To teachers everywhere…

Inspired by this post to children, by Colleen Wilson.

In case you think it goes unnoticed…

To the teacher who changed one small thing in your classroom thereby making a difference to the learning, I see you.

To the teacher who struggled to communicate difficult news to parents and managed to make them feel supported, I see you.

To the teacher who found technology challenging but overcame fear and got the children blogging, I see you.

To the teacher who wrestled with the option of an interesting job offer and made the decision to stay and make a difference, I see you.

To the teacher who had to deal with complaints, yet has risen to the challenge and decided to become the best educator possible, I see you.

To the teacher who thought she was ordinary and had to be pushed to realise her incredible potential, I see you.

To the teacher who was afraid to let go, but is gradually beginning to hand over control to the learners, I see you.

To the unassuming teacher, reluctant to put herself out there and share the amazing learning taking place in her classroom, I see you.

To the teacher who finds difficult situations intimidating and often blames herself, but works tirelessly to make things better for other human beings, I see you.

To the teacher who worried about managing what everyone else was doing and instead had the courage to try something different, I see you.

To the teacher who shifted from ‘doing school’ to observing carefully in order to be ready when the special moment happened, I see you.

To the teacher who measured herself against others and didn’t see herself as a leader but is ready to step up now, I see you.

To the teacher fearful of change, who clung to old ways of doing things and finally leaped out of her comfort zone, I see you.

To the teacher who is filled with self doubt, always thinking he could have done better, not realising that’s how all good teachers feel, I see you.

Thank you.

(Back in 2016.)

This is how inquiry teachers teach!

Traditional pedagogy sees the teacher provide a set of instructions, make sure everyone ‘knows what to do’, explain everything and THEN students might be given some time to do a task themselves. It’s about 80% teacher led and 20% student. Inquiry-based pedagogy gets kids doing, thinking and investigating – and the explicit teaching happens in response to what the teacher sees and hears. The 80:20 ratio is reversed. Good inquiry teachers know how to get more kids thinking more deeply more of the time.

– Kath Murdoch, How do Inquiry Teachers… teach?

Jocelyn (Year 6) shares her excitement at the way her students extracted the conceptual ideas from a series of learning engagements before collaboratively developing their own ‘central ideas’. We recall a time when we thought we had to explain all of this to our learners at the beginning of the unit!

Claire (Year 5) talks about how she provoked her students’ curiosity by asking simply ‘Can graphs be persuasive?’ Instead of Claire covering the material, the kids took off on their own inquiries, discovering different kinds of graphs themselves and making connections between maths (data) literacy (persuasive writing) and their unit of inquiry into digital citizenship.

Hailey (Year 4) reflects on the process of letting go of control, as her students develop the skills to take responsibility for their own learning. She’s practising what Guy Claxton calls split screen teaching, and her kids are using the language of ‘learnacy’ to reflect on their own learning. ‘Metacognition’, once a word teachers hardly understood themselves, let alone shared with learners, is not only practised but noticed and named by Hailey’s students.

Linda (eLearning Facilitator) tells us how she’s been supporting learners in discovering effective search strategies in an authentic context in year 5. As the children googled what they needed, they uncovered what kinds of sites would give them unbiased information and she was able to respond with tips at their point of need. She highlights the difference between this kind of learning and the old way… where she would stand and teach an isolated lesson on a particular computer skill, unrelated to any particular learning context.

Lana (Maths Coordinator) shares the excitement of one of our new teachers, developing her understanding of inquiry. She took her Year 2 students out for a walk to collect data and encouraged them to observe and count whatever they like, to be represented visually later back at school. Once she would have given them all the same boring worksheet with specific items to count. This time the learners are highly engaged as they notice their surroundings, independently recording their observations and wonderings.

We relate all these shared learning experiences back to Kath Murdoch’s latest blog post ‘How do inquiry teachers… teach?’  (Every teacher should read it!)

Kath’s post is our inspiration at today’s Learning Team Leaders meeting, one of a range of such communities of practice which exist within our school’s wider learning community. Sharing practice and professional dialogue are part of our culture. Inspirational blog posts such as this one are often the trigger for our discussions.

There is nothing quite so satisfying in a school as the passion in the voices of teachers, as they talk animatedly about teaching and learning, ask provocative questions, openly express frustrations, offer each other advice and support…

The challenge is to create enough time, within the hectic demands of school life, for everyone to be involved in these conversations.

10 questions to help you become a better teacher…

I read the post 10 Questions To Help You Become A Better Teacher This School Year by Terry Heick with interest.

The post grabbed my attention as I often sum up my own ideas in ten points. It has some interesting questions for teachers to consider, but I wonder if the post perpetuates the (mistaken?) idea that we should focus mainly on what we do and how we teach in order to improve as educators. In my opinion, focusing more on learning and less on teaching is a more worthwhile endeavour.

So here’s my take. 10 (other) questions to ask yourself that I think might help you be a better teacher…

1. What do I believe about learning?

How does learning best take place? Do kids learn by listening? By doing? By finding out for themselves? Does everyone learn in different ways? Do I value collaboration? Do some kids need to work alone? Does compliance contribute to learning?

2. Does my practice reflect my beliefs?

Do I provide opportunities for learning to flourish? Are learning experiences in my class aligned with my beliefs? Do I reflect regularly and critically to check if they are? Can someone else observe my classes and give me feedback? What if I asked the kids?

3. How do I shift my focus from what I teach to how they learn?

Is my teaching responsive? Do I constantly change the plans, depending on the learning? Do I step back and listen to the learners? Do I carefully observe and record where learners are at? How do I use my observations to inform teaching and learning?

4. Is the learner at the centre of everything?

Do I know every child’s story? What makes them happy? What do they care deeply about? What bothers them? How they do like to learn? What’s not working for them? How can I help connect the learning to their personal experience?

5. Do my students own their learning?

Do I talk too much? Test too much? Am I always in control? Does every conversation need to go through me? Do my learners have choice? How can I encourage them to take responsibility for the learning?

6. How can I ‘make friends with the curriculum’?

(Thanks for the quote, Sam Sherratt). Do I let the demands of curriculum get the better of me? Am I always trying to fit things in and tick things off? Can I become really familiar with the curriculum so that it’s woven through the learning experiences? How can I make trans-disciplinary connections? Am I ready to jump in with ‘just in time’ teaching?

7. How do I encourage creativity?

Can I stop playing ‘guess what’s in my head’? Do I encourage divergent thinking? How can I help my learners seek worthwhile problems to solve, rather than just the ones I set? How can I incorporate the arts into the learning? Is imagination as important as information?

8. How can I ensure the learning space promotes learning?

Did I get rid of rows facing the front years ago? Are the tables arranged for collaboration? Do we even need all the tables? Can we change the room around, depending on the learning needs? Do we need all the ‘stuff’ that clutters the room? What makes the learners comfortable? Will some colourful cushions change the feel of the learning? Can calming music affect the mood?

9. How can I ensure I am a learner first?

Am I a connected educator? Have I built a global PLN (professional learning network) using social media? Have I been to a Teachmeet or an Edcamp? Am I constantly reading and thinking about learning? Do I create my own learning opportunities? Or do I expect PD to be done to me?

10. How can I contribute to a culture of learning?

Am I a continual learner? Do I talk about my learning? Am I open to new ways of thinking? Am I ready to learn from my colleagues and my students? Do I willingly share my ideas? Do I bring solutions and suggestions rather than problems and complaints?

OK, so there are actually more than fifty questions, if you don’t just count the headings…

Who said becoming a better teacher was easy?

10 principles of effective professional learning…


Apparently this random comment (my response to a tweet in last week’s #edchat) was well received!

This got me thinking (again) about the principles of effective professional learning for educators. In no particular order, the following points are based on my own experience.

Effective professional learning needs to be…

1. Conceptual

Effective learning for teachers is not always about things you can try tomorrow, but rather big ideas that shift your understanding of teaching and learning.

2. Self directed

Teachers need opportunities to set their own goals, choose their own learning and follow their own interests. (Sometimes the most effective medium to achieve that is social media.)

3. Inquiry driven

The most effective learning isn’t usually ‘delivered and received’. Teachers need to question, experiment, apply, find and solve problems, engage in action reasearch.

4. Collaborative

Learn with and from others. build a personal learning network. Create communities of practice in your own school, your neighbourhood, the world…

5. Creative

Think beyond one-size-fits-all PD delivered by ‘experts’ on special days set aside for the purpose. Create your own learning opportunities. Visit other classes. Start voluntary groups. Participate in Teachmeets. Engage via Twitter and blogs. Find your own people!

6. Personalised

How often are teachers compelled to attend one-size-fits-no-one sessions, not relevant to their current programs, practice, interests or experience? Even on school wide ‘PD days‘, teachers can have a choice.

7. Reflective

Too often, teachers are expected to shift rapidly from one ‘topic’ to the next (@lisaburman called it ‘Hit and run’). Effective learning includes sufficient time for reflection, application… and further reflection.

8. Active

Learning is often less effective when the expectation is for learners to listen passively. There need to be active participation and engagement, opportunities to interact, reflect and construct meaning.

9. Enjoyable
(I crowd sourced this one). Teachers like their professional learning to include humour and a sense of fun. It doesn’t need to be a boring chore!

10. Challenging

Professional learning (like any learning) can be messy. There should be tensions to work through and big ideas to connect. It goes beyond solutions and formulae and things to try out tomorrow… which takes us back to where we started!

Of course, all of this applies to any learners, not just teachers. Try replacing the word ‘teachers’ throughout the above post with ‘students’, or simply ‘learners’… which takes me back to a post I wrote a while ago about adult vs child learners. What are your thoughts on that?

What’s been your best professional learning experience? Did it fit the above criteria? What have a I missed?

10 ways to create a learning culture…

I first posted this at the start of 2011…

A new school year is about to begin in Australia. It’ll be the first time in nearly 30 years that I don’t have a class to teach and it’s not an easy adjustment! For as long as I can remember, I have started the year by planning the first day for my new classes. Reflecting on all those new beginnings, I realise how much teaching and learning have changed… and how much have changed.

What needs to happen on ‘Day 1’ ?

I used to think…

  1. Explain your expectations.
  2. Establish rules.
  3. Know everyone’s names.
  4. Arrange seats to minimalise talking.
  5. Organise books.
  6. Talk about homework.
  7. Tell them what they’ll be learning.
  8. Make sure they listen.
  9. Get students working right away.
  10. Show a firm hand.

Now I think…

  1. Ask about their expectations.
  2. Create an essential agreement.
  3. Know everyone’s story.
  4. Arrange learning spaces to encourage collaboration.
  5. Demonstrate that you value thinking.
  6. Talk about learning.
  7. Ensure they know that they own their learning.
  8. Make sure you listen.
  9. Show you’re a part of the learning community.
  10. Laugh…

10 ways to create a learning culture…

Two years later, I still like that list. I work more with teachers than with children, these days,  and I notice that the points apply just as much to starting a new year of professional learning with teachers. So here’s the list again, with suitably relevant (different!) links…

  1. Ask about their expectations.
  2. Create an essential agreement.
  3. Know everyone’s story.
  4. Arrange learning spaces to encourage collaboration.
  5. Demonstrate that you value thinking.
  6. Talk about learning.
  7. Ensure they know that they own their learning.
  8. Make sure you listen.
  9. Show you’re a part of the learning community.
  10. Laugh…

… and a more relevant title!

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

Questions about curriculum…


Letter to an imaginary educator…

Dear Anon,

As an educational leader, do you think your decisions should be based on beliefs about how learning best takes place?

Here are my school’s articulated learning principles:

  •      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 includes acquisition of skills and knowledge, constructing meaning and transferring 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.

I have a few questions for you to consider:

What are your beliefs about learning? Do they coincide with ours?

Did you know that a curriculum should not be static, but constantly revisited and updated  to be current, relevant and promote authentic learning?

Do you think a curriculum has to be a set of books with prescriptive instructions for teachers?

Are you aware that workbooks do not usually foster meaningful learning?

Do you realize that teachers are capable, thinking human beings and don’t need prescribed programs in order to teach?

Do you know that prescriptive programs tend to stifle creativity and discourage teachers from pursuing new ideas and experimenting with different options?

Have you considered investing the money you currently spend on pre-packaged programs in freeing up teachers to think, learn and construct meaningful learning experiences for their students?

Have you ever asked students about what engages them and how they learn best?

Have you spent much time in a student centred classroom seeing how inquiry fosters a love of learning ?

Have you entertained the possibility that administrative matters can be dealt with via email and conversations in meetings should be about teaching and learning?

Have you considered that people with experience and a track record in successful teaching and learning might have something worthwhile to contribute?

Did you notice that education has changed and is constantly changing and that classrooms should not look the same as they did five, ten, or fifteen years ago?

Watch this video,  it might help…

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Do you believe all educators should be learners first and foremost?

Do you lead by example?

Kind Regards,


What do you mean?

How often do you assume that students get ‘what you mean‘ without checking to see if it correlates with ‘what they mean‘?

How do you know if ‘what you mean‘ is the same as ‘what they mean‘ when you converse with your colleagues or work in a team?

Do you ever find yourself in a setting where you wonder if what ‘what you mean‘ is different from ‘what they mean‘? I’m certain there are times and contexts where I imagine we mean the same thing… but we don’t.


What do you mean when you talk about students?

Do you mean the kids in your class who have to do what you say? Learners who sometimes misbehave and get off task and need to be disciplined? Human beings with feelings, talents, limitations, interests, stories and rights?

What do you mean when you talk about team meetings?

Do you mean disseminating information and instructions to the team? Rehashing things the same way you did them last time? Ticking off items on your agenda? Listening to everyone’s opinions and sharing ideas in the spirit of true collaboration? Providing opportunities for everyone to lead and instigate change?

What do you mean when you talk about your learning space?

Do you mean the classroom where your students work? The whole building, inside and out where space can be shared with other learners? Your class blog, Google, Skype, the internet? The whole world?

What do you mean when you talk about literacy?

Do you mean the ability to read and write? Interpreting and creating still and moving images? The ability to locate, organise and evaluate information using digital technology? The ability to express ideas and opinions, to make decisions and solve problems?

What do you mean when you talk about professional development?

Do you mean compulsory, imposed whole staff sessions presented by ‘experts’, usually from outside the school? Active, engaging workshops with opportunities to share, create and debate? Continuous learning from and with a global community of educators, via social media?

What do you mean when you talk about teaching?

Do you mean transferring information to students? Delivering content and covering curriculum? Listening carefully to kids’ conversations and asking provocative or guiding questions? Providing engaging opportunities for learners to construct meaning in different ways? Asking learners how they would like to learn?

What do you mean when you talk about learning?

Do you mean students absorbing information and passing a test on it? Kids answering questions you have set for them? Students asking their own questions and seeking answers? Learners taking ownership of their learning, pursuing their own inquiries, following their passions, experimenting with what’s possible, creating valuable content, collaborating globally, making a difference in the world?

Has your meaning changed?

Is it continually changing…?