Saturday, January 11, 2020

The (Super) Power of a Teacher

Hi Educators,

Are you on Holiday still? If not, how was your first day/week back to school?

We had a nice start to the year with a full day PD on Monday January 6th and then Tuesday January 7th was the national 'Victory over Genocide' holiday here in Cambodia. Students started back Wednesday January 8th.

I always think that the first day back really sets the tone for the semester and I am glad that we are able to start each Term with a Professional Development Day.

Over the year, our Pedagogical Leadership Team has reflected on the way we structure our meetings.  As we are an IB Candidate school it has been a change for teachers to now work collaboratively.  So, we thought we should always start meetings with our WHY and then do a small team building exercise to bring out that as a staff we are focused on kids and working together. Here I'll talk about the WHY.

For the WHY we watched a TEDx Talk...

I love Adam's story. Most of us have a similar story.  What is yours?  Let's collect these stories, share in the comments below.

Back to Adam, his story is a reminder that we, as teachers, have powers. 

1. We have power to affect our students lives by seeing the best versions of our students and letting them know in writing. 

2. Our powers are generational.

I wanted to drive home Adam's idea that if we know our WHY we will be those amazing powerful teachers who change lives and affect generations. 

As we start 2020 - the year of perfect vision :-) - I want all educators to remember the profound impact we can have.  Let's join together and make it a positive one.  My call to all is to let you students know their awesomeness.  See the good.  Recognize the potential and know you are changing the course of the future. 

Yours in passion for education,

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

Day 3 of the Equity and Inclusion Challenge

Day 3 of the Equity and Inclusion Challenge

Today's question asks...
Who is obviously represented and welcome in the space? 
Who is left out?

As I reflected on the environment, I noticed that our school has many inclusive places around the school and in our classrooms. There were sports games on offer, different fields to play on, tables to sit on, hallways to roam. There was even a very mixed-aged, mixed-genders group of students sitting in front of the office where people sit who don't have hats (We have a no hat - no play rule) and there were both those with and those without hats. The walls have the learner profile words (Thinker, Communicator, etc...) painted on the walls in many languages including: English, Spanish, Korean, and Chinese.

If the environment, in its structure was inclusive, was there evidence of exclusivity? The exclusivity was found in a way that was socially constructed. There were only boys playing four square at morning break time. The walk ways seemed to have more Girls that tended to walk and talk in same age, same class, same nationality groupings.

In class, those people that participate frequently segregate themselves from the non-eager participants.

What can we do to break down the socially constructed barriers?

Monday, February 5, 2018

Day 2 of the Equity and Inclusion Challenge

It is interesting when you focus your observations, what you discover.  As the challenge implies, I wanted to focus on Equity and Inclusion. At first; inquiry and observation led to more questions.  How would I record what I noticed? How could I teach and observe?  Doubts entered my mind.  What would I really learn?  But staying positive, I persisted.  

I decided to observe while we did our opening grade level assembly, where we co-create the week's homework for the class.

First thoughts included:
Students and teachers both have a voice in this activity.
Students opinions are validated.
Not all students use their voice.
Some students raise their hands.
Some students say what they think.  

Then more questions bubbled up: 
Do students in the front speak more than the ones who chose to sit in the back?  Does seat choice affect participation?  What does equity look like in the classroom?  How can we create more of it? How can we include everyone's voice?  What are the environmental factors we could change? How are the patterns of conversation different with when I teach? Is it different from my teaching partner?  

In the next lesson, my teaching partner led the discussion and I decided to map the conversation. That was interesting. I wondered if taking a map of one day would really show me anything.  So, I planned to keep the maps and map patterns of conversations over time to see bigger patterns. It was the 100th Day of school and we planned a Math lesson using social skills to work in groups to collect 100 items from nature and turn it into a piece of artwork.  

The Day 2 questions and my hypotheses were:

  • What patterns do you notice?
  • Whose voices tend to be the loudest?
    • The kids have multiple options to speak.  Some of the students who volunteer to talk, volunteer regularly. There were a few students, who appeared not to be paying attention, who volunteered insights.  
What I think happens in discussions, may not be as accurate as I think.  Children who appeared not to paying attention, might be. There seemed to be no hard and fast rules.  

I look forward to what I might learn tomorrow...

Tomorrow's Task:
  • NOTICE: Spend some time observing the physical space at school – in the halls, in classrooms, in shared spaces, in offices. 
Reflection Questions:
  • Who is obviously represented and welcome in the space?  Who is left out?

Sunday, February 4, 2018

21 Day Equity and Inclusion Challenge

Who is in?  I am in!  Are you?

My Sunday night journey on Twitter led me to Michael Matera (@mrmatera), author of Explore Like A Pirate, who is leading a 21 Day Challenge described in the video above.

The Day 1 reflection question asks you to reflect on why you signed up and what you hope to get out of this experience...

I hope to join a community of like-minded teachers who care about helping each student to find his voice.  I teach in an international school with many English language learners.  It is a International Baccalaureate School that values Student Agency.  In fact, my small group PLC at school, is studying what student agency looks like.  My current theory is that for students to experience 'agency' they must find their 'voice' first. Let us see how if this is still how I think at the end of the 21 Day Challenge...

Tomorrow I will start on Day 2, and I will spend some time observing social interactions today. I will ask myself @mrmatera's questions...

What patterns do you notice?

Whose voices tend to be the loudest? 

Whose voices tend to be ignored?

Who sits with whom? 

Is there a pattern related to identity?

Will you join me on the journey?  Comment or reply below!  I would love to hear from you.



Wednesday, July 26, 2017

3 Ways to Uplevel Yourself as a PYP Teacher

Dear Friends,

Here are three ways to up-level yourself as a PYP Teacher:

1. Start reading PYP Bloggers - Here are a few of my favorites:  

2. Using an Inquiry Journal to keep track of the inquiry process

3. Have the 5 Essential Elements everywhere (up in the classroom, 
on the desks, in your plan books, on your displays for other subjects)

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Play in the classroom and in life

Dear Friends,

A previously written post, just waiting to be published...


I write from Thailand as the Thai New Year draws close! I love the festival that goes along with the Thai New Year.  Songkran สงกรานต์ - Many only know of it as the 'Water Festival'.  However, there is a deeper symbolic meaning to all that water throwing - a beautiful gesture of cleansing away evil deeds and bad luck. 

New Year always brings a time of reflection. For many of us in education, we reflect on our teaching practices and think about what we can do even better in the new year.  How can we re-arrange our classrooms for better learning?  Could we add a time for a passion project?  Along with this line of thinking, married with the Thai traditions, I have reflected on classroom practices as a way to inspire meaningful insights into our teaching practices. What have been my 'evil deeds' in the classroom? What 'bad luck' would I like to wash away? 

Most importantly, what would I want to tell teachers new to teaching?

The answer has to do with Play! 

At the beginning of my teaching career, I focused on student engagement and measured it terms of how much fun my students were having. I spent hours considering the question, "How could I make learning seem like fun and more like play?"

Later, bad luck hit, and 'play' and 'fun' became bad words for the classroom. Parent requests to a principal at one school said, "We want the serious teacher, not the fun teacher."  Reduced program funding severely undercut recess, PE and all things seeming 'non-academic' due to a perceived lack of importance.

Three books that I have been reading have influenced this year's reflection:


While reading three seemingly very different books, one about classroom environments, one about teaching ESL students, and another about how to do what you love and get paid for it...I was most surprised by the common theme of play.  The Words Came Down! By Parker and Parlini, recognises the value in play when teaching children to learn in English when it is not their native language.  Screw Work Let's Play by John Williams - introduced me to a new theory that presumes that we are at a unique juncture in history where we can choose what we do, based on our passions.  In essence, we can choose to do what we love so that work feels more like play. Therefore, we no longer need to create a workforce, but we can forge into the world of a new "play force".

This idea has me really excited. We know that the way we teach and learn needs an upgrade.  How many times have you heard the adage:  "Our Schools were built for the industrial revolution."  While politicians seem to argue about the money given to education, creatives are trying their best to either dig into their own pockets (@BillGates, Mark Zuckerberg) or trying to re-invent schooling themselves, like AltSchool

We know things need to change.  I have been thinking about every day, ever since I started teaching. Everything done in my classroom, is to try to heed this call for change.  I want to innovate... create... a new system for education! 

But a change in the culture of schooling isn't easy.  However, could it be, like Occam's Razor,  that 'Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected, or the simplest answer is the usually the correct one?'

Could seeing play in a new way, be the answer?  Could we make schools more like life, but also more playful and fun?  But wait, Kate... you say-  No way!  What about our deeply held beliefs that school has to be work, it has to be HARD to be of any esteem? 

Such sentiments as Teddy's Roosevelt's quote shares:
“Nothing in the world is worth having or worth doing unless it means effort, pain, difficulty… I have never in my life envied a human being who led an easy life. I have envied a great many people who led difficult lives and led them well.”

Well into a life of putting my passions into education and the improvement of schooling of young children, I believe that learning is playful and is fun - inherently!  It is when we are not learning that school and learning are not fun. How many of us went to that kind of school - not fun because we weren't  learning anything we didn't already know? 

Furthermore, I believe that play is learning.  Think about it.  Consider... Is it possible to play and not learn?  As John Holt's classic Learning All The Time discusses, children learn through their experiences to make sense of the world, and those experiences and learning are not confined to a classroom.   

To me, there is no longer such a distinct line between play and learning or academics and play.  We don't have to have one or the other.  We can have both!  (Which will have to be a topic for another blog!  Ask me about GRASPS, as a way to combine academics, assessment, play and fun.) 

So, if you took this time to read this, comment below: 
Does learning today have to be hard to be worthwhile?
Can we shift our paradigm? Can play and academics be viewed as more closely aligned?

What do you think?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

How do you get your students to work harder than you do?

Hi Friends,

How do you get your students to work harder than you do?  This question, posted on #sunchat by @starsackstein, gave rise to a lot of thinking...  Do my students work harder than I do?  What have I done to help get students do the heavy thinking? After some thought, three things popped into my head that I have learned over the years: don't give out the answers (even when you know them), ask more questions, and provide some time for students to correct their own work.

1. Don't give out the answers...

Leading a science workshop for teachers I learned the power and result of not answering questions and not explaining things.  Thinking!  In the workshop, the participants had to complete a seemingly impossible experiment.  The participants just wanted to know the answers, when I absolutely refused to tell them how to it would work or if their ideas were on the right track or not.  To my surprise, this only motivated them even more.  

2. Ask even more questions... 

Try this strategy that Dylan Wiliam's discusses in the video above, entitled pose-pause-pounce-bounce. Ask a question, wait, pounce on a students question and bounce it to another student. Do this and your students will be doing more of the talking and more of the thinking than you are!  The result for me has been that I know more about what my students are thinking so that I'm better able to plan, in the moment, to meet their needs.

Another way to do this is to answer a question (or a statement) with a question.  Are you sure?  Tell me more?  Why can't it be?  How could it be?

#3 Provide some time for students to correct their own work...

Today in classrooms, many activities are hands-on, but when they aren't - who corrects the work?  Does student work sit in a pile on your desk making you feel guilty?  Does it go home with you in your bag each night?  Giving students the opportunity to see and realize their own mistakes makes their learning deeper, it is a more immediate way to give feedback, and allows teachers more time for other things that always need doing like planning! 

How do you get your students to work harder than you do?