Does your school…?

Does every school have…

moments that are exhilarating, when the excitement of learning is palpable, everyone has an opportunity to learn and express themselves in their own way and teachers and learners are collaborators in the learning process?


moments of despair, where nothing goes to plan, technology fails or unexpected interruptions hinder learning?

Does every school have…

teachers who understand learning, who love to learn themselves, who provoke student inquiry and aren’t afraid to try new things to move learning forward?


teachers who go through the motions, with their eyes on the clock and who think teaching is just a job?

Does every school have…

units that inspire teachers and learners, provide opportunities for creativity and collaboration, engage the learners and excite them to want to inquire, explore and learn?


units that fall off the rails because of poor planning or misunderstanding or shortage of time or lack of motivation?

Does every school have…

leaders (at all levels) who are passionate about learning, who motivate, empower and innovate, who instigate change and shape culture?


leaders who dictate and enforce, focus on what’s expedient instead of on the learning and possibly don’t even care?

Does your school?


First day of school…in Sri Lanka

Guest post by Clive in Sri Lanka (cross posted at his blog)

#10 in the series ‘Learning in different contexts’

This morning I totally forgot it was Tuesday and it suddenly hit me that I should be at the little school up the road.  I dropped everything and pedalled like a crazy thing, arriving at 09:00 instead of 08:00.  I needn’t have worried – it turned out that there were no lessons planned, but there was to be a ‘function’!  All over Sri Lanka, today was the day to welcome the Grade One youngsters to their new schools.

There’s a real sense of community at that school, almost like belonging to one big family.  Everyone knows everyone else and I guess there’s a strong social interdependence.  I spoke to my teacher-friend, Mr Misthar whose daughter was starting today and he not only seemed to know all the parents but he knew all the children too!

The parents had arrived, with their offspring in smart, new, spotless whites and blues, and the children were all mingling and chatting away.  There was no hanging on to Mum’s coat tails – these kids were happy and excited, if perhaps a little overwhelmed.

The other children arranged themselves (the older ones organising the younger ones) into two lines, but after about 15 minutes in the baking sun it became apparent that power was needed for playing the national anthem so there was a half hour delay while coils of wire and extension leads were found and slung up to convey the power to the classroom.  The older boys took charge of this – no one told them what to do as far as I could tell.  OK, it was a bit chaotic but they got there.  I can’t imagine “Health & Safety” allowing kids to climb on the roofs, twist bare wires together and stick the ends in power sockets using matchsticks, can you?  Heaven forbid they actually operate switches!

The boys also wired up the sound system and microphone – we were having the full works today!  You may remember that I said the school had no electricity.  Well, the bill was finally paid by the Education Department and the power restored last Friday.  The Principal was quick to remind me that my organisation, AdoptSriLanka, had promised them a CD player.  I said I’d get that ball rolling.

So, after the electrics had been sorted and decorations hastily (but skillfully) put up, the new children were escorted by Grades 2 and 3 between two rows of cheering and clapping kids to their new classroom.  And they really meant it – they were truly welcoming the little ones into this next stage of their lives.

I was the only non-local there and I felt very honoured and privileged to be accepted and permitted to join with the celebrations.  As in India, there were a couple of VIPs there who may have been from the mosque or the council, I have no idea, and they made their long and impressive speeches.  Truthfully, they weren’t too excessive, thank goodness.  All the time the kids were popping out to the toilets or chatting, as were their parents – no one batted an eyelid.  The speeches were followed by the Grades 2 and 3 doing little routines and recitals, and all with about fifty of sixty hot bodies in the not overly-large classroom, with little or no ventilation.

After all this, the new children took a turn at the microphone!  They had apparently learned songs and movements at pre-school classes and they were proud to share them.  It was great!  These kids felt totally unfazed and at home, even after an hour and a half of celebrations.  Amazing, and a pleasure to watch!

At the very end, each child was presented with a stack of government-supplied workbooks and three sets of clothing, plus a brown bag with bits and pieces in – maybe some pencils and pens.  Whatever it was, the children were happy to receive it.

The whole thing was compèred by a young girl, not from the school, who was obviously very practised in such things and did her job very professionally.  And finally, juice and bites appeared from nowhere, served by some of the Grade 6 students.  In all, there was great involvement from all the students, whether in front of the audience or behind the scenes, and all of them seemed to accept their roles and duties as if it was the most natural thing in the world – they simply got on with it.


Rewriting school…

Learning is a story…

It’s a story filled with dialogue… conversation between teachers and students, collaboration between learners, questions and answers, discussion and debate. It’s a mystery, a fantasy, an adventure story. Every learner focuses on a different aspect of the story and makes it real for himself. Every learner reads it in her own way and has her own interpretation. Some find it challenging and struggle to understand it. Others are thrilled by its complexity and constantly seeking to uncover new layers. Some question the story, some accept it and others reinvent it. Learners might re-tell the story, illustrate it, photograph it, digitise it, dramatise it or set it to music. Some will share the story and others will keep it to themselves. Some will take it with them, keep it in their hearts and minds and never let it go.

If you’re lucky, your school story can be beautifully written. It can have an enticing opening that hooks you in and makes you want to come back for more, a fascinating plot that unfolds enticingly, peopled with wonderful characters who invite you in, and a rewarding ending that leaves you wanting to continue learning forever.

Or it might be the disappointing kind of story whose content is presented in an uninteresting way, with disconnected sections that don’t gel together, boring characters and an unappealing plot. It might be the kind of story that you have to force yourself to finish, or perhaps even abandon before the end.


Why leave it to chance?

Let’s  look at our schools and our classes and see if we need to rewrite their stories. Let’s ensure that each learner can read the story in any way that suits her. Let’s encourage every learner to write his own version of the story. Let’s make sure that the story connects meaningfully with their life stories.

Learning is a story. If it draws you in, it’s a story that has no end…


It’s learning that matters… isn’t it?

This powerful presentation by high school students got me thinking…

My experience of school today differs greatly from that of the students in the video. Given that I work at a privileged school in a developed country, I’m wondering what other factors affect my perception of reality.

I teach at a primary school…

Teaching and learning looks very different than it does in middle and high schools. But does it have to? Consider this letter to a middle school teacher. Be inspired by innovations like Monika Hardy’s students redefining school.

I teach at a private school…

Our mission states that we promote excellence by means of inquiry and critical thinking and that we develop the student’s whole personality by offering a wide range of activities, inside and outside of the classroom.

I teach at a PYP school…

‘We aim to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect’ (IBO mission).  Our beliefs about learning include inquiry as a stance and students taking responsibility for their own learning

I teach in Australia…

A friend in the US is constantly surprised by the things I share about education in Australia and insists that our education system is way ahead. This week we talked about ‘family life’ sessions (sexuality education) and outdoor ed school camps, for instance.

I think how lucky I am to work in a school where learning truly matters and every student’s potential and talents are valued.

But then I remember the recently created Australian My School site which publishes a comparison of school results based on national standardized tests. I think about the fact that we are now constantly being reminded that Naplan results matter… and I can’t help but wonder where we are headed…

(Thanks, Kirsten for posting the video at Cooperative Catalyst)


Compliance vs Initiative…

When she was a young child,  my daughter was once asked to leave a pottery class.  This was because when the teacher insisted every child make the same object, she usually had her own ideas for what she wanted to create.  Expelled from an art class for non compliance.  For creativity…

This is the entire post from Seth Godin’s blog, the other day..

“Compliance is simple to measure, simple to test for and simple to teach. Punish non-compliance, reward obedience and repeat.

Initiative is very difficult to teach to 28 students in a quiet classroom. It’s difficult to brag about in a school board meeting. And it’s a huge pain in the neck to do reliably.

Schools like teaching compliance. They’re pretty good at it.

To top it off, until recently the customers of a school or training program (the companies that hire workers) were buying compliance by the bushel. Initiative was a red flag, not an asset.

Of course, now that’s all changed. The economy has rewritten the rules, and smart organizations seek out intelligent problem solvers. Everything is different now. Except the part about how much easier it is to teach compliance.”

Food for thought.  As a teacher, do you teach compliance? Punish non-compliance? Reward obedience?  Do you value initiative? Creativity? Problem solving?  Even if it comes with non-compliance?  Do you think schools have changed with the times?  Is compliance still valued above initiative in some classrooms?

‘I can’…

The PYP curriculum emphasises the development of 5 essential elements: knowledge, concepts,skills, attitudes and action.  Ideally, responsible, student-initiated action comes as a result of the learning process.  It may be an extension of students’ learning or it may have a wider social impact.  The PYP action model allows students the opportunity to choose to act, decide on their actions, and then reflect, in order to make a difference.

The action component of the PYP can involve service in the widest sense of the word: service to fellow students, and to the larger community, both in and outside the school. Through such service, students are able to grow both personally and socially, developing skills such as cooperation, problem solving, conflictresolution, and creative and critical thinking.  (Making the PYP Happen)

Kiran Bir Sethi of Riverside School in Ahmedabad, talks about being infected by the ‘I can‘ bug.  She says empowering children to take responsibility moves them from ‘Teacher told me’ to ‘I can. ‘   Watch this inspiring TED talk to see what student action can look like.

PYP Key Concept: Responsibility. Series of posts through the lens of key concepts of PYP.


At our school, teachers complain that the computers are not fast enough, parents complain if their child doesn’t get the teacher they hoped for, students complain if they don’t get into the sports team of their choice…

To gain some perspective on the insignificance of our complaints, we should perhaps take a moment to read about the discrimination against Dalits (‘untouchable caste’) in Gujarat, India, and the impact this has on children in schools.

An article in The Times of India yesterday described mid-day meals in schools thus:

“We are made to sit separately during the lunch hour,” says Vijay Sitapara, 9, who belongs to the Valmiki caste, the lowest of the socially downtrodden. Vijay, who studies in class IV at the government primary school in Modhvana, says schoolmates from other castes avoid having food with them.

While other backward class children would still have food, though seated separately from the Dalits, higher caste pupils stay away altogether from mid-day meals at this school because the food is cooked by a Dalit. “I come from a Dalit family. Naturally, higher caste members will not eat what I cook,” says Gauri Vankar.

Even as the syllabus teaches equality, students learn lessons in untouchability in practice. All Dalit students are forbidden from participating in cultural events. Valmikis have to also clean up school toilets. ..”

See the whole article here and others from The Times of India about the issues of Dalit rights here and here.

PYP Key Concept: Perspective.   Series of posts through the lens of key concepts of PYP.

photo from flickr by Feuilla