Shared photo streams – Imagining more connected learning…

Creating shared iPad photo streams was a brainwave – so simple and obvious, yet so effective!

They provide a space to gather evidence of learning, share practice and celebrate the learning taking place across the three campuses of our school. It’s an opportunity for members of our learning community to find out what’s happening in other grade levels, the kitchen garden, the art and music rooms… We’re encouraging more comments and conversation around what’s posted to make this even more meaningful.

We’ve come a long way in the past few years in terms of flattening classroom walls and connecting with the world. Today, the images I see in our shared photo streams suggest new possibilities…

Our art teacher posted a series of beautiful artworks by our 5 year olds. Beyond sending them home to be stuck on the fridge… imagine if photographs of these creations were published in an online book, along with captions written by the children and photos of them at work creating them?

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There is some powerful thinking happening in Year 6 as their awareness of inequity is raised. Imagine if they were collaborating with learners globally, sharing their tough questions, exploring different perspectives, comparing and contrasting action taken in different countries and deepening their understanding together.


Year 5 learners revisited and reflected on their class agreement, halfway through the school year. What if they compared their agreements with those established by classes in other parts of the world? Imagine how communicating with other classes, discussing commonalities and differences might heighten awareness and strengthen learning communities within and beyond their own classrooms.


I love the photos from the Year 1 inquiry into how we express ours ideas and feelings through performance. Imagine if these performances were filmed and posted online for children in other places to see and our children received feedback from all over the world.


And, as I was writing this post, a fresh idea just struck me.

Imagine if two or more classes of similar age in different parts of the world created a shared photo stream and posted images, shared learning experiences and wrote comments to each other. Are you in?!

Our access to digital technologies make all of this, not just possible, but easy.

Just imagine… and then we can make it happen.

An impassioned plea…

An impassioned plea, by my friend and colleague, Fiona Birkin

I’m sure at some stage in your life, you have watched an impressive demonstration of how, with one flick of a finger, energy can be transferred through a carefully thought out maze of dominos. There is a sense of excitement, wonder and anticipation as we see energy powering its way towards its final, planned and observable action.

It’s interesting how the concept of dominos, the very physics of it, can also be seen in a social context.

Kathryn’s choice to end her life was a cataclysmic bomb blast; the energy was powerful! I mistakenly thought that, with that one monumental ‘flick’, my quest to improve the mental health outcomes for children would just move through the stages like the best demonstration of falling dominos; but  it seems, like many bomb blasts, the energy that flowed through me from Kathryn’s death was erratic, wide spread and quickly dispersed.

My talk at a TeachMeet, my presentation at an international online conference, my chats in the staffroom, my work with a colleague on a Unit of Inquiry that focusses on social emotional learning, my discussions with key leaders in my school were like domino shrapnel; they hit some people, had an emotional effect and then their lives got pulled back into the same old routines.

Not one person has answered my Tweets or responded to my requests at my presentations.

I have asked people to go back to their schools, to reflect on what they are doing to promote social emotional wellbeing. I want to get an understanding of what programs and resources are being used, what and how much professional development is focused on the wellbeing of our children. I want to know just how much understanding there is amongst teachers about the personality disorders that can be ‘nurtured’ in an environment that through an over crowded curriculum and a focus on academics manages to miss/ignore the ‘red flags’. It’s like the dominos hadn’t been placed correctly, there wasn’t a clear discernible path; or the power of that first explosion was too immense to be directed down one path.

So despite the fact that people had told me how they have been moved by my talks, they were not moved into action. I now understand why. For energy to bring about a specific action, there needs to be control and a path to follow. I was in too many pieces. One email, provided that first measured push.

The provocation? An article in The Age; to be specific, the photo of two people wrapped in a grief so intense, it was like seeing the loss of a child by suicide personified. I felt as if someone had journeyed into my soul  and taken a photo of my pain for all the world to see!

I was so moved, felt such a connection, that I wrote to Annette and Stuart. Annette wrote back and told me she had shared my letter with friends who are teachers and with Professor Patrick McGorry, who in turn, has arranged to meet with me.

The painful irony of all this, is that when I was trying to help Kathryn battle her demons and I felt as if no one was giving me the information or help I needed, I read about Professor McGorry and had thought, I’ll write to him, he should be able to give me a straight answer.

I didn’t write.  I felt it would be presumptuous to bother someone so well known for his work and that surely, anything he knew must be known by the mental health professionals I was already dealing with.

Now that Kathryn has lost her battle, here I am, being asked by the very person I shied away from, to meet and talk openly about the state of the mental health system here in Australia; to share Kathryn’s story. In a sad way, it’s like when road works on a dangerous intersection only gets started after there has been a number of fatalities.

I could scream to the heavens, “but why  did one of the fatalities have to be my Kathryn?” But that won’t help me, it won’t keep the dominos falling, falling until all that energy transfers into a bigger more powerful action; a reformation to the way this country thinks about, teaches and responds to mental health.

It is up to me to make sure all the dominoes remain positioned correctly so that the momentum is not lost. I will do this because the world needs to know what Kathryn refused to believe, her life was important, meaningful and treasured. I will take up her baton of love for humanity and I will fight for her.

All I need from you, is answers to the questions I have been asking educators for a year now:

What is your school doing for social emotional learning (SEL)?

What resources do you use?

How much PD do teachers get on social emotional learning?

Do teachers have a clear understanding of the ‘red flags’ that could gradually morph into full blown personality disorders and or depression?

What is your schools protocol when a student is struggling socially and or emotionally?

By Fiona Birkin

A new direction…

At the start of 2013, I’ll be reducing my role as Teaching and Learning Coordinator at my school and looking for new challenges.

Since I will no longer be employed full-time, I’ll have time to share my educational knowledge and experience, in person or virtually, and I’m excited by the possibilities.

I’d love to facilitate workshops for teachers (or students, or student teachers) in inquiry learning, creating a culture of thinking, 21st century skills, concept-driven learning, educational leadership, global connectedness, promoting creativity…. or anything else I have written about on this blog that appeals to you.

I’d be happy to help you develop a vision for implementing technology, work with teachers to promote student centred learning, assist in building a community of practice, or help your school articulate your learning principles.

You can contact me at Please do not send me sales emails of any kind. Guest bloggers post here at my invitation only. If you have other ideas, offers, collaborations or workshop requests, please email me!

Learning isn’t linear…

Learning isn’t linear. It’s not a step by step, one size fits all process. It doesn’t go in a sequence from remembering to understanding to analysing… and finish with creating. It depends on the learner and on the situation.  I think it should look more like this…

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Dear students…

Dear Students

I’m one week into my new role as Teaching and Learning Coordinator and I already miss you more than I could have anticipated. No matter what I was busy working on last year, the highlight of the day was usually when I dropped what I was doing and came to the classroom.

I miss your sometimes surprising perspectives on things I had only seen from an adult point of view. I miss your creativity in expressing your learning, through drama or art or technology. I miss laughing with you as we’d watch the same funny movie you’d created, over and over again. I miss your incredible questions and wonderings, which often pushed my thinking to new places. I even miss reminding you to stick to our agreement and speak one at a time. More than anything, I miss your insightful responses  to my questions about what learning is and how learning works best. I miss being part of your learning community.

The decision not to teach at all wasn’t an easy one, but it was best for the first year in my new role. I love working with the teachers too and as the year unfolds, I know there will be many opportunities to learn with and from you, again.

When I was a 19 year old student teacher doing my practice teaching rounds, my supervisor put a note into my hand as he left the room, saying ‘You were born to teach.’ I haven’t thought about it in years…

Morah (Teacher)

Pull not push…

How often do we instictively push even though the sign on the door says ‘Pull’? We don’t read the sign and leaning on the door seems most likely to open it.

School is often about push. Push to succeed. Push to get high grades. Push to achieve. Push to fit in. Push to participate. Push to comply. Push to work harder.

But the above might not be the most motivating ways to engage students and promote learning. The sign is on the door…

Learning is about pull. A strong provocaton that awakens curiosity. A powerful central idea that excites interest. Essential questions that draw students into meaningful learning. Learning experiences that encourage wondering, exploring, creating and collaborating. Opportunities to construct meaning and transfer learning to other contexts.

We need to read the sign(s). I think if we want to motivate our students to take control of their learning, ‘pull’ not ‘push’ is the way in…