I’m here – listening, learning, reflecting, changing.

Hopefully every educator in the world right now is taking this time to reflect about their role and responsibility in the Black Lives Matter movement.

I know I am.

As someone who is early in their own personal and professional journey of deep reflection and self inquiry, I don’t know exactly what to say or exactly how to contribute. I don’t feel like I have any tips or advice or suggestions. I don’t feel comfortable telling others what to do, because I am still trying to figure that out for myself.

But I also don’t want to stay silent either. I don’t want to be neutral. I want to publicly stand together with the rest of humanity at this important point in history.

So although I don’t feel I have anything new or novel to share to the conversation, I want to still speak up. I want to be open, honest and vulnerable.

All I feel I can share at this moment, is what I’m personally doing in my own journey to become anti-racist.

Which is currently…. listeninglearning and reflecting.

I’m provoking my own thinking about how, as an international educator, I am part of the problem. Reading these three articles really helped me contextualize the issues of equality and systemic racism, and how they specifically live and spread within the unique environments of international schools.

International education perpetuates structural racism and anti-racism is the solution

Black Lives Matter: An Open Letter to the AISB Community

An Open Letter to the International School Community: Our Role in the Black Lives Matter Movement and Anti-Racism Work 

I’m taking advice from my students. I am honoured to work at a school with an amazing student body, who has published this site called “80 Ways“. It suggests 10 books, 10 podcasts, 10 websites, 10 films, 10 articles, 10 accounts as well as actions, petitions and donation recommendations for understanding and supporting the movement. I plan to use this as a library as I continue to learn and grow and take action.

I’m confronting my own implicit bias, ignorance and privilege. I’m not shying away from conversations, or trying to present myself in a certain light. I’m trying to critically and harshly see these things in myself and trying to be brutally honest and vulnerable in discussions with family, friends and colleagues about it.

I’m thinking about my impact as PYPC and AP, and the responsibility I have to place anti-racism at the center of everything I do.  I’m auditing and documenting the changes I can make to unit planning processes, curriculum design, staff orientation, professional development, dress code, school policies and resource purchasing to ensure I help break the cycle of systemic racism at international schools.

I’m reflecting on the impetus, now more than ever, to shift the paradigm of education. For years I’ve been joining many others around the world calling for a drastic change to the current way we “do school”. But it wasn’t until coming across provocative articles like this one that got me wondering about the connection between re-imagining education and the Black Lives Matter movement. Now more than ever, I feel driven to continue to advocate for a new approach to education that rejects our current power-imbalanced, compliance-based model, to one that is more humane and democratic for all. Now, more than ever, I see the need to be rebels, not robots and push back against the system in which most of us have been indoctrinated, for sustainable and enduring change.

I am nothing, if not a learner. So I am open… to resources, to discussion, to conversation, to suggestion and to feedback.

I want to be a better ally in this fight – and I’m open to help with that journey.

I am here to listen. I am here to learn. I am here to help.

I am here.

Re-Opening Voices

I think by now, all us educators are acutely aware of the small crack in the door that has presented itself for truly re-imagining education when we re-open our school campuses.

It’s an exciting opportunity, but can also feel like a one-shot chance for pushing the envelope and shifting the paradigm.

“The Quest stands upon the edge of knife. Stray but a little, and it will fail.”

Although we’re not setting out with Gandalf to save Middle Earth, Galadrial’s words help us remember how important, and likely, fragile this opportunity is.

So how can we make sure we don’t waste this chance? How can we make sure we don’t repeat the mistakes we’ve made in the past? How can we make sure true change is brought about?

I think our answer comes from the second half of that quote:

“Hope remains while the company is true.”

But reflecting on who gets to be part of the “company” on this quest is essential.

What voices are included in making decisions about re-opening? What voices are neglected or excluded?

At our school, we want our re-opening plans to include the reflections, suggestions and ideas of our entire learning community. So before the school year ended and everyone began their holiday, we made sure to ask.

We made sure to ask what lessons we learned from Distance Learning that we could apply to future attempts at Distance Learning. And more importantly, what lessons we learned from Distance Learning that we could apply to to face-to-face school.

 

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We asked our entire staff:

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We asked every single one of  our learners:

(In written form for the older learners)

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(And with videos and voice option for the younger learners)

We asked our whole parent community:

Our next steps are to code that qualitative data from the surveys, draw conclusions from the trends and use those conclusions to inform the work we do over the coming months to get ready to re-open school in the fall.

So now, hopefully, our re-opening plans are not merely the reflection of what a handful of leaders think, but rather the leaders are able to make decisions and create something representative of what our entire community thinks.

What else could we be doing to ensure we don’t waste this chance to push the boundaries of what school could be?

What else could be doing to ensure our planning process is inclusive of all voices?

Something Special…

This year I was new to my role and new to my school.

Well, I should say “new-ish” because before working at this school, I was actually lucky enough to have visited this school the year before; as a consultant.

And when I was there last year as a visitor – I kept thinking to myself, “This staff is something special” Even when I got back to my school at the time, anytime anyone asked me about how my workshop went and what they school was like, I just kept saying “The staff was really special.”

And although I could identify the special-ness… I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what it was that made them so, well, special.

Lucky for me, I joined that school, so I had the whole year to try and figure it out!

Now the school year has come to an end, and I think I have discovered just what is so special about this collection of educators.

They are learners.

All of them. Every single one. Despite their role – teacher, teaching assistant, counsellor, integrationist, pedagogical coach, principal – each and every person that makes up the Primary staff has the heart and soul of a true PYP learner.

All year I was seeing glimpses of this. Enthusiasm for growing, an insatiable desire for support, constant questions. Anytime I would offer optional professional learning sessions or courses – there they would be! Ready to learn.

But it wasn’t until our end of year reflections, that I saw the true extent of this.

Our whole staff participated in 3 end of year reflections that looked through the following  lenses.

How have I grown as an educator?

We asked each staff member to reflect upon and notice and name the ways in which they have grown in their specific role. And either choose an artifact that already exists, or create something to synthesize, summarize and share that growth with the rest of the community. We used a Padlet as a central place to post these reflections.

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How have I grown as a learner?

Then we asked each staff member to reflect upon how they have grown as a learner this year. Specifically by choosing 1 skill in each of the 5 ATL categories that they feel they have strengthened or honed. We used Flipgrid as a central place to post these reflections.

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How have I grown as a person?

Next we asked each staff member to reflect upon how they have grown as a person. We encouraged them to reflect on what attributes of the Learner Profile they have developed over the past year. Since, this one was a little more personal, we used PearDeck to collect everyone’s reflections more privately.

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No convincing needed. No pulling teeth. Everyone just jumped right in!

I was blown away, not only by the willingness to be open and vulnerable to publicly share these reflection with one another. But the actual reflections themselves, revealed practitioners who see themselves as learners, understand themselves as learners, and who approach their own personal and professional growth as a life-long, on-going process. A process in which they have ownership over and see as within their control.

In my role as PYP Coordinator and Assistant Principal, this is treasure!

Trying to help a teacher, become a better teacher, can be challenging.

Trying to help a learner, help themself become a better teacher, is a true pleasure.

Many PYP schools strive to be a community of learners. This year, I had the privilege of living and breathing what that is actually like on a daily basis.

And it was pretty, freakin’ special. ❤️

Pedagogy 101 For PYP Parents

All week long I haven’t been able to stop thinking about a request that one of our parents made during our virtual “Parent Coffee”. Throughout this Distance Learning adventure, our Parent Coffees have provided space for the voices, opinions, perspectives and needs of our Primary School parent community. Each time, I leave with a page full of notes which lead to reflection, action and adjustments. But this time was different. This time my thinking was provoked – in a larger, more substantial way.

She was talking about how, inevitably, parents have taken on a bigger role in their children’s learning, and in most cases are now sharing in some of the roles and responsibilities that normally are fulfilled by teachers in face-to-face school. And as such, requested some help. Help that goes beyond what their children need to focus on and where to find resources and activities. Help more specifically focused on how to support their children in their learning; the pedagogical tips and tricks, us educators have in our back pocket when we are helping learners.

I’m sure parents at any school are likely overwhelmed at the prospect of taking more responsibility supporting their children’s learning. Now factor in what it must feel like to be a parent at a PYP school that is built on inquiry-based, concept-driven, agency supportive approaches to education. Wanting to help their child… but not being sure exactly how to do so.

We have to remember that most parents are not educators. They don’t have multiple degrees in education. They haven’t read endless books and blog posts. They don’t have resumes full of PD workshops. Understandably so, it’s our career – not theirs.

So how can we help? How can we share what we’ve learned through all those degrees, books and blogs, courses and workshops into something manageable and helpful that we can transfer over to them?

Here is my attempt. A pedagogy distilled. Condensed. Simplified.

Dedicated not only the wonderful parents at my school, but to all PYP parents around the world partnering with us during these difficult times to support their children.

1. Take an inquiry stance

Meet a question with a question. Often our first instinct when a child asks us a question is to provide an answer. But this approach can prevent a golden opportunity to have learners not only learn that thing, but also learn something about how to learn. So next time your child asks you a question (“How do you spell ….?” “How do you multiply fractions?” “What are the types of energy?”), no matter what the question is, instead of supplying the answer, try responding like this:

Great question! How could you find that out? What resource could you use to discover that? How could you figure that out?

Be prepared to inquire together. Sometimes, when you meet a question with a question, you get an “I don’t know”. That is an invitation to a great teachable moment! If your child doesn’t know how to find out on their own or what resource to use, you can step in as their partner and respond like this:

No problem! Let’s figure it out together. Maybe we can try this…. Have you ever used this… Let’s see if this resource has the answer….

This way you are still supporting them to figure out what they are trying to figure out, but along the way you’ve also helped develop their skill as an independent learner – so the next time, instead of needing to ask you, they might have some ways to figure it out on their own.

Ask the magic question – “What do you notice?”. No matter what subject, what area of learning, or what age – the secret ingredient to inquiry-based learning is asking learners to think about what they notice. Whether your child is learning their letters and looking at the letter “B”, or building their multiplication fluency by looking at a multiplication table, or developing their scientific knowledge by studying a model of a cell…. that one question works every time, and can always be followed up with “what else do you notice?” to probe for further thinking.

Don’t feel you have to be an expert, just be a learner. It is okay to not know something. In fact that presents an amazing opportunity to model your own approaches to learning. Feel confident to say, “I don’t know” or, “I have no idea”. Just make sure to follow it up with, “But now I want to know, so here is how I am going to find out!” or, “Let’s figure this out together!”

2. Support conceptual understanding

Value process. As often as possible get your child thinking beyond what they did and what they learned, and more about how they learned. Some great questions include:

How did you do that? Why did you do that? What strategy did you use? How did you learn that strategy? What steps did you take?

Harness the power of the key concepts. In the PYP we have 7 Key Concepts, that are secret ingredients to help learners think more deeply and understand… ANYTHING. The beauty of these key concepts, is they work for everything! You can apply these questions to any subject or area of learning. Whether your child is trying to learn about shapes… commas…. a historic figure…. a sports skill… sentence structure…. an art technique…. a water bottle! Anything. Here are the key concept questions you can ask your child at any time about anything they are learning:

What is it like? (Form)

How does it work? (Function)

How is it connected to other things? (Connection)

How does it change? (Change)

Why is it like that? Why is it the way it is? (Causation)

What are the different points of view? (Perspective)

What are our responsibilities? (Responsibility) 

3. Prioritize Reflection

Get them thinking about their thinking. Similar to the Key Concept questions, there are two questions you can ask your child to help them think deeper, about whatever it is they are learning. Again – any subject, any topic. More specifically, they get children thinking about their thinking! Here are two magic questions to support learners deep understanding:

How do you know?

What makes you say that?

Whether they are showing you the solution to a math problem, discussing parts of a book they are reading, summarizing information, sharing their perspective on a world event… these questions have super powers!

4. Support your child’s agency 

Invite and involve their voice. Don’t be afraid the let them express themselves. Give space for them to articulate what they like and don’t like about learning, and why that is. Listen to when they are advocating for what they need as learners. Listen for what they really care about and matters to them and try to understand and find ways to support it.

Respect and support their choices. Be aware of what choices you are making for your child, that they could probably be making themselves. Choices may include when they learn, where they learn, what they learn, and how they learn. Coach them to make informed choices, by making the decision making process explicit (What choice are you making for yourself?), then follow up with a reflection about how effective that choice was and whether it’s a good choice to be made again in the future (How did that choice work out for you? How do you know? What will you choose differently next time?).

Emphasize ownership. Sometimes learning can be something that gets misrepresented as something done to learners, or around learners. This creates a false sense that they are passively drifting through the process, and have no impact on their own learning. We want learners to know it’s their learning, they own it, they impact it. It is something done by them, for them, and we are the supporting actors. Use words and phrases that build that sense of ownership over their learning:

It’s your learning.

You’re in the driver’s seat.

Your learning, your choice. 

5. Be purposeful with feedback. 

Teach to fish, don’t give a fish. As much as possible, when you give feedback to your child, think about how to give advice that will go beyond that one moment. As teachers, we often use phrases like, “teach the writer, not the writing” to help us give tips that will impact that learner in a bigger, more sustainable way. Instead of just telling them how to fix something. Here are some examples of ways you can phrase that type of feedback:

“Readers…. (often go back an re-read what they don’t understand; share their opinion about what they read; break words into small chunks to help them sound it out etc.)

“Writers…. (read their writing outloud to themselves to try and find their mistakes; use capitals to show the reader a new sentence is starting; support their opinions with facts and evidence; add details to make their writing more interesting etc.)

“Mathematicians…. (double check their solutions for accuracy; use objects and drawings to help them solve problems; use short cuts and tricks called “algorithms”; use special words etc.)

This helps phrase feedback in a way that will help them in that moment, but also help them in that area beyond that moment as well. Feedback that not only fixes mistakes but helps them grow and develop as readers, writers, mathematicians, scientists, historians, artists and athletes!

 

As PYP educators, we need to see this as more than a short-term investment. The time and energy we spend supporting parents who are looking for help in this area, will pay long-term dividends when life returns to normal and we have a coalition of parents who not only understand inquiry, concepts and agency – but have experience living it.

What other points of pedagogy could we share with our PYP parents?

How can we help them, help their children?

What tips and advice can we impart unto our parent community as they become pioneers of at-home pedagogy?

Learners or Students?

Lately I’ve been wondering if in our attempt to create life-long learners, we are accidentally creating life-long students.

Does what we do each day at school help learners, learn how to learn?

Or how to be taught?

The unexpected and unfortunate circumstances of Distance Learning has presented an interesting litmus test for answering this question.

How has the experience of distance learning differed for:

Children whose time at school has helped them to know:

  • what their own interests, passions, purposes, curiosities and needs are
  • how to set their own intentions, criteria for success, goals and finish lines
  • how to find, curate and judge resources that are most helpful for them as learners
  • when, where and with whom they learn best
  • how to make decisions about the best way to capture, document, and collect what they learn along the way
  • how, when and from who to ask for feedback, support, help and guidance
  • how to self-assess and triangulate perspectives on how they are doing and what their next steps are
  • how to take their learning public – the different tools, approaches, and forums for doing so
  • how to self-manage: to organize their time, tasks, and materials

Compared to…

Children who show up to school each day and are used to being told:

  • what to learn
  • why to learn it
  • when to learn it
  • how to learn it
  • where to learn it
  • with whom to learn it
  • what resources to use
  • how to capture and document
  • how they are doing and what their next steps are
  • when, how, with whom to share it with

Obviously, the goal is not to prepare children for Distance Learning. But Distance Learning gives us a unique snapshot into learning without school, learning beyond school and how learners approach learning when we’re not there with them.

What we do as educators each day can either contribute to an internal or external locus of control for the children we work with. Learning can either be seen as something done by them or something done to them. If children leave their years at school, thinking learning is only the by-product of teaching, then what happens when all of the sudden they no longer have ‘teachers’? Then there’s no more learning? Let’s hope not!

So what can we do, as educators, to be sure we are creating life-long learners?

  1. Unpack the difference between learning and school:

 

2. Spend more time, learning about learning:

What does learning look like?

What does learning feel like?

What do you believe about learning?

How is learning unleashed?

Understanding learning

Work or Learning?

An inquiry into learning

 

3. Ask this simple, powerful question of ourselves:

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Credit John Spencer

 

4. . Take small steps sharing, and eventually shifting over, planning for learning

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Link to resource

 

5. Elevate the importance and role of ATL skills in everything we do

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Credit – Orenjibuta

 

6. Help learners take back ownership over their learning.

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Credit – Barbara Bray and Sylvia Duckworth 

7. Be careful not to confuse compliance and engagement.

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Credit – Barbara Bray and Sylvia Duckworth 

8. Be careful not to conceptualize “independent learners” as students who follow our directions by themselves without reminders

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9. Take lessons learned from Distance Learning back with us, to keep pushing the envelop and breaking the mould of what school could be

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10. Pull wisdom from the famous adage: Give a man a fish and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish and he eats for a lifetime. 

“Give a child their learning, and they’ll learn for a day.

Teach a child how to learn, and they’ll learn for a lifetime”

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So whether you are still in Distance Learning, heading back to IRL school, or already back in the normal swing of things, now is a chance for all of us to reflect and take stock of whether our intentions and actions truly create the life-long learners we hope for.

 

How do you ensure you are supporting the growth of life-long learners?

How do you prioritize learning how to learn?

How do you help learners discover who they are as learners and how best they learn?

 

A Chance to Liberate Learning from Schooling

I haven’t blogged all year.

And I’m not quite sure why.

Likely because I was finding my footing at a new school, in a new country, doing a new job. Trying to understand a new organization; what are its values, beliefs, challenges, obstacles, strengths, perspectives, philosophies? While figuring out how my own individual values, beliefs, challenges, obstacles, strengths, perspectives and philosophies fit – or don’t fit – within that organization.

Whatever the reason, my last published post was August 3rd!

Then Distance Learning hit.

And once that whirlwind began (as I am sure all of you have experienced), it was a sprinted marathon. So although I had many thoughts and ideas bouncing around my head, I was too swept up in it all to sit down and write.

Until I was given an assignment from my Director of Learning….

To sit down. For 15 minutes. And write.

So here I am – sitting down. For 15 minutes. And writing.

Our assignment was about pausing to notice and reflect upon success within our Distance Learning experience so far. And there are SO many tangible moments of success that I could point to – the tireless efforts and mind-blowing creativity of the staff; the resilience and commitment of the learners; the seemingly never ending patience, support and empathy from leaders and coaches; structures, systems and approaches that had positive impacts… and the list goes on!

But my mind usually has a way of zooming out, to the intangible and abstract – especially when it comes to school. So instead, I find myself reflecting upon how Distance Learning may unexpectedly be helping an entire generation (of learners, educators and parents) brake some of the shackles and constraints of the traditional paradigm of school that have been hard to shake free from in the past.

I’m not sure about your experience with Distance Learning so far, but for me, the experience seems to have begun to separate and elevate the concept of learning from the current, collective, notion of schooling.

Not by choice or intention. But by having to start over. Having to start from scratch. Having to come up with totally new things. Having to look at old things, in completely new ways. Questioning the purpose, place and impact of things that we may have never needed to question before. Rendering the phrase, “that’s the way we’ve always done things” powerless.

There have always have been small pockets of educators and parents critically examining the current paradigm of education and asking questions like:

What is learning?

How does learning happen?

What is truly worth learning? Who decides?

How do we know learning has happened?

What’s the point of grades?

Do schools create life-long learners or life-long students?

Does everyone have to learn the same things? At the same time? In the same way? At the same pace?

How do we help learners, learn how to learn?

How do we raise the profile of approaches to learning skills and attributes? 

How do we best meet individual and family needs?

But now those conversations seemed to have migrated from small pockets in certain schools and Twitter circles, to general discussion, happening on a much wider scale.

It seems that we have stumbled into a situation that forces us to focus on how to plan for learning and support learners without:

  • compliance
  • rewards
  • punishments
  • extrinsic motivation
  • timetables
  • grades
  • seat-time
  • standardization

But instead, to focus on how to plan for learning and support learners through:

  • curiosity
  • relevance
  • motivation
  • interest
  • significance
  • personalization
  • choice
  • ownership
  • feedback
  • relationships
  • family partnership

It seems that for so long the system of school has muddled the concept of learning with self-imposed structures that seemed natural, invisible, ingrained and unchangeable. But now, these awful and unfortunate circumstances have engendered a global, collaborative inquiry into learning. Which has allowed us all to see through those structures and peel back those limitations, to gain a clearer, more accurate picture of LEARNING itself.

Obviously the necessity of distance learning, and the circumstances surrounding it, is something nobody wanted or planned for. And all of us are counting down the days to when life gets back to normal, when people are healthy, happy and safe and we’re back on campus, surrounded by learners, colleagues and families. But while we find ourselves in this unique situation, what lessons might we learn along the way that we can bring back with us?

How might this unwanted disruption to all of our lives, springboard our collective disruption of what school could be?

How do we take what we’ve been wondering and discovering about learning during these extraordinary circumstances, to help us shake-up and re-define what school looks like when we all go back to our ordinary circumstance?

How might this collective experience leave the door open a crack for bold moves and innovations when we return?

Starting the Year with the PYP Enhancements in Mind

Our PYP community is in a unique situation. We welcomed in the PYP Enhancements last school year – but for many of us, it was mid-way through the year. Which means this is the first time lots of us are planning our first weeks with the enhancements in mind.

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I’m sure many of these considerations were already present in our previous approaches to back to school planning. But now we have a solid, common, intentional framework from which to plan our first day, our first week, and even the days leading up to the first day.

So as we plan our start to the year we need to be sure to ask ourselves and each other:

Are we thinking about The Learners?

Are we thinking about Learning and Teaching?

Are we thinking about the Learning Community? 

To help us all in this collective goal I’ve shared some ‘start of the year’ blog posts organized around those 3 categories:

The Learner

Relationship Building 

Why We Must Invest in Relationship Building First

An Inquiry Into My Students

Connecting with Students 

Learning and Teaching

Sowing the Seeds for a Great Year – 10 Tips for an Inquiry-Based First Week 

What Does an Inquiry-Based First Week of School Look Like?

What Could an Agency-Supportive First Week of School look like?

Best First Week of School Ever!

Best First Month of School Ever!

My Plan For  a More Fair and Free Place to Learn

Starting the year off slowly

The Learning Community 

Reaching Out to Families

Getting Parents On-board 

How are you ensuring the PYP Enhancements are guiding your back to school planning?

What other resources would you add to this list to help strengthen our focus on The Learner, Learning and Teaching and The Learning Community?

First, Seek to Understand

In a few days I will be stepping into a new job, at a new school, on a new continent. And although I’ve had some leadership experience before, this will be my first time stepping into administration.

We’ve all had that new administrator arrive to our school with their ‘suitcase’ of how things were at their old school, within their old board/system or in their old country. And their first year is spent trying to turn this place into that place.

As a staff member not new to the school, this can be quite frustrating…

So as I prepare for this change, I am very aware of that dynamic.

I’ve decided to try my best to follow the guidance of this quote and live by the philosophy:

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I will seek to understand each student. Learn their name, discover their interests, their strengths, their struggles.

I will seek to understand each family. Learn who they are and what brought them here. How they see the world. Their views on the purpose of education. Their dreams for their children.

I will seek to understand the local cultures. The customs, traditions, values and beliefs.

I will seek to understand each staff member. Who they are, what they believe in, what helps them feel successful. The areas in which they feel they need support.

I will seek to understand the history of the school. Where they have been in the past and what has made them who they are today.

I will seek to understand the culture of the school. What makes them who they are as an organization, and how things work there.

I will seek to understand where they are, as a school,  in their journey. Acknowledging all the time, thought and energy already spent on getting them to where they are. Seeing where they see their strengths and what they see as their next steps and areas for growth. Understanding the projects and initiatives that are currently in progress and being developed.

And then… 

I will seek to understand where I fit in. How I can help and what I have to offer them.

How do I plan on doing this?

I will try my best to listen in meetings. I will ask a lot of questions. I will observe and take notes. I will read through documents. I will go outside for recess and play with the students. I will stand at the gate at the start and end of the day and greet the families. I will roam the halls after school and ask how people’s day went. I will shadow students from different grades to experience things through their eyes. I will constantly ask for feedback, advice and help.

Most importantly, I will strive to fight the temptation to transplant what I’ve done at other schools. And instead I will focus on what they are trying to grow for their unique context and how best I can help.

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A Hard Goodbye

For those of us who work at international schools, goodbyes are a normal part of the end of the school year, as students, families and colleagues pack up and move on to their next adventure.

This year, I am the one who is moving on to a new adventure and as such, have spent the past few weeks saying goodbyes.

This year, one goodbye in particular was especially difficult… the goodbye to my team.

I’ve written before about how I am not a natural collaborator, but these past two years I’ve experienced first hand the difference between going fast alone, or going far together. And it has changed me as an educator and a person. I can no longer remember what it feels like to be “in it” alone, nor do I want to.

So, to my very special team, I would like to say thank you…

Thank you for accepting me for who I am, flaws and all.

Thank you for leaving me alone on Monday mornings and not sitting with me at lunch on days when I have no preps.

Thank you for helping me see and understand my “blind self”.

Thank you for challenging me, disagreeing with me and making me think.

Thank you for seeing and treating my students as your students.

Thank you for picking me up when I was down; helping me fix my mistakes, solve my problems and not get stuck in my failures.

Thank you catching me up on what was on the morning memo, what time the assembly starts or what special event was coming up.

Thank you for keeping me balanced, fed and hydrated.

Thank you for showing me how much better life is without shoes.

Thank you for indulging all the selfies, chroming all the photos and agreeing to the flash mob.

Thank you for ALL the amazing renditions and remixes of “Baby Shark”.

Thank you for taking my phone hostage, making me get in the pool and all the unwanted (secretly wanted) hugs.

Thank you for teaching me what a true community feels like and how rich authentic collaboration can be. Lessons I will definitely take with me to my next post.

It’s been a slice 😉

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A far off dream…

For anyone who is a fan of the TV show How I Met Your Mother, you will be familiar with the scene where the bunch a friends is sitting around and gets struck with the amazing idea to open a bar.

”WE SHOULD TOTALLY OPEN A BAR!”

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Just as, for many of us educators disillusioned with the current paradigm of education, we will be familiar with scene of sitting around with like-minded colleagues and getting struck with the amazing idea to open a school.

”WE SHOULD TOTALLY OPEN A SCHOOL!”

I myself have been in this scene more than once, with more than one group of colleague-friends. Not that I have any idea how to open a school… or build a school… or a run a school… or where I’d even have a school…

But I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t put some thought into what it would be like…

Concept: I’d love to borrow a page from the health care community and mirror their approach to holistic health centres. But instead of having one place where you can have access to a naturopath, a pharmacist, a chiropractor, a psychiatrist, you’d have a place where you’d have access to a learning coach, a counsellor, a nutritionist, a community liaison…. As many different parts and pieces that would be needed to provide a Holistic Education support community.

Location: Somewhere in a natural setting – a forest perhaps – where children could be immersed in nature and the local environment. Playing, exploring, getting dirty! Somewhere in the world where learning centres can exist without having to be “schools” and that aren’t stuck complying with mandated structures of the traditional paradigm.

Layout: I have a vision of a large circle, one long, never ending corridor. With many different spaces and places – kitchen, design lab, library, lots of nooks and crannies. All with direct, unimpeded access to the center of the circle, which would be a large, enclosed natural  space. With trees and picnic tables and large moving parts. Things to build and climb. Places to sit and talk and run and play. That is open, available and accessible to everyone, at all times.

Community: The community would be democratic. Where adults and children, staff and parents – anyone connected to the community – has a voice and a role in decision making.  The center would be a cooperative, co-owned by all stakeholders – staff and parents.

Curriculum: Would be entirely emergent, holistic and co-constructed. Starting first with the child – their strengths, their interests, their passions. Following the road map life has hidden inside them. There would be no clinging to the idea that everyone needs to know and learn exactly the same thing. There would be no pressure to standardize a natural, organic, non-linear process. Each individual would learn what he or she needed to in order to follow their own path. Academic skills would be learned when people wanted or needed them. 

Assessment: The emphasis would be on progress, not achievement. Meeting each individual where they are and helping them move along at their pace. Celebrating growth and development without constantly chasing some fixed notion of where someone of a certain age “should be”. Assessment, understood as a verb, something owned by the learner within the context of the process of learning, not as a noun, something done to someone by an external body.

Scheduling:  Timetabling would be non-existent. Pick-up and drop-off flexible, rolling starts and dismissals. People would eat when they are hungry, drink when they are thirsty, play when they choose and visit the bathroom as they need. All spaces would be open, active, supervised – with free flow of children and adults of all ages. Systems would be in place for advertising learning opportunities and signing up for small group and one-on-one support when needed.

Staff: All staff would see themselves as learners first and foremost; experts in learning secondly; and finally, as unique individuals with their own talents and passions to share with the community. All staff would wear multiple ‘hats’. Meeting with small groups of students to start and end the day as a social-emotional support and learning coach, and offering and participating in a range of learning opportunities throughout the day. People with expertise and interest in cooking, dance, literature, nature, photography, coding, business, environmentalism, writing, building, art, meditation etc willing to share their passion with others, as well as take risks and try new things being offered by other members of the community.

Vibe: A place where staff love coming to work and children love coming to learn and parents feel welcome and involved. A place where, when asked the question, “If your students didn’t have to go to school, would they?” The answer would be a resounding, indesputable “YES”. Where everyone not only feels comfortable to be themselves, but feels compelled and supported to work on becoming the best version of themselves.

Identity: We would know who we are and who we are not, and we would be comfortable with that. If someone was looking for a high-stakes, test-driven, finite-curriculum focused, competitive approach to education, we would be okay to say “sorry, that’s  not us – but we hope you find what you are looking for”

I know that at this moment in time I don’t have the means, skills or know-how to start my own school. I know there are a million ins and outs I haven’t thought of, or planned for, or even know about. I know there are probably a million and one reasons as to why this wouldn’t work….

But, what’s the harm in dreaming!?!?