exciting to note that we rarely hear these comments in our planning sessions any more!

Change and growth are embedded in the way we plan for learning. We prefer to start afresh and reinvent, in light of our current understandings, new teams collaborating, different students…

And every time we plan,  we try to ensure more opportunities for students to take ownership of the learning.

Two years ago we had our first social justice conference for Year 6 students. The event grew from a random idea, blogged and picked up by a teacher on the other side of the world, who breathed life into the vision. We developed her ideas further and the conference was a great introduction to the PYP exhibition process.

The aims were-

  • To expose students to a range of issues relating to ‘inequity’, raise awareness and provoke thinking on related issues.
  • To provide the opportunity to hear from people who have worked in areas that are taking action to help right inequities.
  • To help students develop convictions about what is right, what is wrong, and what needs to change.

Last year the Year 6 team improved the structure of the conference, adding time for the kids to reflect in small groups after each speaker and opportunities to express their learning creatively at the end of the day.

While the conference was outstanding, with  kids choosing what sessions to attend and actively engaged in learning on the day, essentially it was still organised for them.

This year, it’s obvious what needs upgrading. The kids need more ownership.

So we’ve called for volunteers who will write to the speakers, organise groups, make programs, welcome and thank the speakers, take photographs, film, tweet, blog… and whatever else they decide!

I’m on leave at the moment, but delighted to find emails such as these in my inbox this morning:

My name is Jared and I am in Mrs B’s class and she told me that you were looking for volunteers to help with the conference next term. I would be very happy help with all the organizing that needs to be done. Jared

I would love to volunteer to help organise anything. I enjoy writing so I could make a blog post about the speakers, and I am very organised so I can organise anything. I could make programs or welcome the speakers too. I don’t really mind, I’m just happy to help. Thank you. Liora

Dear Morah Sackson, I am very interested in this project. Any jobs available will be fine for me! Thanks a million! David.

Hi Morah Sackson, I would love to volunteer to be an organizer for the conference. If I could I would like to write messages to the speakers with information. Thanks, Taylor

I would love to cooperate! I would love to do anything… I am passionate to help out! Mia

I would like to volunteer to work at lunchtimes. I would like to help create the program if I can. I am a great organiser and I really enjoy when things are in place. Ellie

Next year the kids can do the whole thing!

A different kind of conference…

There are 44,500 people under 25 homeless every night in Australia. A few years ago, Bianca was one of them. Now she is working in her dream job, helping homeless youth.


Mike is a basketball coach who works with disabled and disadvantaged kids in the Helping Hoops Program, which helps build confidence, teaches respect and trust, promotes social inclusion and develops teamwork skills.


A huge amount of fresh food goes to waste every day and yet many people cannot afford enough food to eat – especially healthy fresh food. Sarah works for SecondBite, who redistribute fresh food to ensure that people who are homeless or living in poverty get fresh food every day.


In many places, girls don’t go to school, missing out on important opportunities to escape poverty. But girls are the solution to problems too. Through her work at CARE Australia, Lyrian works to help women and girls lift themselves, and their families, out of poverty.


These and a dozen other speakers will present interactive sessions to ninety Year 6 students this week at our Equity Conference. This is the second year, we have arranged this very different way for our students to learn and it’s exciting to plan better learning opportunities each time. The idea developed last year from an idle thought first into a plan and then into a powerful learning experience.

The conference is the start of our Year 6 PYP Exhibition unit.

The central idea: ‘Developing awareness and understanding of inequity empowers us to act’. Students will spend the next two months inquiring into this conceptual idea. It will provide the context within which they will find something they care deeply about to explore, culminating in the exhibition, where they will share their learning with parents and guests.

The aims of the conference:

  • To expose learners to all kinds of  issues of ‘inequity’ and to provoke thinking on a range of related issues.
  • To provide the opportunity to hear from people who have worked in areas that are taking action to right inequities.
  • To help students develop convictions about what is right, what is wrong, and what needs to change.

In between sessions, students will gather in small groups to process and reflect on what they have heard and experienced. They will be encouraged to ask themselves: What does it make me feel? What does it make me wonder? What does it make me wish? What do I believe about this?  They will share their thinking with their groups and consider each of the issues in terms of the concentric circles modelDoes this relate to the world? The local community? My family? How might it connect to me?

At the end of the day, there will be an opportunity for students to express their feelings in any way they like. Stations will include a graffiti wall, art materials, tools for oral, written or video reflection… and learners will be free to choose one or more media through which to express themselves.

The day will embody all our learning principles and promote all the attributes of the IB learner profile.

And it’s only the beginning of the learning…

Global Education Conference 2011

Preparing for my Global Education Conference presentation is an opportunity to reflect on how far we have come and to imagine where else we might go.

I first dreamed of global interactions when I saw this video conference posted on The Fischbowl a couple of years ago…

I’d used Skype to connect with family but the idea of connecting students with the world in that way simply hadn’t occurred  to me.

It led to my first blog post

‘ A teacher’s job is to calm the disturbed and to disturb the calm’ (unknown author)

Disturbing the calm is definitely my preference!

My current goal is to disturb the  status quo of classroom teaching.  After a great deal of reading  and a few encouraging successes,  I am excited about the concept of the ‘flat classroom’  as a meaningful way to  enhance learning.   I want to explore ways to collapse the walls of the classroom and find possibilities for taking learning outside of the conventional structure.

You’re  invited to join me on my journey! Let’s create opportunities for our students to connect and collaborate with others outside of the classroom.

That led to the first ever Skype interaction between kids at my school and someone in the world (Raj in India)…

And subsequent global connections to enhance learning about…

different cultures

other religions…

different places…

world issues…

Not just for students, but for teachers too…

My Global Education Conference presentation (with Rajendran Dandapani sharing perspectives from India) will be on Thursday 17th November at 9pm Melbourne time, 3.30pm Chennai time, 10am GMT. Check for your time on the full schedule here and come and join us. It’s an opportunity to establish global connections, share ideas and imagine what’s possible in the future…

New ways of learning…

People pay more attention to new ways of learning.  (Hayden, 12)

A hundred learners gathered at the start of the day to listen to a keynote presentation about KOTO, a not-for-profit restaurant and vocational training program that is changing the lives of disadvantaged youth in Vietnam.

It was the start of an excellent day of learning at an innovative Social Justice Conference, which included fifteen presentations spread over three sessions, providing a broad selection for participants to choose from. Between sessions there were small breakout groups for sharing and processing.

If this sounds like other conferences you have been to, the difference is that the participants were mostly 11 and 12 years old! The conference was organised to expose students to a range of speakers and workshops to raise awareness of social inequities and the kinds of action taken by individuals and organisations to try to make a difference. The  presenters included  high school students and staff, but mainly members of the local and global and communities. (with long distance presentations via Skype).

Teachers and students alike were excited by the learning opportunities and inspired by the stories they heard. We learned about youth homelessness from Bianca, at the Salvation Army, who was herself on the streets a few years ago. Suneeta from SOLES provoked the students to think about how they would get information if they had no computers, no books and their parents weren’t able to help them. Gabe and his daughter Mary-Margaret from Kids are Heroes inspired the students with stories of action that kids have taken to contribute to improving their world. Among other things, students learned about organisations which ensure fair treatment of workers, about working with indigenous Australians and about the plight of refugees. Click here to see the full program of speakers.

It was rewarding to see our young learners so engaged, taking notes, grappling with issues, asking thoughtful questions and reflecting on their learning.

Student reflections on the conference as a way to learn:

It was interactive and gave us many different views of things. (Elijah)

It was a good way to learn because we listened to inspirational people and stories and didn’t have to do stressing work. (Zac)

We could choose where we wanted to go and pursue what we wanted to learn. (Victoria)

It was a fun and interesting way to learn and you had a choice of what you listened to so you would not be bored. (Alex)

I got a chance to hear other people’s thoughts and deepen my understanding about social inequities. (Bella)

I was inspired and I have deepened my understanding by hearing what inspired others. (Tahni)

It was a good way of learning because we got to meet people we may never have got to meet and to learn in a different way. (Jasmine)

People pay more attention to new ways of learning. (Hayden)

You can read about how the idea was conceived and developed here. 

Click here for further reflections on one of the class blogs. They would love your comments.

#RSCON3: A tiny piece of education?

In a recent post I wrote about the timely reminders I had in India, that my version is just a tiny piece of the reality of education in the world. It’s easy to get so involved in your own environment that you forget to think about what education looks like under different conditions. Partly as a result of my experiences this past past week, I have decided to change my topic and prepare a new presentation for the Reform Symposium Conference this weekend.

RSCON3 is an incredible opportunity for educators from all over the world to learn together. I love its energy, diversity and inclusiveness.

On the other hand, we sometimes exist inside our own bubble and forget that education looks very different in other contexts, both in our own countries and around the world. There are millions of educators who don’t have the language or the resources to be included in a conference such as ours.

So… What might schools look like in developing countries? What sorts of learning opportunities exist outside of schools? How do people attempt to make a difference to children’s learning and children’s futures? What inspires such people?

I am definitely not an expert. My knowledge and ideas come from reading, from listening, from talking to people and from short visits to places here and there. On my recent visit to India I had a chance to see and feel different ways of educating the very poor. Some caring, attention yields amazing results, despite the lack of resources. I’d like to share my experiences and thoughts with you, provoke some thinking and perhaps inspire some action. I’d love to hear from people with more knowledge and more experience than I have. Together we can consider ways to develop student awareness and social conscience too.

I hope to increase awareness that the way most of us see education on a daily basis is just a tiny piece of education in the world.

Click here to join me on Sunday 10am Melbourne time… That’s Saturday night in some parts of the world! For other time zones, click here. (Once you click, you will need to enter your name and wait for the session to open.)

See you there!



A conference for kids…

It all started with an idle thought or two, when I had some spare time at the IB Conference in March. I’d walked out of the only boring keynote of the conference, presented, ironically, by the very people who teach teachers to teach at one of the big universities here in Melbourne. I began to mull about why a conference can’t be more like school and wrote a blog post right then and there. I followed up with  Why isn’t school like a conference? and I was thrilled to hear from Donna Morley that my post had inspired her to organise a conference day for students at her school!

Inspired in turn by Donna’s initiative, I tried (unsuccessfully!) to sell the idea at my own school to a couple of Year level teams. The responses were predictable: too complicated, too time consuming, too much work, too much trouble. When I finally got the opportunity to pitch the idea to our Year 6 team as a provocation for the PYP exhibition unit, I was prepared! I volunteered right away to take responsibility for the organisation of the whole thing myself, if necessary.(I have a supportive in -school PLN and I knew once the team were on board, they’d be more than happy to get involved.)

The central idea of the unit is ‘Social inequities create a need for action in the world’. Within this broad conceptual understanding, students will follow their areas of interest and decide on their own individual and small group inquiries.To begin with, they will be exposed to many provocations in order to give them an overview, pique their interest and provoke their thinking. The full day conference will be a provocation in itself, with a range of guest speakers, interactive workshops and small group breakout sessions in between for sharing, processing and reflection.

We’re in the planning stage now and it’s really exciting. We will have guest speakers from the community and overseas (via Skype) talking about social justice issues and action they have taken, as well as workshops facilitated by staff , high school students and past students.

I love the way an idle thought can lead to a blog post, which can inspire someone in another country to explore a new concept which, in turn, can encourage further development of the idea, back in the place where it began. Once again, it’s about the incredible power of social media to influence and instigate change…

10+ reasons to participate in RSCON3…

This is a collaborative post with @clivesir, who I first met through his blog Clive in Sri Lanka, in which he chronicled his experiences as a volunteer, teaching technology to teachers. He once wrote a post entitled Missing: My PLN and we have been friends ever since. He’s one of the organisers of RSCON3.

The world is full of generous educators, willing to share with anyone who is open to learning. You don’t even need to leave home to find them. Anyone can participate in the online 3-day Reform Symposium Conference from 29th July to 1st Aug (depending on where in the world you are!)

Here’s why…

  1. Learn without getting off the couch.
  2. It’s green!
  3. No suitcases, tickets, hotel, worries about what to wear…
  4. It’s free!
  5. An opportunity to network with educators globally.
  6. It’s addictive!
  7. 65+ presenters from USA, Canada, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, UK, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Jordan, Thailand, Japan, Australia…
  8. International keynote speakers.
  9. Encourages audience interaction, both in realtime and after.
  10. Great community spirit. Passion and love of learning are contagious.
  11. Learn from and with educators like you who have been there, done that.
  12. If a presentation is not what you expect you can quickly go to a parallel session.
  13. Easy to fit around family life and demands. Take a break whenever you like.
  14. Learn while your husband/wife cooks breakfast, lunch, supper…!
  15. Huge choice of topics – expand your horizons!
  16. Choose what interests YOU- no obligation to attend sessions.
  17. Voices from outside can be powerful, even if they say the same things as voices inside.
  18. Model learning for your students.
  19. Presentations are recorded. Replay at leisure or catch ones you missed later.
  20. Social Media/ Professional Development Training LabA parallel session where you can ask questions about concerns, issues, tech difficulties, presenters…

(How did we get to 20?! My posts always have 10!)

Teaching is changing.  Ways of learning are changing. The possibilities are endless… Join us. What’s the worst that can happen?