The power of being connected…

I was convinced the school had chosen the wrong workshop.

The pre-workshop survey indicated that teachers’ needs included things as disparate as drama teaching, physical education and inquiry in the early years. Their requests appeared to have little connection to the objectives of the PYP workshop I would be leading for them – ‘Get Connected: Engaging in authentic global learning practices.’

I confess to a degree of panic and several exchanges with the school’s coordinator in Mumbai to check if she was sure they had chosen the appropriate workshop. How would I possibly be able to cater for the diverse needs of drama and PE teachers, a counsellor, a French teacher, primary and pre-school teachers?

In the end, it was simple. Instead of trying to address all of those requests and instead of learning about getting connected, I made the decision to immerse them in global connections. All I needed to do, was to draw on my own network to demonstrate the power of global connections and networked learning. The Mumbai teachers would have access to a range of educators from different countries and fields… and agency to design their own learning experience.

Considering dispositions required both for the workshop and as global citizens
Reading blogs from educators around the world
Exploring early years inquiry with Mandy in Australia. (And Shana. And later Jennifer in China)
Discussing maths with Lana in Australia
Chatting about agency with Sonya in China
Connecting with Jina in Australia regarding differentiation and inclusion
Generating questions to ask the world…

We posted the teachers’ questions on a Padlet called ‘Ask the World’. By morning we had a broad range of responses from generous PYP educators around the globe! (Check it out.)

PE teachers – so excited to connect with Joel in Laos and Sandijs in China.
Deepak Sir exchanges ideas about Drama teaching with Vanessa in Brazil, Jolene in Korea and Freda in China.
Hearing about ‘Making writing’ and other literacy ideas from Jocelyn in Australia.
Finding out about the impact of global collaborations from Tali and Grade 2 children
Discussing how technology can enrich learning in younger years, with Pana in Taiwan
A Granny Cloud experience with Monika and Grade 8 at Diksha near Delhi
Mystery Skype with Grade 3s in Australia was a highlight!
Thoughtful educators considering what action they will take.

With tremendous appreciation for my local and global network (mostly PYP educators, in this case), many of whom I have never met in person, for generously sharing their time, ideas, experience, vulnerabilities and expertise so that others may learn and grow.

Potential for learning…

Dear Heads and Co-ordinators,

Thanks for being such an appreciative audience at the PYP network meeting. I’m glad you enjoyed my presentation about what it means to be a connected educator.

It didn’t matter that it was the end of a long day and a long meeting or that we were all tired before I even started to speak.

It didn’t matter that Twitter is blocked at the host school and I couldn’t even show you a live Twitter interaction.

It didn’t matter that the internet stopped working and I had to talk my way round images of blogs and nings instead of showing them to you.

It didn’t matter that most people were taking pen and paper notes in a session about the use of technology.

It didn’t matter that some of you have yet to take the first step into this world of perpetual learning.

We are all educators and we care deeply about learning.

As soon as you saw what’s possible in terms of learning, both our own and our students’, I saw the light in your eyes.

I liked how you smiled when you saw I had borrowed some of my lines  from Steven Anderson’s video, which I showed at the end. It gave you a glimpse into the sharing and collaboration that is so much part of being a connected educator.

You seemed to enjoy being introduced to individual members of my PLN (most of whom I have yet to meet myself!) and hearing about how they have inspired me. I wish I’d had time to tell you what I have learned from each of them.

I was delighted by your enthusiastic response to our global plant inquiry and the way we use Skype to connect our students with the world. It was great to see you talking amongst yourselves about how you could apply some of the ideas I shared.

I liked the fact that you laughed at the image of the toe in the water because you could relate to it. Either because you’ve already put yours in and seen the result, or because you felt that making  just a small start isn’t too intimidating.

I loved that people came up to me afterwards to say that they were ready to put their toes in the water for the first time and begin their exploration. They were inspired, not by my presentation itself, but by their understanding of the enormous potential for learning.

Looking forward to welcoming you to my personal learning network….


Amazon Peru photos by Mazz Sackson.

Thanks @klbeasely for the inspiration.

DIY Professional Learning

Does your school run compulsory, one-size-fits-all PD? Are you ever bored, disinterested or unmotivated when attending?  Have you ever been to a conference where the presenter was dull, the audience passive and the content unengaging?

Fortunately, we have the power to create our own more effective professional learning opportunities. What’s yours? Daily connection with other educators via social media? Online workshops and webinars by educators for educators? Teachmeets, where educators meet and share practice informally? One of the many Twitter chats dedicated to different areas of learning?

Keen responses to a tweet from @wholeboxndice a few days ago motivated us to try and establish #pypchat, a Twitter chat for IB PYP educators. While the discussion will be PYP related, it’s all about learning and anyone will be welcome to participate.

A preliminary survey to assess the level of interest quickly attracted responses from every continent. It’s unlikely we can find a suitable time to accommodate people in all the time zones, but it’s encouraging to have so much interest expressed so quickly.

It’s interesting to note that nearly half the responders so far indicated that they would like to be part of the team of moderators. It’s an opportunity to create our own professional learning.

DIY. Why not?

(Survey here. Details soon)

10 ways Twitter has added value…

Dear Teacher who is still not on Twitter,

Maybe you didn’t receive my previous mail. Just in case it didn’t convince you, here are a few more examples of the benefits of Twitter… 

1. Continuous learning with and from a global community of educators, via countless links to interesting posts and articles, tools and websites, conferences and workshops. thoughts and ideas.

2. Year 5 students at my school are learning about Aboriginal culture. Twitter led me to @jessica_dubois, as a result of which classes at our schools were able to interact via Skype last week. It was an incredible learning experience for both sides!

3. Ongoing connections with PYP educators like @jessievaz in Chile, @maggiswitz in Switzerland, @sherratsam in Thailand and @garethjacobson  in Bangladesh (among others!), to whom I can turn for advice and ideas relating to learning in the PYP.

4. #Elemchat is a weekly Twitter chat for primary school teachers to discuss issues and share practice. It’s great to get different perspectives from all over the world and the connection with talented organisers @tcash in Morocco and @gret in Argentina is an added bonus.

5. Year 1 teachers at my school have recently started blogging and are keen to make global connections for their students. Via Twitter, I’ve found them a number of interested teachers and classes in Colombia, Switzerland, Canada, Indonesia, Chile and the US and inspired them further with the work of @grade1 to see what is possible.

6. Inquire Within, a collaborative blog about inquiry learning, has a range of contributors from twelve countries across six continents… all via Twitter. (Join us!)

7. Upper Primary teachers at my school were inspired by a Skype session on literacy and class blogging with @kathleen_morris and @kellyjordan82 a few months ago and the dynamic duo has agreed to do another session next term to inspire teachers in the lower grades too.

8. @toughLoveforX is a retired printer and design teacher in NY, who comments with interest on my blog and our school class blogs, giving valuable insights and asking tough questions about education that make me think (and act). 

9.  It was great to have @henriettaMi, who I know through blogs and Twitter, visit our school when she was recently in Melbourne to present at a conference. She graciously agreed to present an after-school session to further inspire teachers at my school with their class blogs.

10. Endless advice, assistance, support, collaboration, encouragement, inspiration, motivation … and friendship.

Why wouldn’t you want to be part of it? 

Let me know if you want help getting started.


PLN By whatedsaid | View this Toon at ToonDoo | Create your own Toon

Opportunities for creativity…

How can we provide better opportunities for learning to be expressed creatively?  Do students have choice or does everyone have to do the same thing in the same way? What possibilities are there for students to explore different media for creative expression? How is creativity encouraged and developed?

During our Year 6 PYP exhibition unit next term, students will explore how ‘Social inequities create a need for action in the world’.  Within this broad conceptual understanding, students will follow their areas of interest and decide on their own individual and small group inquiries. They will research and investigate their chosen areas independently, with support from teachers and mentors as required.

Instead of their usual weekly art and music classes, this year for the first time, students will further explore the central idea through a choice of art, drama, music, film, poetry or technology. While some of these will already naturally be incorporated into the students’ presentation of their learning, there will be a two hour block each week, devoted to a deeper exploration of their elected medium.

I was really excited by the possibilities of this when the idea was first conceived in collaboration with Elena and Dani, our art and music teachers. They were keen to work with kids exploring their preferred medium, rather than all 95 Year 6  students.  The idea was further developed in a chat with Jeremy McDonald on the other side of the world, who asked provocative questions to help me clarify both the rationale and the details. There was enthusiastic support from the Year 6 teachers and I’m well on the way to finding volunteers keen to facilitate each of the groups.

Yesterday I shared this idea  with a couple of young educators I know.  One suggested a range of creative ideas to deepen the students’ understanding of social inequity through creative exploration. I think if she was in Year 6 herself, she might struggle to choose which of the groups to participate in.

The other provoked me to think about kids who might not be interested in any of the options.  Will they choose film or technology simply because they are less interested in the arts, rather than because they find those options exciting? Will there be students who don’t like any of the options? Should we be offering something additional?

I know this plan is an improvement on the way things used to be, because

  • Students will choose their preferred creative medium.
  • They will have more time to explore it in a dedicated weekly two hour block.
  • There are some new options which are not part of their regular program.
  • They will collaborate with different people, rather than their usual class group and teacher.
  • They will gain a broader perspective  on the central idea and deepen their understandings through exploring it in other ways.
  • The exhibition will include performance and display of their creative expression.
But I’m still wondering how it can be further improved and refined.  So what do you think? Creative ideas, comments, advice, provocative questions and potential solutions will be welcomed!
Why plan with a small group in your own school, when there’s a whole world of creative people out there?

Are you in Africa?


I was born in South Africa, although I haven’t been back for more than 30 years. Blogging about teaching and learning, I find myself recalling my school days, enjoying the view of Table Mountain through the window, instead of paying attention in class. My first job as an enthusiastic, young teacher was in Cape Town, a lifetime ago. I sometimes wonder how my old school is progressing. I wonder what teaching and learning are like in South Africa today. And I wonder a great deal about access to education in all of Africa…

My global PLN (personal learning network) has expanded in the past year and I have established meaningful connections with educators in so many countries, on every continent, except for Africa. Yet, looking at the clustrmap which records visitors to my blog, I am aware that people not just in South Africa, but in Nigeria, Namibia, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Ethiopia, Algeria, Morocco, Ghana, Tunisia and Egypt have visited!

I would love to hear from you and about you. It would be great to connect with you. Leave me a comment, if you will…


Dear Teacher who wasn’t on Twitter…

Partially inspired by Scott McLeod’s post  If You Were on Twitter.

Dear Teacher,

I know you don’t see the point of Twitter. I know you think people should have a balanced life and not be online too much. I know you think a great deal of time is required to find resources and create connections.

Last Sunday was a lovely, sunny day. Among other things, I went for a walk in the city, spent time with family, went out for breakfast with friends, cooked a pot of lentil soup, finished Seth Godin’s Poke the Box and read several chapters of A Man of Parts by David Lodge.

I also spent 30 minutes on Twitter participating in #elemchat, where primary school teachers around the world exchange ideas and share their challenges. Here’s some of what I got out of that half hour:

  • A variety of new web 2.0 story book creators to explore and share with my colleagues.
  • Inspiration and ideas from @dogtrax, like his environment project.
  • The idea of using Edmodo for reading discussions.
  • A promising collaboration with Tania Ash  in Morocco to start a world reading group for primary school students!
  • The start of a connection with @plnaugle who shares my interest in inquiry learning.
  • Discovery of another PYP educator @ctrlaltdeliver to add to my contact list.
  • Potential collaborators for our unit about cultural beliefs.
  • A comforting sense that educators worldwide encounter the same challenges that we do at our school.
  • New contacts in several countries for future global collaborations.
  • A reminder that there is no professional learning quite like half an hour on Twitter!
You should give it a try. I’ll help you get started if you like.
PS. There was a great #edchat session today on the role of blogging in 21st century learning, it’s value and the challenges, both for students and teachers. But that’s another story…


Just another tweet…

I don’t speak Spanish, unless you count the three lessons I had in Baños, Ecuador when I visited my daughter Mazz in December. So it amused me to tweet asking if anyone knew a Spanish song using the preterito imperfecto tense, which Mazz needed for an assignment for her Spanish teaching course. It was retweeted by Yoon, @doremigirl,  a music teacher with whom I collaborated last year on a project about celebrations, and soon there was a response from Abby@Sra_Crespo, with an example of a suitable song. One thing led to another and Abby has since communicated a few times with Mazz by email answering a few other queries. When she found out that Mazz volunteers and coordinates the volunteer program at Arte del Mundo Foundation, which promotes literacy and the arts, she offered to send some Spanish resources for the kids who come to the foundation’s interactive library.

It’s just another example of the power of twitter to foster genuine global connections between people who otherwise would never have met.

The foundation is always seeking volunteers, both short and long-term, so if you know anyone who might be interested, please pass on the link to the website.

I’ve blogged before about the library, La Biblioteca Interactiva de Baños, its very special atmosphere and the great work that happens there. Here’s their latest video. I love the excited faces of the kids as they read, play and create …


Has your educational philosophy changed?

Brian Barry is a teacher in Nunavut, Canada. I know what he believes about teaching and learning and he knows my beliefs, although we have never met. We have read each other’s blogs and exchanged ideas on Twitter. One of my favourite posts from his blog was one in which he asked teachers to think about what’s important, in the interest of letting go and allowing students to take control. I’ve used it in PD sessions with teachers at my school.

Brian has a fascinating series happening on his blog at the moment, in which he has been interviewing educators around the world about their experience and beliefs.  Some are well known personalities, others are members of  his personal learning network, and it’s interesting to read what’s important to them. Since I was included in his series, I thought I’d invite him to answer the same questions for my blog…

How long have you been teaching?

I am in my 12th year of teaching in Nunavut, Canada. I have taught Grades 4 (4 years), 7 (2 years), 8 (2 years), 9 (4 years).

Has your educational philosophy changed since you began teaching?

Yes. It used to be based on extrinsic motivation. I used rewards and punishment to control students. Now it is based on intrinsic motivation. I try to tap into my students natural curiosity. Their motivation now comes from within (intrinsic). They control themselves, not me controlling them.

Has Twitter played a role in your evolution as a teacher? If so, how?

Indeed. It has helped me grow by making connections with teachers of like mind. Moreover, I have connected with teachers that have changed my mind on specific topics.

What’s the best advice you have received as a teacher (or can give to a new teacher)?

Teaching is all about students and not subjects. That means it is about relationship building. Get to know your students; ask them plenty of questions about themselves. The rest will follow.

As I write this post, I realise that strangely, I know less about some of the teachers in my own school than I do about Brian, or many other educators whose blogs I read regularly. So, if you teach at my school (and if you don’t) I invite you to reflect on the questions above and answer them in a comment. There’s so much to learn…

My answers are here.