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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?

Learning spaces…

As a veteran educator, I remember how I used to approach setting up my classroom, years ago. I thought more about the ‘what‘ and the ‘how‘ than the ‘why‘…

In preparation for the new school year, we start today’s session in groups, discussing our learning principles and unpacking how they might be supported by the learning environment. It’s all about the ‘why‘. The teachers keep our beliefs about learning in mind, as they purposefully create engaging learning spaces. 

We’ve come a long way. Walls have been (physically or metaphorically) taken down to enhance collaboration. The conversation is thoughtful and focused, as intentional learning spaces are established. New ways of thinking replace the old, as teachers consider what furniture to remove, allowing for more flexibility to support diverse learners and different kinds of learning. Everyone is grateful for the time allotted to make this a meaningful undertaking.

Here are some ‘six word stories’ the teachers created to express their thoughts about the learning environment.

  • Stimulating space to share and learn.
  • Student-centred, flexible, collaborative, the third teacher.
  • Safe, inviting atmosphere where all contribute meaningfully.
  • Challenging, comfortable setting with teacher guidance.
  • Learning happens everywhere in our school.
  • Feeling anxious, made welcome, feel secure.
  • Working together, sharing ideas and learning.
  • Apprehension, nerves, lead to laughter. Relax.
  • Welcoming, inclusive. Exploring in different ways.
  • Third teacher, filled with inquiring minds.
  • Playing and inquiring leads to learning.

and this one –

  • So… where shall I sit today?

Don’t be fooled by its simplicity. It indicates a shift from the one-size-fits-all approach, in which every child had a permanent seat at a table (see previous post re compliance!), reflecting instead a growing understanding of student-centred learning. It allows for student choice and voice, for different possibilities and new opportunities….

10 tips for creating a class agreement…

Do a quick google image search for ‘classroom rules’ and ‘classroom agreements’ (or ‘essential agreements’ as they’re called in the PYP) and see if anything surprises you…

What I noticed is that, despite the heading, many classroom agreements are still lists of rules.

Do teachers value compliance above learning?

These are amongst the most common elements I found, none of which seem to relate to learning...

  • Work quietly.
  • Raise your hand to speak.
  • Listen carefully.
  • Follow instructions.
  • Do your best work.
  • Don’t speak until called on.
  • Be punctual.

Have our students’ training and experience set them up to believe that these are are the appropriate expectations for a learning environment?

Some are even more extreme and less related to learning…

  • Sit correctly on chairs. (big kids?)
  • We sit still on the carpet. (little kids)
  • Keep your hands to yourself.
  • Don’t throw things.
  • Talk to your classmates only when the activity requires you to.
  • Stay in your seat unless you have permission to leave.

Does this set the tone for engaging learning?

Here are some of the more appealing inclusions I found, which are more likely to support an environment conducive to learning… and isn’t that the purpose of school?

  • Be prepared to make mistakes and learn from them.
  • Try new things even if they scare us.
  • Think before you act.
  • Respect yourself and others.
  • Make wise choices to support your learning.
  • Include people if they look excluded.
  • Be open-minded – Listen to, consider and value other perspectives.
  • Take ownership of our learning.
  • Dream big.

10 ways to create a meaningful class agreement…

  1. Don’t start till you’ve spent some time establishing your own beliefs about learning.
  2. Have the kids consider what helps them learn and what hinders their learning. (Details here)
  3. Begin with what the learners value or the school values. (Example here)
  4. Have kids unpack your school’s learning principles as a starting point. (I haven’t tried that yet, but here are ours.)
  5. Base it on a common set of qualities, such as the IB Learner Profile. (Staff example here)
  6. Use a ‘place mat’ activity so students have time to think individually, before seeking consensus. (Details here)
  7. Have kids think about what learning ‘looks like‘, sounds like‘ and ‘feels like’.
  8. Take your time. Build the agreement gradually, to ensure understanding and ownership.
  9. Include photos and descriptions for younger learners, to elaborate on the words.
  10. Live it, don’t laminate it. Revisit the agreement often and adjust as required.

What’s in your class agreement?

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?


Planning in response to learning…

It’s a joy to visit the kindergarten room,  where the 4 year olds have been inquiring into the needs of all kinds of living things. Debbie talks me excitedly through the purposeful displays in the room and I’m amazed by the depth of the children’s wonderings from their nature walk.

‘Why do seagulls need beaks?’ ‘Why can birds walk on power lines?’ ‘How long will it take for the buds to open?’ ‘Why does the snail go into the shell when I touch it?’

She shows me the interactive tables and thoughtful corners she has set up in response to the children’s questions, and the fabulous picture books she will read them to develop their thinking further.

Kindergarten teachers like Deb excel at observing and recording student’s thinking and then creating relevant learning experiences in response. We have much to learn from them. 

We used to spend a whole day (really) planning new units of inquiry in advance. Where was the room for inquiry?! These days we make sure we know what direction we want the learning to take in terms of conceptual understandings, check curriculum requirements for basic knowledge, consider what skills might be required, plan a couple of strong provocations to arouse curiosity and get kids thinking about the big ideas right away… and then we wait and see.

We’re constantly trying to improve at listening to the learning – observing and recording students’ thinking, then planning responsively from there… like the kinder teachers do.

I meet with the Year 4 team to take a collaborative look at the students’ questions and wonderings, a week into their latest unit of inquiry. We spend some time unpacking the thinking, considering what kind of direction some kids might need now, who might need further provocation and who’s ready to run with their own inquiries. The team suggests ways to help engage kids who haven’t yet connected with the big ideas and how to encourage those who have.

The teachers talk passionately about the learning that takes place when they let go of control to the learners.

Liam says that he and his co-teacher Jina talk after every session to plan further learning engagements responsively. “We make up our minds every day!” he says and adds that it’s been an eye opener for him this year. “I used to need a linear plan. That’s the way I was brought up.” He adds cheerfully that he used to think letting the students lead the learning was ‘a load of bull…’ till he finally let go and saw the powerful learning that ensued.

Another day, Rubi and I meet in her free period to go through, one by one, the cards on which her students have written their thinking. They have been exploring how cultural beliefs and values influence identity and their questions include aspects of Aboriginal culture (which was their case study) and a wide range of other related wonderings about their own and other cultures too.

We can see which provocations have excited different students and how individual learners have connected to the big ideas in different ways. We note which kids are ready to fly with their own inquiries and which still need some support. We consider some one-on-one conversations to help a few of the learners clarify what interests them and why they care.

Rubi groups the related questions so that her kids can have the option of inquiring collaboratively. We discuss some primary sources with which the kids might engage now to further their inquiries. She tells me about one girl who likes to interview people in the community and another whose passion for art is driving her inquiry. Rubi knows her students well and will support and encourage them accordingly.

What happens next? It depends… We couldn’t plan in advance for this kind of learning, if we tried. 

And a final word from inquiry guru Kath Murdoch, in response to my other post:

One of my favourite moments in the planning process is when we ask : ‘So, what are our students revealing to us – and where do we go from here?’ This is true, responsive, organic planning that honours student voice. And it’s sooooo much more satisfying than simply coming up with ‘good activities’. ” Amen.

5 misconceptions about professional learning…

We have just experienced a week of professional learning with Sam Sherratt and Chad Walsh of ‘Time Space Education‘ and it couldn’t have been better. My first reflection here, relates to commonly held misconceptions about effective ‘PD’. I hope I can do the learning justice in further posts.

Misconception #1. Presenters should be known ‘experts’.

Find your own people.

We first got to know Sam through his personal and class blogs. His talent and creativity were evident, as was his deep understanding of learning. After his first workshop at our school last year, several teachers chose to visit his classroom in Bangkok in their own time to observe him in action. The effects of our interactions with Sam, virtual and real, have rippled through teaching and learning in our school over the past year, so it was a given that we would invite him to return.

This time he was accompanied by his colleague Chad, with whom we hadn’t worked before. A glowing recommendation by Sam, whom we trust, was enough for us to take the chance… and it paid off handsomely.

OK, so now they are known experts!

Misconceptions #2 and #3. Admin knows best. One size fits all.

Meet staff needs.

We asked the teachers. They made it abundantly clear that they did not need ‘another new thing’ in terms of professional learning. Many were looking for ways to feel less stressed while trying to fit in the many curriculum requirements. Some were feeling overwhelmed by the daily demands of teaching. Individual teachers’ goals included increasing student ownership of learning, catering for different needs, using their learning spaces more effectively and connecting the elements of the PYP

Our seemingly impossible brief to Sam and Chad was to ‘pull the pieces together‘.  And they did!

Misconception #4. Effective PD is delivered in day.

Learning takes time. Present, model, reflect.

I recently heard the term ‘hit and run PD’. Our mutual professional learning with Sam and Chad was as far removed from that as it gets! On Day 1, Sam and Chad met with curriculum team leaders, visited classes, got a feel for the school and refined their initial plans. On Day 2, they presented to teachers and then facilitated as we experimented with the ‘Bubble Up’ approach, which they developed to connect elements of the PYP and curriculum strands.

During the following days they taught in Years 3, 4, 5  and 6, observed by the relevant teachers and anyone else who wanted to come. The model lessons were followed by Year level debriefs, in which teachers unpacked what they had observed and analysed students’ thinking from the lessons. One lucky group even got to watch Sam and Chad model the ‘bubble up’ approach with a willing and articulate student. (See my ‘Storify’ for a taste of the learning.)

And then, because what they do is simply above and beyond expectation, Sam and Chad spent their last afternoon in Melbourne tidying up loose ends and gathering their thoughts on the previous few days so that they could leave us a document with well thought-out, personalised follow-up for each Year level.

Misconception #5. Effective PD is pre-planned and packaged.

Make teaching spontaneous and responsive.

Although we Skyped with Sam and Chad weeks in advance, and they put a great deal of effort into planning for their visit, the most impressive aspect of the week was their responsive approach to teaching. They constantly observed and listened. They noticed everything the learners were saying, doing and even thinking… and refined their plans accordingly. They were up late every night un-planning and re-planning, according to the needs of students and teachers alike.

Bradley, a student in Year 6 remarked, “I love Sam and Chad because they really listen”!

No wonder the school is abuzz with excitement…

10 big ideas from eduTECH…

Billed as the biggest educational technology conference in Australia, I note with interest as I sum up the big ideas from EduTECH, that they are not about the technology.

These were some of the messages from the likes of Dan Pink, Stephen Heppell, Ewan McIntosh, Alan November, Stephen Harris , Andrew Churches and Sir Ken Robinson. I‘ll keep it brief, with links to other posts that elaborate. You can apply the big ideas to all kinds of learners, teachers and students alike..

1. Ownership
Enable choice. Foster independence. Encourage responsibility.

2. Collaboration
Learn together. Grow ideas. Build community.

3. Creativity
Experiment. Play. Make something.

4. Problem solving/finding
Think differently. Find solutions. Seek new problems.

5. Curiosity
Ask questions. Notice. Wonder.

6. Diversity
One size does not fit all. Differentiate. Personalize learning.

7. Flexibility
Rethink school. Create new spaces. Unlearn.

8. Relevance 
Make it real. Solve real life problems. Create for an authentic audience.

9. Connection
Build a PLN. Flatten classroom walls. Participate.

10. Change
Do one new thing. Influence someone else. Shift the sand, one ‘teaspoon’ at a time

Process vs Product

In a PYP school, the culmination of primary school learning is the exhibition unit, in which students carry out an extended, collaborative inquiry. The exhibition synthesizes the essential elements of the program: knowledge, trans-disciplinary skills, concepts, attitudes and action. It’s an opportunity to celebrate their learning and share it with the whole school community.

As leader of a PYP workshop on the exhibition recently, I wanted to ensure that participants thought deeply about the purpose of the exhibition, to support them in formulating their opinions and developing concrete plans for how it would look in their own schools.

Participants shared their what, how and why questions in groups and we set these aside to be addressed during the coming three days, including this one:

‘What should we avoid?’

Screen Shot 2013-05-03 at 9.25.52 AM

Simon Sinek’s golden circle served as a trigger for initial thinking. It’s worth watching his TED talk, if you haven’t seen it, but the essence is that great leaders and organisations (teachers and schools!) start with ‘why’.

The participants expressed their ideas on the purpose of the exhibition, we discussed the IB guidelines and we called on the global community to add their thoughts.

I shared my school’s journey: Our first PYP exhibition three years ago, focused on the ‘what’ (forms, sheets, protocols and guides to support us)… and we thought it was wonderful! Our most recent exhibition started from the ‘why’ and was all about the learning.  The process became much more important than the product. The exhibition itself was an opportunity for students to really talk about their learning, with a choice of one means of presentation (a painting, a poster, a movie, an artifact…) replacing the mass of paper we used to have on display and discard the following day.

Then and Now

Keeping the ‘why in mind throughout the workshop, the ‘what’ and the ‘how’ fell into place and the three days flew by. We explored possibilities, deepened understandings, aired concerns, shared experiences, discussed issues and made plans…

On the last day, I asked the participants to answer their own question-

What should we avoid?

  • over complicating
  • anything that isn’t purposeful
  • teachers controlling the learning
  • focusing on product and polish at the expense of learning

While it’s clear that the teachers will have to deal with the demands and expectations of their specific school contexts, I could see that my dual messages of ‘keep it simple‘ and ‘start from why‘ had been internalised.

Back at my own school, the Year 6 Learning Team Leader and I have prepared a proposal to move our own exhibition to the end of the school year as a trial. We would like to replace the traditional, contrived graduation ceremony with a celebration of authentic learning. Graduation would consist of a simple student-created opening ceremony, followed by the exhibition: our students presenting all that they have learned, displaying the attributes of the learner profile, demonstrating their skills and sharing their knowledge with pride.

Are the powers that be ready to shift the graduation focus away from product and polish?

Work or learning?

Which do you think you focus on more in your classroom: work or learning?


Guy Claxton refers, in ‘What’s the Point of School?‘, to a study in which researcher Caroline Lodge discovered that teachers who professed to be interested in learning, used the word work 98% of the time and learning only 2%.

How much of your class time is spent thinking and talking about the process of learning? Do you and your students talk, what Claxton calls, Learnish? Or is it all about getting the work done?

It’s been exciting to hear so much Learnish being spoken as I wandered around my school this week. We chose to start the new school year inquiring into learning in every grade level. (Read about it here). Hopefully there will be carry over effects on learning for the rest of the year.

Here’s a clip I made last year of kids talking about learning. Coming back to it now, one of the things I like most about it is the background noise. If people were trying to work, the noise would be disruptive.

Sounds like learning!