A whole school collaborative reflection…


Clusters of teachers are scattered in different areas of the school talking about learning… It’s a student free day and we’re discussing the IB standards, reflecting in groups on our practice and recording evidence as part of our self-study process. 


We start the day with a brief mindfulness exercise followed by a meditation  session, led by Fiona, our Head of Learning Resources. She’s modelling a focus on wellbeing and encouraging teachers to use these approaches with their students.


We view the first few minutes of the Apple recruitment video, mentally replacing Apple with Our School’s Name. The messages include –

Main ideas


We’re a three campus school and our teachers rarely have a chance for inter-campus interactions, so this a great opportunity to establish connections and collaborate with different people.



There are printouts on the tables of each of the four curriculum standards (Collaborative Planning, Written Curriculum, Teaching and Learning, Assessment) as well as our school’s Learning Principles. The task is to make connections between all the above.


Making connections in this way encourages teachers to carefully read and consider the various practices, analyse and discuss them. Experienced practitioners work with some who are brand new to the PYP, drawing on examples and deepening understanding collaboratively.


Time for creativity. Teachers work in small groups, sharing photos of great learning from their classes, finding suitable illustrations of the various practices analysed and discussed in the previous session. Peer support and encouragement are at hand for those still mastering the tools on recently acquired ipads.


Here’s an example, connecting practices across the four standards, including living evidence!

Screen Shot 2014-03-12 at 11.21.42 pm Reflection…

Clusters of teachers are scattered in different areas of the school talking about learning… For the final session, the teachers break into their assigned teams (in which they have been working since last year) to reflect collaboratively on the standards and practices and record evidence from across the school.


It’s exciting –

  • to see the high level of engagement and participation.
  • to notice teachers (some of whom haven’t before) taking the lead and driving important conversations.
  • to observe new members of staff making valuable contributions.
  • to listen to over a hundred voices engaged in educational dialogue.
  • to hear teachers say they will apply some of the strategies modelled today in their classrooms.
  • to receive so many ‘thank you’s for organising this day of learning.
  • to realise how far we have come in the past few years…

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…

10 ways to create a learning culture…

I first posted this at the start of 2011…

A new school year is about to begin in Australia. It’ll be the first time in nearly 30 years that I don’t have a class to teach and it’s not an easy adjustment! For as long as I can remember, I have started the year by planning the first day for my new classes. Reflecting on all those new beginnings, I realise how much teaching and learning have changed… and how much have changed.

What needs to happen on ‘Day 1’ ?

I used to think…

  1. Explain your expectations.
  2. Establish rules.
  3. Know everyone’s names.
  4. Arrange seats to minimalise talking.
  5. Organise books.
  6. Talk about homework.
  7. Tell them what they’ll be learning.
  8. Make sure they listen.
  9. Get students working right away.
  10. Show a firm hand.

Now I think…

  1. Ask about their expectations.
  2. Create an essential agreement.
  3. Know everyone’s story.
  4. Arrange learning spaces to encourage collaboration.
  5. Demonstrate that you value thinking.
  6. Talk about learning.
  7. Ensure they know that they own their learning.
  8. Make sure you listen.
  9. Show you’re a part of the learning community.
  10. Laugh…

10 ways to create a learning culture…

Two years later, I still like that list. I work more with teachers than with children, these days,  and I notice that the points apply just as much to starting a new year of professional learning with teachers. So here’s the list again, with suitably relevant (different!) links…

  1. Ask about their expectations.
  2. Create an essential agreement.
  3. Know everyone’s story.
  4. Arrange learning spaces to encourage collaboration.
  5. Demonstrate that you value thinking.
  6. Talk about learning.
  7. Ensure they know that they own their learning.
  8. Make sure you listen.
  9. Show you’re a part of the learning community.
  10. Laugh…

… and a more relevant title!

Who chooses your professional learning?

As we’ve moved further away from one-size-fits-all professional development, teachers at my school have taken more and more ownership of their learning.

I’ve written before about communities of practice, about teachers owning their learning and about other forms of effective professional learning. Now, as we consider professional learning in the coming school year, staff will be asked to respond to a survey which will guide our planning.

Here’s a slightly adapted version of the staff survey. It would be valuable and exciting to gather responses from teachers all over the world! Please respond and share…


#RSCON3: A tiny piece of education?

In a recent post I wrote about the timely reminders I had in India, that my version is just a tiny piece of the reality of education in the world. It’s easy to get so involved in your own environment that you forget to think about what education looks like under different conditions. Partly as a result of my experiences this past past week, I have decided to change my topic and prepare a new presentation for the Reform Symposium Conference this weekend.

RSCON3 is an incredible opportunity for educators from all over the world to learn together. I love its energy, diversity and inclusiveness.

On the other hand, we sometimes exist inside our own bubble and forget that education looks very different in other contexts, both in our own countries and around the world. There are millions of educators who don’t have the language or the resources to be included in a conference such as ours.

So… What might schools look like in developing countries? What sorts of learning opportunities exist outside of schools? How do people attempt to make a difference to children’s learning and children’s futures? What inspires such people?

I am definitely not an expert. My knowledge and ideas come from reading, from listening, from talking to people and from short visits to places here and there. On my recent visit to India I had a chance to see and feel different ways of educating the very poor. Some caring, attention yields amazing results, despite the lack of resources. I’d like to share my experiences and thoughts with you, provoke some thinking and perhaps inspire some action. I’d love to hear from people with more knowledge and more experience than I have. Together we can consider ways to develop student awareness and social conscience too.

I hope to increase awareness that the way most of us see education on a daily basis is just a tiny piece of education in the world.

Click here to join me on Sunday 10am Melbourne time… That’s Saturday night in some parts of the world! For other time zones, click here. (Once you click, you will need to enter your name and wait for the session to open.)

See you there!



A school in Pune…

Getting children into schools is an important first step. This is where learning starts. But it isn’t very useful if they learn little or nothing once they are there. Somewhat bizarrely the issue of learning is not very prominently positioned in international declarations. The Millenium Development goals do not specify that children should learn anything in schools, just that they should complete a basic cycle of education.

Reading the chapter on education in ‘Poor Economics’ by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo, I note that in developing countries, school attendance frequently does not equate with learning, due to factors such as lack of resources, low expectations, class size, inadequate teacher-training and high teacher absenteeism. It seems that millions of kids attend school but don’t necessarily learn even basic literacy skills. I’m glad I read this chapter, since it affects my perspective on what I see on my visit to India.

My first educational encounter in Pune is at a regional government-run school. We wander in off the street and my friend Raj speaks to the guard at the gate in Hindi. After some discussion, we are given permission to go in and see the principal. As we introduce ourselves, we are joined by a couple of teachers who wonder, in Marathi, the local language, if we are part of a contingent of visiting educators, so Raj explains that I  am a teacher from Australia and he’s a friend from Chennai. While I don’t understand their conversation, I pick up a bit from the odd English word thrown in and the general tone and gestures.

I am stared at by passing teachers and students alike. They have probably rarely seen anyone who looks like me face-to-face and certainly not in the context of their school. I doubt they ever interact with people from outside their own world.

The principal switches to limited English and explains that the student body comprises children from slums, whose parents are extremely poor and mostly illiterate. He tells us they wouldn’t know what grade their children are in, let alone what they do at school. Due to numbers, schools such as this usually run two shifts and children attend either in the morning or the afternoon.

I am grateful for the opportunity to peek into a few of the classes. The children are exceptionally clean and tidy, immaculately dressed in their school uniforms, the girls with their hair neatly pulled back and braided. In every single room, the teacher stands at the blackboard and talks, while 40-50 children sit in rows facing the front. I’m told the number can be as high as 60-70 in some schools.

We enter a 9th grade class and the students rise to formally greet the principal. He introduces me and they all stare. When I smile and gesture, they wave and grin back. Raj asks in Hindi whether they know anything about Australia and is greeted with silent, blank looks. I wonder if this is the first time they have heard of Australia at all.

Then he mentions the word cricket, and suddenly their hands are up and they are naming some Australian players! It’s interesting how sport helps narrow the huge cultural divide between us.

I’m a teacher and a learner. This kind of humbling learning experience helps me remember that my own reality is just a ‘tiny piece of education’ in the world.


I am free because I am educated…

My son is currently in Ghana, as group leader for a two week volunteer/study program with a group of students from Yale. They are working with Challenging Heights, an NGO  whose mission is to provide education for children who have returned from slavery and the worst forms of child labor. The organisation also work with families to improve their income levels to enable fishing communities to reject the sale and exploitation of children.

This disturbing video shows the organisation’s director, James Kofi Anan, a former child slave and internationally recognized leader against slavery. He reminds us that  laws and regulations are irrelevant, if you are unable to read. Access to education was what saved him and he has dedicated his life to providing education for others like him in a quest to end child slavery in his country.

The video is an important reminder to me that…

  • I have learned a great deal from my children. Their global experiences constantly open my eyes to issues that I might otherwise not have paid attention to.
  • Education in most of the world does not resemble my reality, working in a privileged school in a developed country.
  • We have little right to complain about our brand new school buildings, considering the number of children in our world who have no access to education… let alone electricity or running water.
  • As educators, we need to work to promote global awareness and a sense of social justice in our students.