Cultivating action…

“When students see tangible actions that they can choose to take to make a difference, they see themselves as competent, capable and active agents of change “(Oxfam 2015).

‘How do we get them to walk the talk? ‘ someone asked in our leadership meeting, sparking, as always, a host of ‘what if’ and ‘how might we’ questions. (A More Beautiful Question by Warren Berger)

  • What if we chose action as our whole school focus for 2019?
  • What if we created a whole school inquiry that was inherently about action?
  • How might this provide an opportunity for teachers to delve into the new PYP Principles into Practice?
  • How might we explore the interconnection between action and agency?
  • How might we link our focus on ‘cultivating action’ to our previous annual teacher inquiries?
  • How might action look in the early years?
  • What if we redeveloped our Year 6 leadership program to further encourage students to pitch and drive ideas for action? (Thank you Stephanie Thompson!)
  • How might an action focus impact school culture?
  • How might thinking beyond ourselves empower us to act?
  • What if we used the cultural forces as a way to think about cultivating action?
  • What if we included parents and how might we get them thinking about action they might take with or in relation to their children?
  • How might members of the whole learning community take, encourage, support and acknowledge individual and collective action?

… which brings us to Day 1 of the school year and a massive, whole school workshop for teachers, assistants and leaders, to initiate the process of our inquiry.

We start with time to chat about the holidays first… with the guiding questions ‘What is something you learned in the holidays?’ and ‘Which form of action was sparked as a result?’

(Action markers in Early Years PYP doc)

Inspired by the beautiful Lead India clip, The Tree, participants record their initial thoughts about action.

Each group is assigned one of the action examples (Participation, Social Justice, Social Entrepreneurship, Advocacy and Lifestyle Choices) to unpack, considering how it might look through the lenses of their various roles and contexts, using the action markers above as prompts. The action section from the new PYP Principles into Practice is a valuable resource, adding a layer to the process.

Regrouping in jigsaw fashion, allows teachers to share their groups’ thinking as well as build an understanding of the bigger picture. What better way to synthesise the ideas and express the essence than through making….

The next stage is to consider how this goal relates to and builds on our whole school inquiries of the past few years, such as encouraging learner agency and starting with the child. Guiding questions: How does this goal connect with our previous goals? How does this goal extend learning and teaching? What challenges or questions do you have?

Then it’s back to the initial thoughts recorded by participants at the start of the session. How has their thinking changed? What new questions do they have? What action will they take?

What action do you plan to take in 2019?

Learning is not about covering the curriculum…

Are you a good teacher? Do you know your subject well, prepare lessons thoroughly and cover the curriculum efficiently? Do your students respect you? Is your classroom management effective? Are you organised and reflective?

Here’s the thing… It’s not about YOU.

Everything changes when you start with the child.

Starting with the child means building relationships and connecting personally with every learner. It means hearing his voice, knowing his story, caring about what matters to him and understanding how best he might learn.

Starting with the child means having a strong image of the child as creative, competent and capable of controlling her own learning. It means letting go, trusting the process and having faith in her capacity to lead her learning.

Starting with the child means understanding that the language you use has the power to affect his self image. It means using words purposefully to build self esteem, confidence and ownership, to support him in seeing himself as an empowered writer or mathematician, learner and human being.

Starting with the child means creating a sense of calm, a mindful context within which she can flourish and her learning can thrive. It means promoting positive emotions, providing opportunities for engagement in purposeful learning and helping her to achieve her dreams.

All of this and more was explored in our teacher led workshops at our ‘Start with the Child’ professional learning day last week…

An effective model of professional learning…

Joining the cohort of teachers learning with @langwitches last week, when I could, I found them highly engaged and involved in their own learning. The approach was different from the last time Silvia visited our school. This time she worked with a group of teachers, each of whom elected to participate, a diverse group with varying needs and different entry points. This proved to be a successful model of professional learning that aligns with our learning principles, a set of beliefs about learning that apply as much to teachers as to students.

Despite (because of?) the diversity within the group,  a high level of trust and collaboration were evident. Teachers had ownership of what and how they explored and Silvia stressed that this was about being self-directed, self-motivated learners. New skills were mastered within a context and there were opportunities to apply them purposefully and reflect on how they will be transferred.


The evidence is visible in more than a dozen personal blog posts on our collaborative blog, many by teachers who rarely write about their learning, most by teachers who have never blogged before, all sharing thoughtful documentation of, for and as earning. Take a look at a few examples…

Am I literate? by Lesley

Help! I’m a digital citizen by Limor

Global literacy is a highway by Lauri

I’m on my way… by Nicole

Sharing my learning leads to learning from and with others by Linda

And some tweets that sum up the learning…

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Teacher coaching…

I could write a formal post using fancy language, quoting research about coaching if I wanted to, but I choose not to! (There are plenty of those around, just google.)

After much research, including reading, viewing and valuable conversations with experienced coaches, Joc and I have begun to coach teachers.  It’s part of an ever evolving approach to professional learning at our school, which includes teacher choice, a focus on growth rather than judgement and a desire to constantly refine and improve our practice.

The content of coaching sessions is confidential, but we regularly reflect on the process and refine it as we go. Most of the teachers being coached are less concerned than we are about confidentiality. One shares her reflections in a meeting, another talks animatedly in the staffroom and a third is blogging about the experience!

Here’s my take on the roles of the coach and the coachee…


I’ve already learned..

  • to talk less
  • to listen more
  • to craft purposeful questions
  • the value of collaborative reflection
  • to see things through the eyes of the teacher being coached
  • that teachers’ goals shift and grow as they see evidence of change in themselves and their learners
  • the value of protected time for teachers to reflect and talk about their practice
  • that positive relationships contribute to effective coaching
  • that effective coaching builds positive relationships
  • that teachers’ observations of their own practice are even more powerful than observations by others
  • that some teachers are happy to share the process of their growth, not just with other teachers, but with their students too
  • that, even in the early stages, coaching can make a dramatic difference to teaching and learning
  • that instigating change requires trying something different
  • that self-directed learning is the most powerful kind there is
  • the power of using data (about yourself as well as your learners) to inform teaching and learning…

Next steps…

Can we replace the old, evaluative model of teacher appraisal with a growth model, based on the coaching process?

Watch this space…


Choose your own learning…

Who chooses your professional learning?

In our professional learning survey at the end of 2012, the vast majority of staff indicated that they would like to use the coming PD day to work on personal learning choices, individually or in small groups.

The guidelines given to staff across the three campuses of our primary school:

Bear in mind that it is a professional learning  day and hence should not be used for catching up on paper work!

Over to YOU…

  1. Consider your personal learning goals, passions, interests, areas you’d like to strengthen or things you’ve learned but haven’t had time to explore…
  2. Talk to your colleagues (not just your year level teams), Learning Team Leaders, Campus Heads and Coordinators.
  3. Decide on what you think you’d like your focus to be for the day.
  4. Note that you will be asked for your reflections on both process and achievements after the day.
  5. Please fill in this form.
  6. Please indicate if you’d like help forming a group with others who share your interests (cross campus).

Your reflection will include something along these lines.

  • What did you achieve on the day?
  • What did you learn?
  • What surprised you?
  • What are your challenges?
  • How will you continue forward?
  • What did you notice about yourself as a learner?

The plans so far…

  • A couple of teachers have decided to spend the day familiarising themselves and creating movies with iMovie, so that they can use it to capture their students’ learning in a meaningful way
  • A group of teachers will work through Making Thinking Visible, exploring the thinking routines and how to use them to develop a culture of thinking.
  • Several teachers have teamed together to explore ways to use maths manipulatives.
  • One group, comprising a teacher from each year level, will explore educational apps and how they might best support learning across the curriculum.
  • The Prep teachers are exploring Matt Glover’s approach to literacy. They have been reading his books and will use the day to share their learning and consider how to apply it in their classrooms.
  • A couple of teachers have chosen to visit the Apple Shop for one-on-one training with their new iPads.
  • A group of second language teachers will investigate language games that will assist in differentiating learning.

I’m a great fan of the work of Sugata Mitra, regarding self organised learning… for children. It’s quite interesting to note that, given a full day to organise and explore anything they like, there are some teachers who find themselves wondering what to do with their time…

As always, our professional learning day is based on the same learning principles on which we strive to base all teaching and learning in our school. 

Once you’re clear what you believe about learning, it’s easy to build learning opportunities and experiences for learners of all ages.

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, learning styles, 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 takes place when we feel secure, valued and are able to take risks.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, and requires learners to take ownership of their learning.

Given a day like ours, what would you choose to do?

Making Thinking Visible: Chapter Two

Cross-posted (almost) from Inquire Within, a blog about inquiry.

We’re laughing as we shift the tables to include the screen in our circle. Someone has offered to give her chair to the expected guest, forgetting momentarily that he is actually in Tennessee, USA and will be joining us via Skype!

This group loves to learn together and we’re meeting for breakfast an hour before school again today to continue our discussion of Making Thinking Visible by Ritchhart, Morrison and Church. I highly recommend the book, the website and the principles of visible thinking for all inquiry teachers.

Our virtual guests Philip and Beth take some time to adjust their sound and then a bit longer to adjust to our accents, but are soon participating in the discussion. Philip is a 6th grade teacher who recently did a course at Harvard’s Project Zero and blogs here about his further exploration into Visible Thinking. Beth is a 2nd Grade teacher who incorporatesthese beliefs and strategies in her class too. They saw our reading group mentioned on my blog and asked if they could join, undeterred by the fact that we are in Australia!

We use the 4 C’s thinking routine as a guide for today’s discussion. It’s a great routine for synthesising and organising ideas.

Concepts: What are the big ideas?

Connections: How does it connect to what we already know?

Challenges: What do we find challenging?

Changes: How have our actions and attitudes changed as a result?

Today’s chapter focuses not just on the power of good questioning, but on how to listen carefully to what students say (and don’t say).  You can read my response to the chapter in an earlier post ‘Great questions have legs‘.

I’ve heard Ritchhart tell the story in person of how he observed great teaching and learning in classrooms then wondered why, although he carefully asked precisely the same questions as they had, the lessons did not go as well and he wasn’t able to create the same kind of thinking culture. It was only when he learned the value of attentive and responsive listening, that he was able to create that culture in his own classes. How many teachers have a desired answer in their heads and stop listening as soon as they hear it? 

The chapter also stresses the importance of documenting thinking. Most of the group agrees that this part is the most challenging. People talk about using sticky notes, which are easy to display, and journals, which are easier to keep. We consider whether one of the most effective ways of documenting and recording student thinking might be via a class blog. The question is what do you do with that documentation? We’ve started spending time in groups analysing students questions, discussing both what they reveal about each student and how they shape the direction of future teaching and learning. (but that’s for another post!)

The conversation, as always in this group, reflects passion for and commitment to learning… our own and that of our students. We conclude by reflecting on how our thinking has changed over time since we first began exploring Visible Thinking and Inquiry Learning. For the ‘exit card’ we use another thinking routine ‘I used to think… Now I think’. Even Philip is ready with his sticky note!

I used to think PD was something by experts that took place a few days a year. Now I think powerful professional learning comes from creating a community of learners and developing  a culture of thinking within your own school. And inviting the world in.

Blogging can change your world…

During the two year life of this blog I’ve written several reflections on the benefits of blogging, including my personal story in my 100th post, so at first I thought I might not take up the challenge to respond to the Rockstar Meme – How Blogging Changed Your World in Gret’s latest post.

I agree with much of what these guys say about it!


Instead I have decided to focus on a different blog this time. It’s a collaborative blog called Inquire Within, which is dedicated to inquiry in the broadest sense. Anyone can join and participants can contribute as frequently or occasionally as they like. Cross posts are welcome, as is linking to other blogs. It’s an unpretentious, non-judgemental space for discussing anything related to inquiry and for sharing ideas and practice. So far there are contributors from twelve countries across six continents. Here’s what I have got out of it so far…

Inquire Within

I’m tagging  Clive, Michael, EllenMaggie and Cristina  because they live in different parts of the world, because they have each enriched my learning in different ways and because I know they have interesting and varied stories to share.

10+ reasons to participate in RSCON3…

This is a collaborative post with @clivesir, who I first met through his blog Clive in Sri Lanka, in which he chronicled his experiences as a volunteer, teaching technology to teachers. He once wrote a post entitled Missing: My PLN and we have been friends ever since. He’s one of the organisers of RSCON3.

The world is full of generous educators, willing to share with anyone who is open to learning. You don’t even need to leave home to find them. Anyone can participate in the online 3-day Reform Symposium Conference from 29th July to 1st Aug (depending on where in the world you are!)

Here’s why…

  1. Learn without getting off the couch.
  2. It’s green!
  3. No suitcases, tickets, hotel, worries about what to wear…
  4. It’s free!
  5. An opportunity to network with educators globally.
  6. It’s addictive!
  7. 65+ presenters from USA, Canada, Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina, UK, France, Finland, Germany, Greece, Turkey, Jordan, Thailand, Japan, Australia…
  8. International keynote speakers.
  9. Encourages audience interaction, both in realtime and after.
  10. Great community spirit. Passion and love of learning are contagious.
  11. Learn from and with educators like you who have been there, done that.
  12. If a presentation is not what you expect you can quickly go to a parallel session.
  13. Easy to fit around family life and demands. Take a break whenever you like.
  14. Learn while your husband/wife cooks breakfast, lunch, supper…!
  15. Huge choice of topics – expand your horizons!
  16. Choose what interests YOU- no obligation to attend sessions.
  17. Voices from outside can be powerful, even if they say the same things as voices inside.
  18. Model learning for your students.
  19. Presentations are recorded. Replay at leisure or catch ones you missed later.
  20. Social Media/ Professional Development Training LabA parallel session where you can ask questions about concerns, issues, tech difficulties, presenters…

(How did we get to 20?! My posts always have 10!)

Teaching is changing.  Ways of learning are changing. The possibilities are endless… Join us. What’s the worst that can happen?



How do teachers learn?

What does professional learning look like at your school?

Is it presented to you? Or with you? Or by you?

Ours used to look like this:

  • Administrators were responsible for staff professional development.
  • Compulsory, imposed whole staff sessions were not always relevant, interesting or effective.
  • PD sessions were always presented by ‘experts’, usually from outside the school.
  • Separate, unrelated topics often had little or no follow-up after the initial presentation.
  • Individual teachers were sent to PD that was deemed suitable for them by administrators.

Now it looks like this:

  • Teachers are responsible for their own learning.
  • Whole staff sessions are current, relevant, directly related to our learning principles and connected to ongoing developments.
  • Voluntary focus groups meet regularly to experiment with technology, read, think and learn together, share practice and exchange ideas.
  • Individual teachers select external professional learning opportunities in which they would like to participate. (within  guidelines of time and budget)
  • Teachers might choose to spend their PD time pursuing their own professional learning challenge or observing other teachers.
  • Expertise within the school is recognised and presentation is often by teachers for teachers.
  • Unit development is collaborative and includes the ICT facilitator, librarian and specialist teachers.

It still needs to look more like this:

  • Teachers and administrators engage in social media for educational purposes.
  • More active learning online, through virtual participation in webinars and conferences.
  • Global collaborations between teachers and classes everywhere.

For me personally, it looks like this: 10 ways to grow as an educator.

Just a teacher..By whatedsaid | View this Toon at ToonDoo | Create your own Toon