The great divide…

I read Dale Worsley’s post this morning and thought about how lucky I am to work in a primary school with a dynamic learning culture, where passionate teachers constantly seek the most engaging and meaningful ways for their young learners to take ownership of their learning, where the learning is for ‘now’ AND for the kind of future in which they will live and learn.

I recently received this email from a friend whose daughter has just started High School (She’s 12. In Australia, children move from Primary School directly to High School. We don’t have Middle School as a separate stage).

My daughter’s education to date has been nothing short of remarkable. She has soaked up and been enticed by all that the school has to offer.

She has inquired and pushed boundaries. She has investigated and wondered her way through the most intriguing PYP journey. She is a thinker and has loved being knee deep in creative expression and pondering units of inquiry that encouraged her to be open minded and inquire into things she wonders about. With amazing guidance, she whole heartedly explored her area of passion and with excitement and exuberance presented her findings at the Year 6 exhibition.

Now in year 7, her school bag is full of thick text books (which also sit on her iPad) which travel to and from school. She sits at night working through pages of maths problems from the text books. Just as I had done when I was in high school (a million years ago) … A little archaic.

I understand it is very early days yet, but where has that amazing transformative thinking gone? The creative learning that is so full of colour and excitement…

Please tell me Ed, that it is on its way????

My sad reply: ‘I cant’

And again I wonder about the great divide between primary schools and (many) high schools…


  • Why is that as soon as our students turn 12, they need to start preparing for the demands of VCE and university entry?
  • Why are the demands of formal education frequently out of touch with the reality of the world in which our students live and LEARN and contribute? (independently, without the assistance of school!)
  • Why do many high school students still do the same kinds of things their parents and teachers did when they went to school, while the rest of the world changes rapidly and dramatically?
  • Why did a parent once reprimand a high school teacher whom I know for encouraging the students to (gasp) think instead of preparing them for the exams?
  • Why should the focus shift from learning (in primary school) to work (in high school)?
  • Why should grades and results matter more than thinking, learning how to learn and contributing to the world in a meaningful way?


A thoughtful response by @alohalavina – Crossing the Great Divide

Learning for whom?

The IB Learner Profile calls for all learners to be thinkers and inquirers, who ‘communicate confidently and creatively, collaborate effectively and listen carefully to the perspectives of other individuals. We thoughtfully consider our own ideas and experience, working to understand our strengths and weaknesses in order to support our learning and personal development.’

These attributes are the essence of effective professional learning communities.

Writing my chapter for the IB book ‘Journeys in Communities of Practice‘ was a highly rewarding experience. It provided an opportunity to reflect on the development of a learning culture in my school and the community of practice we had built over time. In addition I enjoyed working with and learning from editor Dale Worsley, as well as meeting him in person and participating in one of his inquiry circles, while visiting New York earlier this year.

By the time the book came out, a year after writing the chapter, it was interesting to reflect on our further growth too! As our school years draws to an end, I’m excited by the achievements and reflections of teachers who, through being part of this thriving learning community, have

  • made strong connections between theory and best practice.
  • opened classroom doors for collaboration and team teaching.
  • stepped aside to let students take ownership of their learning.
  • overcame anxieties about technology.
  • deepened their understanding of inquiry and concept driven learning.
  • created learning spaces that reflect their beliefs about learning.

We often take our own situations for granted and, to be honest, I was happily involved in the ongoing learning at my school and hadn’t thought very much about how challenging the process of building such a learning community can be. I hope educators around the world benefit from reading my own and others’ stories in the ‘Journeys’ book.

I can’t help but wonder though…

What percentage of schools and educators can afford to pay $60 for a slim paperback book? (That’s the cost including shipping)


How many could pay $50 to participate in a webinar based on the book? (There are – as there should be – a growing number of free-access opportunities for educators to learn online.)

The IB Learner Profile, mentioned at the start, also calls for us to be principled.

‘Principled – We act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness and justice, and with respect for the dignity and rights of people everywhere… ‘

Does the IB as an organisation model its own principles?

Do you own your curriculum or does it own you?

This ‘break-up letter ‘post, in which Jeanne Zeuch explains her reasons for ‘breaking up with’ the Reggio Emilia approach, is well worth reading.

I wonder how many other educators are forgetting to examine what is important to THEM. Rarely, if ever, have I seen or read educators flat out adding – stating for fact – their own ideals from their own school culture that they have weaved seamlessly into their mission. I feel like we – including me – are so dazzled by the inspiration of REA that we don’t even consider incorporating our own beliefs or values. THAT is why I am breaking up with REA. I cannot teach in the beautiful school that I teach and keep seeing what is missing from the RE value set.

I think it’s relevant for educators everywhere who adopt a program or an approach, without critical reflection and extensive consideration of the program’s relationship with one’s own beliefs about learning.

And it’s food for thought for you

Leaders who expect their teachers to implement programs selected and enforced from above, without choice or ownership.

Teachers who accept and implement entire programs uncritically, without adapting them to their own beliefs.

Purists who worry more about the words than the philosophy behind them.

Educators who think curricula need to be covered, and programs need to be taught.

Whether it’s your national curriculum, an inspiring approach or a subject specific program… it needs to be understood, analysed and adapted to your beliefs about learning, so that you own it rather than it owning you.


Mobile providers could help kids all over the world…

Do you have a well stocked library filled with resources to which your students have ready access?

Does your school have wireless internet connection and computers, laptops or iPads?

There’s a group of kids in South Africa, without access to resources, who’d like access to Wikipedia on their phones…

Imagine if mobile providers were willing to provide such a simple gift…

Will you sign their petition at

Here’s their letter:

Open letter to Cell C, MTN, Vodacom and 8ta

We are learners in a Grade 11 class at Sinenjongo High School, Joe Slovo Park, Milnerton, Cape Town. We recently heard that in some other African countries like Kenya and Uganda certain cell phone providers are offering their customers free access to Wikipedia.

We think this is a wonderful idea and would really like to encourage you also to make the same offer here in South Africa. It would be totally amazing to be able to access information on our cell phones which would be affordable to us.

Our school does not have a library at all so when we need to do research we have to walk a long way to the local library. When we get there we have to wait in a queue to use the one or two computers which have the internet. At school we do have 25 computers but we struggle to get to use them because they are mainly for the learners who do CAT (Computer Application Technology) as a subject. Going to an internet cafe is also not an easy option because you have to pay per half hour.

90% of us have cell phones but it is expensive for us to buy airtime so if we could get free access to Wikipedia it would make a huge difference to us.

Normally when we do research Wikipedia is one of the best sites for us to use and so we go straight to it. The information there is clear, updated and there is information on just about every topic.

Our education system needs help and having access to Wikipedia would make a very positive difference. Just think of the boost that it will give us as students and to the whole education system of South Africa.

Sinombongo, Sinako, Busisiwe, Ntswaki, Bomkazi, Lindokuhle, Ntsika, Patrick, Ndumiso, Sinazo, Bathandwa, Nokuthembela, Lutho, Mandlilakhe, Zingisile, Aviwe, Nezisa, Ncumisa, Nokubonga, Pheliwe, Zama, Unathi, Malixole and Ntombozuko.

In the picture…


What does this image reveal?

One of my colleagues sent it to me, in response to a request I sent teachers for photos of kids learning, for a presentation to parents. It shows a group of 4th grade students applying their skills and knowledge in Hebrew creatively, using iPads. I’ve had fun with it!

To begin with the Learning Team Leaders examined it for evidence of the IB PYP standard and practices in Teaching and Learning. They felt it might show these-

  • Teaching and learning engages students as inquirers and thinkers.
  • Teaching and learning builds on what students know and can do.
  • Teaching and learning supports students to become actively responsible for their own learning.
  • Teaching and learning addresses the diversity of student language needs, including those for students learning in a language(s) other than mother tongue.
  • Teaching and learning uses a range and variety of strategies.
  • Teaching and learning incorporates a range of resources, including information technologies.
  • Teaching and learning engages students in reflecting on how, what and why they are learning.

Next, I tried to decide which of our school’s learning principles it best depicted so I could place it appropriately in my presentation. The scene could easily represent all of these –

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning occurs by acquiring skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to other contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and best takes place through collaboration and interaction.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

If we wanted to, we could probably unpack the trans disciplinary skills that are evident and the attitudes being demonstrated. Or we could check the scene against the so-called 21st century skills. It’s interesting how much we can see in one simple image (with minimal explanation from the teacher). Examining classroom photos to see what they reveal is a great way to refocus on beliefs about learning and a host of other big ideas.

What might this image reveal?


Frustrations of a Trainee Teacher

Heather Brown is a 29 year old pre-service trainee teacher from Scotland, living in Lancashire in the UK, who left a law career to pursue her dream to teach.  In this guest post, she shares her experience and frustrations…

Wide eyed and full of idealistic intentions I quit my lucrative job in the legal sector and decided I was going to ‘make a difference’, I was going to do something that mattered and I was going to get a job that would let me leave work before nightfall.  I knew my pay would drop, although upon closer inspection I found this to be more of an avalanche like plunge, nevertheless I wanted a career with meaning, and I wanted to contribute something more to society than making rich people richer.

After completing the seemingly endless application form and the two weeks of required ‘work experience’ which I had secured only through my existing connections in the education sector (I have found that nepotism is integral to getting into teaching) I was joyously invited to an interview DAY.  An entire day of covert questioning, observing our interactions (just ignore the five people in the room staring at you writing feverish notes) and ending in a presentation.  I poured my heart out about my passion for my subject and my overpowering desire to teach, I recited the various lines I had read in the TES that morning, supported my interviewers unveiled contempt for the education minister and above all I fervently denied the suspicious line of questioning regarding my decision to go into teaching coinciding with the birth of my first child.

I was offered a place on the course. Clearly having only 2 weeks of classroom experience in the 8 years since graduating University was outweighed by my enthusiasm, wonderful presentation and £9,000.00 fees cheque.

So I dumped the business suits bought myself some pastel coloured blouses and dangly earrings and embarked on my teacher training. The first day began with a meet and greet which consisted of 2 hours of ice breaker exercises, a plethora of speeches from various university factions and ended with a horrifying introduction to safeguarding responsibilities – basically report everything, EVERYTHING.  Finally a half hour speech designed to terrify us into joining a union followed by a goody bag of stationary, funnily enough emblazoned with the insignia of the various teaching unions.

The following day consisted of a perplexing look at the current education system and then another session regarding the changes afoot, rendering the previous session obsolete – all delivered by an embittered lecturer through gritted teeth.  Then onto professional standards – also known as basic common sense written with the usual bureaucratic flair of a government department.  It was at this point I began to wonder when the teaching would be mentioned – oh how naïve.

It is with a tired sigh that I have to realise the following realities after only a few months of teacher training;

  • Learning/teaching theory has been wildly over-complicated by unscrupulous editors to sell text books.
  • Much of the theory is completely unsubstantiated by any empirical evidence.
  • There is a great deal of emphasis on how not to discipline a badly behaved learner but  virtually none on how to do so.
  • There is huge encouragement to ensure that certain learners don’t get left behind but there is barely any emphasis on helping high achieving learners push even further.
  • Websites written by actual teachers have far more practical advice than many of the textbooks.
  • My ability to teach is going to be judged on a mound of written work and only 8 hours of actual classroom observation.

My biggest frustration has got to be the confusion around what a teacher is really there to do.  We are told that ‘teaching to the exam’ is bad, that learning should be the focus, to concentrate on the learner’s needs and interests not the teacher’s/college’s/examiner’s – oh but you will be judged by your employer on your exam results record.  This is the biggest contradiction I have found so far, but then again I’m only a couple of months in.

Now I find that my eyes are not quite so wide, my heart is not singing quite so loudly… but I am still thrilled to be close to becoming a teacher and my plan is simply to put in the effort to hopefully get out the effort– Hold on that’s pretty catchy, maybe I should contact some publishers!

What Naplan won’t tell you…

A brief letter to young parents about choosing a school…

Dear Mums and Dads,

I’ve heard from a few of you lately about the schools you have chosen for your children. I was a little taken aback to hear that you did this by checking online for the schools’ Naplan scores.

What matters to you?

An environment where…

  • your child’s curiosity is nurtured and inquiry is encouraged?
  • her unique abilities and preferences are taken into account?
  • social and emotional needs are addressed as much as intellectual and physical?
  • your child feels secure and valued, able to take risks and build resilience?
  • learning is engaging and purposeful, relevant to the future in which she will live?
  • creativity and initiative are valued over mere compliance?
  • understanding, empathy and compassion are fostered?
  • your child learns to be reflective and understand herself as a learner?
  • education looks different than it did when you went to school…?

Naplan scores won’t reveal any of these.


PS. Try visiting the school, talking to students, teachers and parents and asking questions about the things you really care about…

May as well make it a learning experience!

Implementing the new Australian Curriculum appeared to be an onerous task. English and Maths were fine on the whole, but how would we ensure ‘coverage’ of Science, History and Geography within our PYP trans-disciplinary curriculum framework?  How would we incorporate content based outcomes into our student-centred Program of Inquiry?

Despite our reservations, we approached it as a learning experience, a time for reflection and an exploration of ways to improve teaching and learning. As an IB school, as long as all areas are addressed, we are not compelled to stick to the precise grade levels for prescribed achievement standards. So…

During unit planning sessions, we investigated what aspects of the Australian Curriculum could be incorporated and how we could make them inquiry based. If approached creatively, we saw that many aspects could be integrated into specialist areas and via our kitchen garden program. We set aside an afternoon for three groups to explore respectively the Science, History and Geography curricula, to find connections with what we already do as well as possibilities for change. Then a core group worked on mapping our Program of Inquiry with the Australian Curriculum, removing less successful units to make place for stronger ones that could, at the same time, be better related to the big ideas in the Australian Curriculum.

Finally, this week, a focus group of representatives from each grade  level, as well as some specialists, met to evaluate the current draft of the planned Program of Inquiry for 2013. We collaborated in small groups to analyse all our units of inquiry and to audit the program, first horizontally (across each grade level) and then a vertically from K-6.

We asked such questions as…

Are all areas of the Australian Curriculum being adequately addressed, without losing sight of the fact that as a PYP school, our approach to learning is concept driven, trans disciplinary and inquiry based ?

Do the units invite inquiry and offer opportunities for multiple perspectives? Do they have the potential to develop conceptual understanding? Are they globally significant, addressing the commonalities of human experience?

Is there a balance of key concepts? Are all subject areas incorporated despite the trans-disciplinary nature of the program? Are we addressing all aspects of each trans- disciplinary theme? Do all units challenge and extend learners’ understanding?

The process was an engaging one, probing questions were asked and critical thinking was recorded, based on which units will later be developed by grade level teams. It has been valuable for everyone to have an overview of the whole, to know where their students have come from and where they are heading. Cross fertilization of ideas was facilitated by mixed teams from different grade levels working together. The teachers valued the opportunity to make decisions about and have ownership of the curriculum.

The current draft is now in the hands of the rest of the staff for comments, questions and feedback.

I like the way we managed to put aside our reservations, take a prescribed curriculum and make it our own…

There are many ways to learn…

I love the idea behind this guest post by my daughter-in-law, Rachel Friedrichs, a high school teacher in Boston.  I’m already thinking about how it could be adapted in different school settings.

I am a teacher at an independent high school in Massachusetts. Every year, for one week in March, we create opportunities for the students to learn outside the classroom. We call it Exploration Week.

Based on the idea that there are many ways to learn, the students choose from a variety of programs, including: intensive glass blowing, nature writing in the Grand Canyon, working on construction sites for Habitat for Humanity, a creative writing workshop, a historic trip through the south, ‘culture vultures’, where the students take in a variety of cultural activities around Boston, and urban farming.

The trip that I co-chaperoned this year took 18 students to New Orleans to volunteer for the St. Bernard project, which is continuing the efforts to rebuild homes after Hurricane Katrina (still in desperate need 6.5 years later!)

As you can see from the selection above, some of the trips are local, while some students travel. Some programs are arts related, some volunteer based, and others are outdoors. Some programs are free, while some are quite costly. These trips are powerful for a variety of reasons.

  • Students bond with kids from other classes who they might not know.
  • Given the rather competitive academic climate in Boston private schools, we are sending the message that there are lots of ways to learn about the world around you and yourself.
  • We emphasize the importance of communal engagement.
  • The idea that learning can be fun, and fun can be educational permeates the spirit of the week
  • The rhythm of the school-year is broken up giving the kids a little charge for the remainder of the year.
  • Students and teachers get to know each other in a different context.
  • Many of these programs capitalize on skills/talents/strengths of the kids which can often get neglected in classroom study.

I realize that it’s a true privilege to participate in Exploration Week and teach at a school that prioritizes this type of learning enough to break from ‘regular classroom studies.’ I wonder, however, if there are ways that schools with smaller budgets and tighter schedules can incorporate some aspects of ‘ExploWeek’  into their school culture.

So do I… (Ed.)