The provocateur…

Everyone needs a provoker. Someone who questions everything, is never content with the status quo, is impatient to see action…

Image by Kevin Richardson

‘Have you seen the article about…?’

‘What do you think about this idea?’

‘I think there is a better way to…’

‘Are you free to talk about something?’

‘Could we change the way we do this?’

‘How do we make this happen?’

I receive these sorts of messages from my provoker at all hours of the day, sometimes when she’s in meetings with other people, sometimes while she’s out for a walk. She has what George Couros calls an innovator’s mindset

‘Innovation is a way of thinking . It is a way of considering concepts, processes, and potential outcomes.’ That’s how my provoker functions. She looks at everything through a fresh lens and asks ‘Is there a better way?’ (She sometimes upsets those less eager to question and be questioned).

She never lets me rest. And I love that.

Who’s your provoker?

The story within…

In an attempt to switch off the buzz of thinking emanating from the past week of learning, I walk in the drizzle, breathe in the smell of damp grass and enjoy a beautifully written and evocatively narrated audio book, set in another time and another place..

“Somewhere in there was a story, which she had yet to find,” I hear this sentence and lose the flow of the narrative as my mind shoots back into the reality of the past week. Being busy and distracted has made me a lazy writer! My previous post was a simple recount and a few bullet points and now I need to scratch the surface and find the layers of story beneath.

Unleashing Learning was a conference by teachers for teachers, and it was filled with powerful, interlinking stories…

The story of collective inspiration…

A hundred and fifty passionate educators grappled with similar issues, applied ideas to their contexts, exchanged experiences, challenged ideas and explored solutions together. The principal shared how his own learning was unleashed by a teacher who encouraged him to take ownership and pursue his interests. Sam Sherratt asked us to think about whether the same old pedagogy will suffice in a rapidly changing world. Rebekah Madrid urged us to start a revolution in our own practice, to ask forgiveness not permission. 12 year old Jazi confidently told an audience of teachers that despite her struggle with words, spelling and reading, she is capable, creative and interesting. Another student, Georgia, explained her perspective on unleashing learning through student empowerment.  Jake asked the audience not to blink while he gave them insight into Tourette’s, then explained that trying to control his tics was like us trying to control our blinking. And woven through the fibre of the all of this, was a powerful message of change and hope.

The story of community…

The conference brought people together in delightful and unexpected ways. Every member of our staff added value in some way, via organising, printing, greeting, presenting, planning, sharing, supporting, facilitating, participating, inspiring or cleaning up.  Relationships were built and strengthened through the interactions of a community working collaboratively towards the twin goals of Unleashing Learning and unleashing learning. Having people who used to work at the school participate in the conference, rekindled relationships from the past. Visitors from other schools and other countries enriched our community with their insights and instilled a sense of pride in our teachers at what we have achieved and what we have to share. As always, the sense of community was enhanced by shared passion and vision, common purpose, and active participation.

The story of belief…

When Jina set out for Learning2 in Manilla, she had never travelled on her own, nor been to an international conference.  She came back determined to provide the same sort of experience for other teachers, and would not allow limited time or money, or any other obstacle, to stand in the way of the momentum inspired by the experience.  Lauri is a natural comic who thrives on inquiry, but not on public speaking. Bolstered by our delight in her story of children’s inquiry (and why flies have bums) she overcame the jitters and stood on stage to share it with all. Desiree and Rubi (like others who had not presented before) kept telling themselves that agreeing to present a workshop was a mistake, but pushed on determinedly and were rewarded by the positive feedback from participants who loved their sessions. Nathan, Lesley and others volunteered to facilitate reflection groups, something out of the ordinary for them, requiring an extra degree of courage and confidence. All of these stories and more are manifestations of our belief in our people and their growing belief in themselves.

The story of empowerment…

This story includes themes of trust and autonomy. Its characters include a principal who encouraged us to bring our vision to life, leaders who allow their people the freedom and space to explore and to innovate, and teachers who take up the challenge to lead from wherever they are. It’s a story of choice, in who you want to learn with and what you want to learn. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure story, in which you decide the future direction and you have the power to make it happen. It’s a story of teachers who simply will not let frustrations with accountability and compliance deter them in their march towards learning, their own and that of their students. It’s a true story of students who have overcome obstacles like Jazi and Jake and students who have taken their learning into their own hands like Georgia. And an imaginary story of what is yet to come.

It’s a story of unleashing learning…

Playing to learn…

Dear Shai

Your mom has invited me to present a session to student teachers in the Masters program where she works. She wants me to inspire them to focus on learning, beyond the content and methodology of their teaching.

All I need to do is show them a video of you going about your daily business. At 20 months, you are inquisitive and fearless, and you are actively learning almost every minute of the day!


Observing your self driven experimentation and learning  might help them value and encourage these qualities in their learners…

  • curiosity
  • independence
  • persistence
  • initiative
  • enthusiasm
  • creativity
  • courage
  • resilience

And it might encourage them to think about the process of learning…

Does learning best take place through sitting and listening, waiting for instructions or permission, responding to the teacher and demonstrating compliance? 

Or will the students learn more through…

  • active engagement and interaction
  • imagining new possibilities
  • experimenting and exploring
  • making connections
  • constructing meaning, individually and socially 
  • seeking and solving problems

and, even in high school students…

  • playing and creating?

Thanks for being my inspiration,


Granny xx

Meeting Wise

Is every meeting at your school about learning?

Does every meeting connect to ongoing work and goals?

Do you come out of every meeting with a plan for action or a sense of where to go next?

To be honest, we often used to go round in circles in our meetings, talk at the same time, interrupt each other… We are a passionate bunch, and it was never through disrespect, rather a result of caring a great deal, having lots of ideas, wanting our opinions heard..

Since introducing Meeting Wise agendas, our meetings have become much more focused.

The Meeting Wise authors highlight four aspects for careful consideration when planning successful meetings:

  • Purpose
  • Process
  • Preparation
  • Pacing

Today in our meetings: 

  • The objectives are clear
  • Participants come prepared
  • Everyone has a voice
  • We have clear, expected norms
  • The content of the meeting relates directly to the stated objectives
  • Participants have turns to take on roles of facilitator, timekeeper, note taker, so…
  • Everyone has a sense of ownership
  • There is a sense of true collaboration within groups
  • Distributive leadership is fostered
  • We usually have fun!
  • We use effective protocols to ensure all the above
  • Participants leave with a clear sense of the next steps

I took most of these statements from the plus /delta we do at the end of meetings, in which participants share what went well and what could be improved. This is usually addressed at the start of the next meeting of the particular group.

Learning Team Leaders have received a copy of Meeting Wise and all teams are gradually improving their meetings by implementing the suggested procedures and protocols and adapting them to our needs.

Highly recommended!

(See my earlier post in which I applied the Meeting Wise questions to classroom learning.)

Common Sense: Required for Innovation

I noticed this poster being tweeted by educators recently…
Screen Shot 2014-02-28 at 11.03.54 am

I disagree.

Common sense is (commonly) defined as – ‘Sound practical judgement that is independent of specialised knowledge, training or the like; normal, native intelligence.’ (

My favourite definition comes from the online Urban Dictionary – ‘Common sense is what think others should know.’

Who says you can’t have common sense and be creative?

Some synonyms – acumen, practicality, wit, intelligence, gumption, sound judgement, sharpness, wisdom, intuitiveness, perceptiveness, vision … (

Aren’t these precisely the qualities innovators require for coming up with creative ideas and implementing them?

(Part of a train of thought instigated by teachers’ discussion in one of our voluntary learning groups, currently exploring creativity, innovation and entrepreneurship – one of the themes from the IB PYP review.)

Leave a message…

What messages do you get from this great little clip?

Here’s the kind of responses that came from teachers in our Learning Team Leaders group…

  • Anyone can be a leader.
  • Collaboration leads to success.
  • Set an example and others will follow.
  • Find a solution, rather than complaining about a problem.

The clip elicited different responses from 6th grade students, asked to make connections with themselves and their learning…

  • It makes me feel that I have a strong power inside me that can allow me to do anything.
  • It tells me a lot about learning, it tells me to be a risk taker and never be scared…
  • Everyone can be a leader and do what ever they want, if they have a lot of determination.
  • Team work is very important in and out of school.
  • We need to learn to help people even though you haven’t been asked.
  • This video tells me that even though I’m a small kid doesn’t mean I can’t do big things.
  • One small act can infect a lot of people.
  • I think this video will inspire children that think they can not do anything.
  • Everyone can learn something from someone, no matter what age or gender.
  • Anyone, doesn’t matter what size, can help the community and be an active citizen.

You can read the whole delightful conversation, including responses from kids in other schools, here. (It highlights the possibilities of blogging as a tool for authentic reading, writing and conversation beyond the classroom walls, but that’s another story!)

Often the best clips to stimulate thinking are not directly related to the subject at hand and can be used in a range of contexts. Do you have any other ideas for using this one? Have you come across any great, short videos that provoke thinking and inspire conversation?

What is creativity?

What do you think creativity is? What inspires you to be creative?

I asked these question to some random kids from Year 4, 5 and 6. Watch the video to hear what they said, totally unscripted…

Here’s what struck me:

  • Their ability to express their ideas, unrehearsed.
  • How willingly they participated, despite being approached out of the blue.
  • The diversity of their responses.
  • How articulate they were.
  • The culture of reflection and thinking we have created in our school.

and, well… how creative they are!

Almost there…

“There is currently no theatre in Baños .”

That was the opening line of the ‘Please Help us to Build our Theatre’ video created by the administrators, volunteers and kids at Fundacion Arte del Mundo, a non-profit organisation which promotes literacy and the arts in the Andes town of Baños de Agua Santa, Ecuador.

Well, there is a theatre now… almost.

A year ago, almost to the day, I received an email from Mazz saying ‘I want to raise funds for a theatre project at the bib …’ . The concept of a community theatre in Baños had been raised in the past but it had never been anything more than the grain of an idea. And it remained just that for a while….

This year a campaign on Indiegogo raised enough funds to put a roof on the garage and get the project started. Further efforts, donations and hard work by the foundation, its volunteers and members of the community have helped make the dream into reality… almost.

Here’s what the volunteers say on the Fundacion’s blog…

Three weeks ago we tumbled into the gorgeous town of Baños as volunteer theatre builders. What a mighty task we had ahead of us. When we arrived the theatre had a brand new water tight roof and side wall with sliding door. The rest however was desperately needing some TLC.

Filing, sanding and painting commenced and it wasn’t long before the fruits of everyone’s hard work was becoming clear. Light and sound proofing came next and what used to be an empty garage was quickly becoming a blank canvas ready for the actors, dancers and artists of Baños to take the stage.

The progress has been fantastic and everyone is working together to make this as successful as they can.

The bricks most generously donated by people from all over the world are being printed, the entrance has been erected and everything feels as if it’s coming together. The opening night is in just a week and the excitement is building.

Watch this space!!!

The theatre will open with a community performance, circus performers, a dance group and dramatic book readings… exciting new experiences for many of the people of Baños.

It’s going to happen with or without a floor in the entrance, wireless microphones and a lighting box.

If you care about bringing performing arts to people for whom this is not a given…

If it inspires you to see young people pouring time and effort into making dreams come true…

If you value initiative, creativity and tenacity…



Where do great ideas come from?

Reflecting on 2011, we have done some amazing things to create engaging learning opportunities in our school.

Where did the ideas come from? Watch the video…