A report card for teachers?

Teachers spend countless hours thinking about how best to describe their students for the written reports that go home to parents. At my school, these narrative comments focus less on work on more on learning. Teachers are encouraged to consider what they know about the whole child and to describe who each one is as a learner.

Who writes a report about the teacher as a learner? This creative teacher wrote his own report, an honest self- reflective appraisal of his first year teaching Year 6. (Read the whole post here.)

I challenge other teachers and leaders to reflect on their learning this year and write their own reports… 

Dean Kuran – Grade 6, 2016

Dean is a caring, enthusiastic learner who has taken many risks this year in his pursuit of being the best member of the school community he can be. He has demonstrated the qualities of being a risk-taker, moving into a new learning environment and being willing to take on new challenges, including a lunchtime drone-flying club, presenting and hosting TeachMeets, giving his students more ownership of their learning – while discovering the delicate line between ownership and anarchy – being ready to speak up and accept when he has made mistakes and responding positively to constructive criticism.

Dean has been resilient in the face of unforeseen circumstances, for both himself and his peers.  He has focused on finding a balance between extra-curricular activities and non-negotiable tasks. Dean has sought assistance from experts as he looks to take the next step in his development as a facilitator of learning, and has enjoyed experimenting more with inquiry approaches to writing and mathematics. He has dabbled in mindfulness, breathing exercises and a healthier lifestyle to reduce his stresses, and to assist those who also need time to regulate their emotions. 

Dean enjoys developing his learners into effective communicators so that they are confident and feel secure when they speak. He focuses on creating an environment that is safe, welcoming, flexible and energetic. Sometimes, the energy levels can reach a point that may not be conducive for effective learning, and Dean is encouraged to be more composed and forthright with this expectations. 

As an inquirer, Dean has experimented with a variety of approaches to his learning, including the split-screen method,  various thinking routines like this (a personal favourite, particularly in Number), and team-teaching. He has become so aware that learning is not about the product; it is about the process. The trials and tribulations. The new skills we learn, and the old skills we extend. The knowledge we gain. The actions we take. 

He is supported by a close network of mentorspeers and incredible learning support staff, who have enabled him to think deeply about the kind of educator, member of staff and person he wants to be for his students and those around him. He loves a walk down the road for a coffee too. 

Above all, Dean seeks two qualities from his learners, and they are the two that were sought from him by his parents; respect and responsibility.

Dean understands that there is a long way to go on this learning journey, but he is excited for what is to come next.

Process, not product.

Actions, not words.


(Leave a link to your report post in the comments.)

Should we focus on teaching or learning?

Inquiry happens when you focus on the art of teaching.” Kath Murdoch.

This is an interesting moment in Kath’s conversation with teachers. I lose focus on my note-taking as I pursue this thought… I tend to say ‘focus less on teaching and more on learning’, and here is Kath Murdoch, inquiry guru, expressing what, on the face of it, seems to be just the opposite.

Kath has spent the week with teachers at my school, provoking thinking, that of teachers and students alike, modelling in classrooms and then collaboratively analysing teachers’ observations. The conversations during the week have been as valuable for teachers as the classroom observations, especially the final day reflections, when teachers draw out the big ideas in response to Kath’s question:

What does it mean to have an inquiry stance in our teaching?

After the session, I attempt to categorise the teachers’ ideas under conceptual headings. The more I think about their statements, the more my categories overlap. I consider first Kath’s shared list of inquiry practices and then Ron Ritchhart’s cultural forces. In the end it comes down to a handful of big ideas, for me…

  • Language:  Use a language of learning not compliance. Choose language that supports learners in describing and reflecting on their thinking and learning.
  • Process:  Focus as much on the process of learning as the content. Use split screen teaching. Notice and name how we are learning, not just what we are leaning.
  • Release:  Let go of your expectations and allow students to lead. Ensure the learners do the heavy lifting. Release responsibility as early as possible, then observe where to take the learning next.
  • Teacher as learner:  Position yourself as part of the learning community, not as the expert in the room, both physically and through your interactions. Make your own thinking process visible.
  • Time:   Do less, but do it more deeply. Devote time to developing learning dispositions. Give children time to reflect on how and why they change their ideas or thinking.

But, even as I elaborate on these, I notice they are further interconnected. I keep going back to change and revise them. It’s impossible to separate ‘using the language of learning’ from the notion of ‘teacher as part of the learning community’… or the ‘focus on process’ from the notion of time…

And, in a moment of clarity, I see that Kath and I are talking about the same thing… The ‘art of teaching’ IS knowing how to focus on the learning.

Does your practice align with your beliefs?

The power of filming and then watching yourself teach has become evident during our coaching and growth review processes. What did you notice? What are the patterns?  What do they make you think? What surprised you? Does what you see yourself doing match what you think you do?

On a larger scale, having educators from other schools visit us in the past few weeks has provided a similar opportunity. Viewing ourselves through the eyes of others and becoming aware of different perspectives has been both validating and enlightening. In the process of planning for and evaluating the visits and observing our school’s practice through a different lens, we have asked ourselves the same sorts of questions. Does our practice align with our beliefs about learning?

Some years ago we spent time collaboratively developing a set of learning principles that encapsulate our beliefs about how learning best takes place. Since then we have worked at deepening understanding of these principles and ensuring that they underpin every decision we make in regard to learning within our school. 

Our learning principles:

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, preferences and interests.
  • Learning takes place through inquiry: questioning, exploring, experimenting and problem solving.
  • Learning includes acquisition of skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transfer to different contexts.
  • Learning is active and social and is enhanced by collaboration and interaction.
  • Learners need to feel secure, valued and able to take risks.
  • Learning needs to be challenging, meaningful, purposeful and engaging.
  • Learning includes meta-cognition and reflection, which support learners taking ownership of their learning.

Developing learning principles is the easy part.

How do you ensure that practice aligns with beliefs?

Initially this reflection led me to thinking about the barriers; factors that are often out of my/ our/ sometimes-even-the-school’s control, but I’ve started building a list of things that are working well so we can consider how to amplify those. (This is the influence that exploring coaching has had on my thinking. I can even coach myself now!)

As educators we live the learning principles ourselves through…

How does your school ensure that your practice aligns with your beliefs?

Looking back and forward…

Looking back…

Interestingly (or not), my most popular blog posts in 2013 were not written last year. These three have been the most enduring:

10 ways to encourage students to take responsibility for their learning (2010)
10 ways to differentiate learning (2012)
10 ways to encourage student reflection (2011)

My WordPress ‘Annual Report’ suggests I consider writing more on those subjects. In reality it seems that any post written in point form tends to be more popular as it’s quick to scan and requires less time and effort for the reader to process.

My top posts written in 2013:

10 ways to create a learning culture
10 questions to help you become a better teacher
10 principles of effective professional learning

As Seth Godin says, my most popular posts this year weren’t necessarily my ‘best’.

In 2013 my colleagues and I spent a great deal of time exploring inquiry and concept driven learning, improving our planning process and developing more effective approaches to in-school professional learning. So I liked these posts, with less advice, more reflection:

How do you assess understanding?
Planning for inquiry and Planning in response to learning
Concept based learning
Choose your own learning and There is never enough time
5 misconceptions about professional learning

Looking forward…

I don’t ‘set goals’.

Goals need to be specific, focused, achievable and include a plan of action. Ask me what my goals are for next year, I feel pressured to come up with something that fits those criteria, and I can’t think of anything to say.

I’m more of an inquiry kind of person. I love learning and exploring, making connections, going off on tangents, finding and solving problems, experimenting with ideas and possibilities, questioning and innovating.

So, rather than asking me for goals, ask me what I’d like to explore and I will rattle off an ever growing number of books, ideas, experiences and possibilities.

Watch this space…

Learning for whom?

The IB Learner Profile calls for all learners to be thinkers and inquirers, who ‘communicate confidently and creatively, collaborate effectively and listen carefully to the perspectives of other individuals. We thoughtfully consider our own ideas and experience, working to understand our strengths and weaknesses in order to support our learning and personal development.’

These attributes are the essence of effective professional learning communities.

Writing my chapter for the IB book ‘Journeys in Communities of Practice‘ was a highly rewarding experience. It provided an opportunity to reflect on the development of a learning culture in my school and the community of practice we had built over time. In addition I enjoyed working with and learning from editor Dale Worsley, as well as meeting him in person and participating in one of his inquiry circles, while visiting New York earlier this year.

By the time the book came out, a year after writing the chapter, it was interesting to reflect on our further growth too! As our school years draws to an end, I’m excited by the achievements and reflections of teachers who, through being part of this thriving learning community, have

  • made strong connections between theory and best practice.
  • opened classroom doors for collaboration and team teaching.
  • stepped aside to let students take ownership of their learning.
  • overcame anxieties about technology.
  • deepened their understanding of inquiry and concept driven learning.
  • created learning spaces that reflect their beliefs about learning.

We often take our own situations for granted and, to be honest, I was happily involved in the ongoing learning at my school and hadn’t thought very much about how challenging the process of building such a learning community can be. I hope educators around the world benefit from reading my own and others’ stories in the ‘Journeys’ book.

I can’t help but wonder though…

What percentage of schools and educators can afford to pay $60 for a slim paperback book? (That’s the cost including shipping)


How many could pay $50 to participate in a webinar based on the book? (There are – as there should be – a growing number of free-access opportunities for educators to learn online.)

The IB Learner Profile, mentioned at the start, also calls for us to be principled.

‘Principled – We act with integrity and honesty, with a strong sense of fairness and justice, and with respect for the dignity and rights of people everywhere… ‘

Does the IB as an organisation model its own principles?

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.

Just write…

For one reason and another, I have been posting less frequently than I used to and it’s made me realise…

The less frequently I write, the more difficult it is to get going again.

So, I’m wondering…

Is writing something that happens in period 3 on Tuesdays? 


Are your learners constantly picking up a pen (iPad) to write their reflections, thoughts and ideas?


Is writing a task that you set?


Do your students have time to write (something!) every single day? 


Do you write?


Do you wonder if  your writing is ‘good enough’?

Just write…

Image: Jenna Avery

Understanding learning…

We started the school year at each grade level, with an inquiry (directly or indirectly) into learning. A unit that set the tone for all the coming units. The intention was to focus students’ awareness of themselves as learners and help build learning communities in our classrooms and in our school.

As Dylan William says in the clip below, ‘We can train students to be better observers of their own learning so that they can take ownership of their learning…’

Browsing some of the class blogs, I came across this insightful reflection by Abby in Year 6. With Abby’s permission, I am posting it here to inspire teachers and learners alike…

I have done a lot of learning this term. Every challenge I have faced has improved my learning. Every day I have brought something home with me from what I have done in class and discussed it with my family. My thinking has been deeper and more insightful and I’ve refined my learning routines and now I can put my thinking into words easily and efficiently. I can generalise any learning and reading I do and turn long paragraphs into short sentences.

This year I have a notebook called a bubble catcher. I put my thoughts and ideas into this book and I can refer to it if I need to remember what I’ve learnt. It has been a really good way to think. Whenever I write one idea it makes me think about a new one and I end up filling three or four pages.

I can cooperate with my classmates and act responsibly. I use my initiative and do what is right without being told what to do. I have asked lots of questions and reflected on the answers.

This year, after thinking for a long time and talking to others, I have found something out. Learning never stops. Every idea you get will lead you to something new. You follow the path until you reach yet another idea, one that will teach you a new lesson. You make mistakes, but each mistake is worth it, because you will learn from it.

Talking about learning…

Our approach to the PYP exhibition unit is very different this year. 

The focus is on students talking about their learning… 

The central idea is ‘Developing an awareness and understanding of inequity empowers us to act’. Within the context of this broad conceptual understanding, students choose to inquire into a variety of inequities, ranging from racial stereotyping to school bullying, homelessness, animal cruelty, support for people with disabilities, and more.

After our opening conference day and other provocations to encourage engagement with the big ideas, students are provided with many opportunities to unpack the issues and think deeply about what matters to them, by talking… amongst themselves, with their own and other teachers, with students from other classes, with their own and other parents. 

One-on-one conversations…

Having the support of the entire upper primary teaching staff (and others!) for at least one lesson a week, allows time for every student to discuss what interests them and why, one-on-one with an adult . In some cases it takes several such conversations before students discover what they care deeply about and would like to explore. It’s a safe, supportive forum in which to explain the reasons behind their choice and the connection to their own life. As their inquiries unfold, these conversations serve to encourage, guide and validate. Some questioning and probing help them articulate their learning and plan how to proceed.


Students post up sticky notes indicating what they would like to discuss. By the afternoon these are sorted and like-minded groups are formed, across the four Year 6 classes. With a teacher to facilitate if required, the students share what they have learned so far, generate ideas, raise questions and concerns. They use a Google doc to record the conversation and share resources. It’s an opportunity to find  learners outside their own classes with whom to collaborate.


At several points along the way, an audience is invited in, providing another one-on-one opportunity for learners to share and take stock of new learning, respond to questions and reflect on the process so far. On one occasion it is parents who volunteer, on another it’s a Year 5 class. The students’ reflections indicate that the checkpoints are beneficial in keeping them on track, building confidence, receiving authentic feedback and helping them consider where to head next. 

The exhibition…

Last year, every group had a booth, backboard and table and a great deal of time was spent making these look attractive. There were posters, signs, presentations, games, cards and decorations. This year students are recording and reflecting on their learning journey in notebooks or on blogs, but for the exhibition itself each student will choose one mode of presentation only. It might be a poster, a movie, a painting, a photograph or a song. Whatever they choose needs to be a powerful and effective hook to engage the guests in conversation.

The focus is on students talking about their learning… 

The story so far…

What really matters

What would you do if you could change the world?

A different kind of conference

A different kind of conference -2

Student Voices

Beautiful cello music track in the video played by Michael Goldschlager.