What would you do if you could change the world?

Do you ever wish you were eleven again?

Melbourne film maker Genevieve Bailey looks back fondly on that age as a time of simplicity and hope. So much so, that she chose to interview eleven year old children on her travels around the world and make a documentary. We saw the film yesterday with Year 6 students (mostly aged 11) and loved it.


What would you do if you could change the world?

This was my favourite of the questions Year 6 teachers asked the students to consider before seeing the film. It was one of a series of questions Genevieve asked all kinds of eleven year olds she encountered in fifteen countries over a period of several years.

Responses from Year 6 at my school…


  • The first thing I would do if I could change the world is distribute money evenly to all the countries so no one would be in poverty.
  • The thing I would do to change the world is to give everyone a house and an education or occupation. I would also put a cheap supermarket near every village or city.
  • Make sure that every one got on with each other.
  • Give everyone the same rights.
  • Make everything free!
  • I would stop homelessness and build wells so people could have clean water.
  • I would ban cigarettes but do it in a way that nobody will get angry or sad.
  • If I could change the world I would have world peace and there would be no war.
  • Make Australian footy a world wide sport.


Other questions included ‘What do you like most and least about being eleven?’, ‘What do you worry about?’, ‘Would you rather be clever or good looking?’ How could we take better care of the environment?’ and ‘What do you think will happen in the future?’ (You can see the remaining questions and responses here on their blog.)

After the showing, the students met Genevieive for a Q and A session. She seemed delighted to have an eleven year old audience share their wonderings about the eleven year olds in her film. As a non eleven year old in the audience, I was taken with both the thoughtfulness of the questions and the unaffected enthusiasm of Genevieve’s answers.

Back at school, the students reflected on the film…

‘I was really was blown away when the girl in India said that if she could have anything she would want money to build a house, and then the girl in the USA said she would want a four day weekend’.

‘People may look and sound different but we always have something in common…People who have more want more but people who don’t have a lot want everyone to be happy. People who don’t have as much as me still think the same as me.’

‘I now think that how you feel at a certain age depends on where you live and who you are. I think that someone who lives in an orphanage at 11 and someone who live in America or Australia with a family and a big house will think differently.’

‘People with a lot of things don’t think about what they have they just want more while people with nothing only want what they need to survive. I think that we should be grateful for what we have and not always wanting more. I think that the orphans enjoyed there life the same as the people with stuff’.

When I was eleven, I doubt I had the capacity to express my thinking in this way. If I thought at all about important issues, it certainly didn’t happen at school. Learning about the world consisted of knowing the names of capital cities and recognising flags. I remember learning historical ‘facts’ by heart without evaluating their truth or considering different perspectives. And I don’t recall ever being encouraged to think about changing the world…

I am often struck by the depth of thinking witnessed in many of our students today. Is it because through concept driven learning and an inquiry approach, students engage with big ideas from a young age? Watching, and thinking deeply about, this film is just the beginning for these students, about to explore the notion of inequity for their PYP exhibition unit.

Their central idea is: Developing an awareness and understanding of inequity empowers us to act. Thinking about who you are, your place in the world and what you’d like to change seems like an excellent start.

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.

10 tips for workshop presenters any teachers…

I once spent a whole day in a professional development workshop for second language teachers and I learned how to make a fold-up book. That’s all. Nothing else.

When I’m not stimulated and challenged in a learning context, I tend to get impatient and have to watch my body language, so as not to make my dissatisfaction obvious to the whole room. As an educator, though, there should always be something I can learn. If the content doesn’t engage me, I can learn by observing the presenters…

Throughout the excellent IB Workshop Leader Training, the trainers, consciously and unconsciously, modelled presentation techniques. Trainee workshop leaders were encouraged to stand out front and present in groups. It was inspiring to see such passionate educators find creative, engaging ways to share their knowledge and learning. It was an opportunity to observe, watch, listen… and learn.

Ten tips for workshop presenters  any teachers…

1. Speak in your own voice.

Be genuine and natural. Don’t use a ‘presenter voice’.

2. Don’t speak too much.

As lovely as you might sound, less is more. Keep it simple. Get to the point.

3. Share your passion.

Inspire others with your enthusiasm. If you’re excited by what you’re saying, the audience will be too.

4. Be sensitive to your audience.

Are they yawning? Have they tuned out? Are they checking their email? (Draw your own conclusions!)

5. Listen responsively.

Listen and respond to participants. Show that you value their input.

6. Have a sense of humour.

Laugh at yourself. Laugh with (but not at) your audience.

7. An image speaks a thousand words.

Dump your Powerpoint if it’s overloaded with information. Don’t read from your slides. Use powerful images and as few words as possible as prompts.

8. Provoke the participants.

Make them think. Challenge them. Keep them active.

9. Encourage reflection.

Include thinking time. Allow enough time to talk and construct meaning.

10. Be humble.

You don’t know it all…

IB Workshop Leader Training Day #4

Are adult learners different from young learners?

I’m currently participating in a training course for IB educators to become officially recognised IB Workshop Leaders. Learning with and from passionate, knowledgeable and driven educators, with diverse backgrounds and experiences, is proving to be engaging and exciting. I’m enjoying the challenge of being pushed to think about learning in a different context.

I notice again and again, that the issues discussed, the tips the leaders offer, the problems we grapple with and the strategies shared all apply just as much in teaching and learning at school as they do in running adult workshops.

We reflect individually on the conditions that support and hinder our own learning, and then share in groups. There’s much commonality… and difference, of course, and the leaders point out that all these are considerations to bear in mind when running workshops for other adults.

These are some of the factors that come up in the conversation:

(Notice anything?)

As adult learners, we value…

  • Opportunities to interact with other learners.
  • A sense of  learning something new.
  • Enough time to talk, reflect and construct meaning.
  • An interesting presenter, aware of participants’ needs.
  • Engaging and provocative issues to grapple with.
  • A range of perspectives.
  • A clear purpose.
  • A variety of presentation styles.
  • A safe environment in which to try out our ideas.
As adult learners, we don’t enjoy…
  • Being passive while a presenter lectures.
  • PowerPoints with too many words.
  • Lack of internet access.
  • An overcrowded agenda.
  • Physical needs not being met
  • Not enough time to reflect and internalise.
  • Lack of support and follow-up.

We’re asked to examine a list of the characteristics of adult learners and consider the implications that these have for us as workshop leaders. It’s true we need to be aware that adults have accumulated a (longer) lifetime of knowledge and experiences that might affect our learning. Adults might come to the new learning with more preconceived ideas, stronger opinions and possibly a resistance to change. But as I work my way through the list, I’m struck again by the fact that learning is learning and there is not much difference between the way adults learn and the way children do. Before I’m criticised (yet again!) for my tendency to oversimplify, let me clarify that I am not comparing the natural curiosity and exploration of toddlers to adults studying for a PhD. (Or am I?) I’m sharing my beliefs about the ways learning works.

As an educator who thinks deeply about learning, I have spent a great deal of time over the years considering almost all the things on this list in the context of student learning. How much will I need to adjust my practice when working with adults?

These are my school’s articulated learning principles: (If you read this blog regularly, you’ll have seen these beliefs referred to repeatedly!)

Everyone has the potential to learn.

  • We learn in different ways, depending on abilities, 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.

It seems to me that if I bear these in mind, as I always need to do in learning situations, facilitating adult workshops will not be all that different from teaching in a classroom.

IB Workshop Leader Training Day #2

What should we tell the children?

This is my Great Aunt Ada.

We came across the photo in an old album and it triggered a cascade of memories for my 91-year-old mother. Ada  had Tuberculosis. She lived with my grandparents for some time, when my mother was a child, and is remembered as a wonderful aunt. My mom adored her.

When Ada died, nobody told my mother. She vividly remembers being sent to a neighbour’s house while the adult family attended the funeral. Not that she was informed that there was a funeral. My grandmother told her that Ada had gone away to England.

My mom was old enough to understand that her beloved young auntie, who had been ill for a long while,  had died.

Although it happened eighty years ago, my mom has never forgotten that her mother didn’t tell her the truth…

11 favourite posts from ’11

Adam’s reasons for posting  his 11 best posts of 2011 at  One Year in the Life of an English Teacher made me smile!  I liked the idea of linking back to my own ’11 from  ’11’  for a different reason.  It sent me down a reflective path, reminding me of successes and challenges during the course of year. It made me realise how much has changed and what still needs to.

The posts I have chosen are not necessarily my most popular posts, but I write as much for myself as for anyone else, so here are eleven of my favourite posts from 2011…

1.  10 things to do on the first day of school  (January)

2.  How do teachers learn? (February)

3.  Open the gate… (Things have changed!) (April)

4.  Does your school..? (June)

5.  A school in Pune  (July)

6. Embracing technology (August)

7.  Play House  (August)

8.  Ignite, Engage, Inspire  (September)

9. What do you mean? (October)

10. Thoughts from my own inquiry (October)

11. Where do great ideas come from? (December)

Edublog Awards 2011… or not.

Just a little over two years ago, I wrote my first blog post. I never expected to have readers at all, let alone readers all over the world, many of whom would, over time, become my friends. A year later, I was thrilled to be nominated for the Edublog Awards and proudly displayed the nomination badges in the sidebar of my blog. I didn’t care about winning, it was enough to have an acknowledgement that people out there valued what I had to say. I nominated some of my favourite blogs, knowing that as soon I hit the publish button, I would think of others I could have or should have included.

Another year later, a self-confessed addict to both reading and writing blogs, I wouldn’t know which to choose if I had to nominate favourites. Instead, I have some thoughts to share…

  • Sometimes I have so many unread posts in my reader I just mark them as ‘read’ and start all over again.
  • Sometimes I have so many tabs open with posts which I am still enjoying that my browser crashes.
  • Sometimes I clean out my reader and reduce my subscriptions, in the hope I will be able to keep up with fewer blogs.
  • At other times I keep adding new blogs till my reader is unmanageable and I would need a week off work to catch up.
  • There are some blogs I like because they echo my sentiments and every post resonates for me.
  • There are others that I like because they challenge me; they make me question and think, rethink and justify my thinking.
  • I have learned an amazing amount and grown as an educator (even after 30 years!) from reading other educators’ blogs.
  • I believe that teachers who aren’t reading education blogs and furthering their learning by engaging in social media are being left behind.
  • I often read posts that inspire me to comment, but I can’t quite find the words to add something new to the conversation.
  • I constantly email blog posts I discover to colleagues at my school because they are inspiring or challenging or interesting or all three.
  • It sometimes bothers me that my most read posts are those in my ’10 ways series’ while other posts I regard as more valuable are read less.
  • Most of the time my blog is a space to write my reflections and process my learning, as much for myself as anyone else.
  • I always, always appreciate comments on my posts, even when I don’t respond individually.

I do have two favourite blogs I’d like to mention, for different reasons, even though I have personal investment in both.

One is Inquire Within, a blog about inquiry learning in all its forms, which now has contributors from 14 different countries, across six continents. It’s great that many of the contributors are PYP teachers as I am, but even better that many are not as they provide different perspectives. I like the fact that anyone can contribute and that every post is a surprise because of the variety of voices. I love the commonality and the diversity.

The other one is a class blog. Every class at my school now has a blog, and each one is at a different stage. My favourite is the 6D blog and only partly because I have taught that class and have an attachment to both the children and their class teacher! The blog is an extension of the classroom learning, a home for visible thinking and an opportunity for promoting authentic inquiry. I love that it’s messy and creative, as learning should be.

Here’s what the two blogs have in common: inquiry, learning, authenticity, multiple voices, diversity, big ideas … and they each represent a community of learners.

Discussing educational reform…

Do you think schools sometimes take themselves too seriously?  Are you perturbed to see children in some societies being pressured to succeed at an early age? How would you like to see the school system change? What are your views on play based learning?

These were the sorts of questions that came up in my discussion with Sachin, one of the interesting people I met in Pune. Sachin is the taxi driver who met me at Mumbai airport and drove me to and from Pune. It’s a three and a half hour drive each way so we had plenty of time to chat. We talked about India and Australia, about music, films, cooking and families… and, surprisingly, about education.

Sachin has a 6 year old daughter and the educational system worries him. He’s pleased that his child attends a good English medium school, but worries about the development of her mother tongue, Marathi. Without any prompting from me, he shared his concerns about the pressure to get high marks in Indian schools and talked about the importance of play in childhood. He hates seeing his daughter lugging a heavy bag of books and doing homework at an age when he feels she should be playing. He’s convinced that learning takes place through play. He shared that he’d seen a CD of learning through songs and poems and wondered why school learning (in his context) couldn’t be more fun and engaging. I asked him if he knew that teachers around the world think about many of the same issues that he does. He responded that it’s just common sense...

It was late at night when we drove through Bombay and we took a few wrong turns on the frantic roads. Noisy trucks, cars and auto rickshaws were everywhere, weaving in and out, horns honking continuously. Sachin stopped several times to confirm that we were heading the right way. Sometimes getting back on track involved reversing on one-way roads and unnerving u-turns, but there is a system to the way the drivers maneuver in the chaos and miraculously there were no collisions. Once in a while he would ask with a grin if I was worried yet.

Dropping me at the airport, he invited me to visit his home next time I come. I look forward to it.


(5th in a series of reflections on my recent visit to Pune)