What kind of teacher would you rather have? (Or be)

A is new to Melbourne, T is new to teaching and they are both new to my school. Neither is new to thinking about learning, which is what makes my introductory session with these passionate young educators so exciting. They both have deep beliefs about how children learn and they seek the best ways to build learning experiences on those foundations. They question existing systems and challenge the status quo of schooling in their quest for the best for all learners.

A visitor from another school, participating in our conversation for a while, told us about a group of willing new teachers at a school where she worked, who always accepted and agreed with everything. She didn’t talk about their practice and perhaps they ‘run lovely classrooms’, but I wonder how great a teacher you can be if you don’t constantly strive to understand how your learners learn, if you never challenge the way things are done, if you fail to question others and the system… and yourself.

In a recent conversation, a friend from another school expressed concern about a new teacher she has been mentoring. This teacher demonstrates passion for teaching and learning. She is a deep thinker, with strong beliefs about learning, who is reluctant to go through the motions of delivering prescribed programs and assessments that she does not believe are purposeful. On the other hand, she has yet to develop skills in classroom management. Her mentor is frustrated by her lack of organisation and attention to classroom behaviours.

I think you can learn classroom management. Can you learn to be passionate about learning if you’re not? Can you learn to care deeply if you don’t? Can you learn to base your practice on beliefs about learning, if you don’t really think about how learning takes place?

What kind of teachers are being trained in our systems? What kind of teacher would you rather have? What kind of teacher would you rather be?

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.


Teacher as learner…

This is a guest post by Year 4 teacher Jina Belnick, an experienced teacher, although only in her second year of PYP and the inquiry approach. She is part of the community of learners at my school. 

I arrived as a ‘new’ teacher at a PYP school almost two years ago. At that time, I knew what PYP meant, but I had no idea what it really looked like.

Little did I realise that the journey I was about to embark on was filled with learning…

At my job  interview, I told the panel of interviewers that I was interested in using technology in my teaching and that I was keen to learn with my students. Little did I realise that the journey I was about to embark on was filled with learning – using so many different skills and tools – that I would no longer hunger for opportunities to learn, they would quite simply arrive.

Open eyes, open mind and a collaboration with other learners was all I needed.

Last weekend, I was fortunate enough to be able to attend the 4th Culture of Thinking Conference in Melbourne, Australia. My colleague and I arrived armed with our iPads and our eagerness to find out more. We chose different sessions and so we met up afterwards to share and discuss our learning. This type of reflection is indicative of the school at which we work and the way we model for our learners to think about their learning.

I’m grateful  to work at a school where learning (rather than ‘good teaching’) is valued…

By the end of the conference, my head was spinning. I walked away feeling incredibly grateful  to work at a school where learning (rather than ‘good teaching’) is valued; to have people around me who love to share ideas, explore opportunities and experiences; where questions are encouraged and discussion arising from disagreements take us to new places.

Being a good teacher is not just about well prepared lessons…

I am grateful that I now understand that being a teacher is no longer just about a well prepared lesson. For me it has become an understanding of what engaged learners look like; what the curriculum and all its interwoven components require – and how we need to listen to every child to help them to get to know themselves as learners.

I listen, I try new things and I learn…

Aha moments are regular and varied. Insecurities about how others do things in comparison to how I do, need to be buried. I listen, I try new things and I learn. Being with children who love to challenge, question and make meaning for themselves keeps me travelling on my journey.

Planning with people who value others’ opinions, share their knowledge in a non-judgemental way and share ideas freely has been the sunlight nurturing my growth.

I arrived as a teacher, I am growing as a learner. Every day is a surprise. Every moment is an opportunity.

Another member of our learning community, Hailey Joubert, reflects on her learning and growth as a teacher hereIf you like the sound of their journeys, we are currently advertising for new teachers! Leave your details here.

From teaching to learning…

We’re working on shifting the focus from teaching to learning at my school. We try to ensure decisions are based on our learning principles, be they about teaching, classrooms, programs or personnel.

Shifting the focus from teaching to learning…

We used to spend a whole day planning how we would teach a unit of inquiry.

Now we  discuss the big ideas, establish the conceptual lens, clarify the enduring understandings… and then wait and see how the learning unfolds.

We used to think we had to plan a whole range of activities and work our way through them.

Now we create a bank of possible provocations on which to draw to stimulate student thinking as their skills and understandings develop.

We used to think the whole class had to do the same thing at the same time in the same place.

Now we think groups of learners might spread out through the learning spaces doing different things, learning in different ways.

We used to think we had to teach the whole class the same skills.

Now we think explicit teaching is often focused on smaller groups depending on their specific needs at the time.

We used to think teachers controlled the learning and always knew where the learning would end up.

Now we think it’s valuable to really listen to what learners say so that what they know, understand, think and care about can drive the learning.

We used to think we had to teach every subject separately.

Now we think the best learning is often trans-disciplinary. The more connections learners make and the more they get to apply their learning in different, authentic contexts, the better.

We used to think about assessment of and assessment for learning.

Now we think about assessment as learning too. We encourage self reflection, goal setting and metacognition in our learners.

How much teachers have shifted depends on experience (but not always), on understanding, courage, and imagination. We still sometimes have trouble letting go of old ways of thinking. Sometimes we still use new learning  spaces in old ways. Some teachers still use new technology to do old things. External demands and time pressures often inhibit what we can do. But we’re constantly working on it and we know that we have changed.

It’s easy to talk about educational reform. Some inspiring educators have succeeded in entirely reinventing school. Take Monica Hardy’s Innovation Lab or Kelly Tenkely’s Anastasis Academy. Most teachers, however, are confined by the reality of life in their institutions, rules from above, expectations from outside, cultural and economic influences. While these may prevent the radical kinds of innovation that would rapidly transform education, change can happen, one school at a time, one class at a time, one teacher at a time, one idea at a time.

Do you have a teaspoon?

I honestly believe that the future is going to be millions of little things saving us. I imagine a big seesaw, and at one end of this seesaw is on the ground with a basket half-full of big rocks in it. The other end of the seesaw is up in the air. It’s got a basket one-quarter full of sand. And some of us got teaspoons, and we’re trying to fill up sand. A lot of people are laughing at us, and they say, “Ah, people like you have been trying to do that for thousands of years, and it’s leaking out as fast as you’re putting it in.” But we’re saying, “We’re getting more people with teaspoons all the time.” And we think, “One of these years, you’ll see that whole seesaw go zooop in the other direction.” And people will say, “Gee, how did it happen so suddenly?” Us and all our little teaspoons…(Pete Seeger)

Related posts:

10 ways my thinking has changed.

10 ways to differentiate learning.

10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for the learning.

Start from the learning…

Do you plan engaging activities for your class? Do you look at your topic and think about how you can teach it in the most exciting way? Do you explore new tech tools and think about how you can incorporate them into your teaching? Do you examine your classroom space and think about how best to teach in it?

If you answered yes, you might be feeling pleased with yourself and so you should. After all, there are some teachers who don’t even use tech to support their teaching. And some who simply hand out worksheets or stand out front and teach in the same old ways they always have.

But you might not be starting at the right place. I think it’s important to focus more on learning and less on teaching. Have you considered what you believe about how learning best takes place? Has your school articulated its beliefs about learning? Have you? If you follow this blog, you’ll have seen our learning principles and possibly even read about the process of developing them.

To support our teachers in their unit planning, in improving their practice, in the best use of our flexible learning environment and in the implementation of technology, our approach this year will be to start from our learning principles. We plan to unpack the belief statements one at a time, consider what they might look like and how they might play out in the classroom, like this…

Principle #1: We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, preferences and interests.



  • Students have choices.
  • Small groups are engaged in different things.
  • Learning is expressed through drama, art, music, movement and technology.
  • The teacher isn’t talking at the whole class at once.
  • There is individual attention for those who require it.
  • Independent learners are applying their learning unassisted.
  • There are clear scaffolds in place for learners to manage their own learning.
  • The learning environment is arranged to accommodate the variations.

What’s your learning goal? Use new vocabulary in context? Create a literature response? Develop problem-solving skills? Understand a particular mathematical concept? Compare the life cycles of  living things?  See above first…

NOW plan your learning experiences!


10 ways to foster a love of learning…

1. Show that you’re a learner too

Share things you have learnt. Tell your students about PD and conferences you attend. Invite their opinions on things you have read for your own interest. Never talk down to the students. Be part of the learning community.

2. Encourage creativity

Give students opportunities to create in any way they like. Have them create original expressions of their learning through a variety of  web 2.0 tools. Let them draw, write a song, make a film, create a cartoon or record a podcast. Put a camera in their hands for recording and expressing learning.

3. Make it meaningful

Make connections to their lives. Encourage interpretations that make sense to them. Create for an authentic audience, by publishing online through blogs, wikis and other web 2.0. Don’t set chores, don’t hand out worksheets, don’t assign work… create motivating learning experiences.

4. Flatten classroom walls

Don’t confine learning to the classroom. Bring the world in. Collaborate online with kids in other places. Use Skype for global connections.

5. Demonstrate your passion

If you aren’t enjoying the class, neither will the students. If what you do bores you, it will bore them too. If you clearly love it, they will too! Interact with other educators online to fire up your enthusiasm.

6. Respect your students

Don’t expect the same from every student. Make sure every child knows that you know where they’re at. Don’t imagine any kind of standardized tests will tell you that. Listen to their conversation and value their thinking. Show interest. Know every child’s story.

7. Provide variation

Don’t fall into the habit of doing things the same way all the time. Come up with new ways of practicing skills. Share ideas with other teachers. Get ideas online. Get ideas from the students. Surprise them. Use different tools and formats and approaches. Plan for multiple intelligences and different learning styles.

8. Implement inquiry as a stance

Encourage students to explore, question and wonder. Invite them into a new topic with a strong provocation that inspires curiosity. Provide opportunities for them to play with possibilities and investigate in a variety of ways. Help them make connections between different areas of learning. Focus on concepts and big ideas.

9. Play games

Find games online and offline. Get kids to move around and play physically. Play thinking games. Invent games and let students invent games. Make sure every game has a learning goal. Make the learning goal explicit to the kids. Make it fun!

10. Encourage students to be responsible for their own learning

Tell them they are! Give them choice. Don’t make all the decisions.  Encourage goal setting and reflection.  Create a culture of thinking. Talk less. Step back and hand over control…

Please add to the list!