Openhouse – Online Learning

I had the pleasure of speaking with the Openhouse Team as part of a Webinar recently, connecting a range of global voices – we discussed the challenges and changes over the past year in regards to online/distance learning. Also on the panel were Allan Shaw, Principal of The Knox School in Melbourne, Saloni Todi, a first year Hong Kong University student, and Yashovardhan Poddar, co founder of Openhouse,

Openhouse is a learning community based in India with a bold mission centred around nurturing a better society for all.

“Our mission is to build a better society by creating powerful communities. We believe visionaries are not born but nurtured. So by redefining how the world learns, we empower students to become thinkers and leaders. Changing society, one child at a time…..”

Openhouse https://www.blog.openhouse.study/our-story

I was delighted to be part of this conversation, listen and learn from other perspectives, and explore how fostering a sense of community has helped support continued learning during this time. Grounding ourselves, and our students, in a shared learning community; one of acceptance, vulnerability and with a growth mindset have all been key. I loved learning about how this looked in different contexts and being inspired by these different voices. You can read more on the Openhouse blog – thanks Openhouse team!

https://www.blog.openhouse.study/online-learning-revised

Finding Inspiration…

Instead of letting your hardships and failures discourage or exhaust you, let them inspire you.” 

Michelle Obama

The quote above prompted me to think about how, when we are faced with difficult circumstances, we continue to have choices in terms of how we respond to these ‘hardships and failures’. It made me wonder –where do I find inspiration around me? So, last week, I set myself the goal of recording where I gained inspiration each day. An interesting personal reflection exercise.


What I found interesting during this week of noticing, was the simplicity of the places and spaces in which I found inspiration. We often imagine that ‘inspiration’ is something big, a sign, a message, an ‘aha’ moment and it can be, but it can also be everyday. A simple conversation; when days are tough, and challenges seem many, a single voice can help inspire. I was inspired by another’s words to look beyond the here and now and think of possibilities. Most importantly to reframe my capabilities to acknowledge I am capable. This enabled me to reposition myself in my own thoughts and gain perspective to be able to then act with greater clarity. It is not often that emails inspire, but this week one did for me. It brought me back to connect with my instincts, to question and not simply accept the status quo, and most of all it prompted me to really think. Think about what my values are and how these connect with my actions.

So, what did I learn? Inspiration doesn’t just happen to us as if by magic, even though it might appear this way. I believe we must have the dispositions to allow ourselves to be inspired. Fostering, openness, appreciation, observation and reflection are important practices. Overall, we have to give space and acceptance to opportunities when they present themselves. Most of all, inspiration drives us to take action in whatever form this might be.


“Inspiration propels a person from apathy to possibility and transforms the way we perceive our own capabilities”

Scott Barry Kaufman

Interesting ‘inspiring’ Reading

A ‘learning buzz’ in the virtual learning world

I recently wrote about missing the sense of, ‘a learning buzz‘, during these times where many of us have moved to virtual learning spaces. It made me wonder, how can you generate a ‘learning buzz’ in this virtual space? It of course would be fruitless and frustrating to try to copy and paste the same approaches into an online space – context matters and what works in one will not necessarily work in the other. However, whilst the ‘learning buzz’ may not look and feel the same, how would we define this in an online space I wondered? What opportunities might there be? How do we adapt our learning environments?

Learning, teaching and leading in an inquiry based, PYP School, one of our challenges has most definitely been honouring the values of our learning and teaching principles. Despite pressures faced, focusing on our beliefs and values to foster curiosity and inquiry at the heart of our daily approach to learning.

This prompted me to refer to the PYP guidance on creating learning environments and think about the different elements that are defined as going into cultivating these and intentionally exploring how these evolve.

‘PYP learning spaces affect and reflect values and beliefs about learning. They play a role in shaping the culture of the learning community by facilitating certain ways of acting and interacting. They support a constructivist and social-constructivist (Vygotsky 1978) approach to learning and teaching. They are multifunctional, emphasizing personalization of learning, promoting independence and engagement.’

My IB – Connecting pedagogy and design

So how do we nurture that magical ‘learning buzz’ in whatever context we are in?

This diagram shows the elements I believe contribute to enabling a ‘learning buzz’ to flourish and as a way to illustrate what this could look like in a classroom or school community. I use the word ‘enable’ intentionally as this learning buzz is not something any one person can create but from my perspective is about letting this have space to flourish and blossom. Below are some examples I made connections to from experiences during Distance Learning at my School. I would love to know of others that you may have to get further inspiration!

Sense of being ‘me’

Finding space for individuality to be celebrated and to bring community together in an inclusive way is so important. During lockdown we could not run our Home Language Program as usual so we made this into a community event. We created an interactive map of where we feel at home for everyone to anonymously share, shared our languages through poems and sayings and students (and adults if they wanted!) created Language Portraits. This was all done virtually through a live stream assembly and recorded activities and video calls.

Shared Values & Understandings

Making sure to share beliefs and values with community ensures learning is effective, and it can be done in a fun, informative way! We made a series of video clips to remind everyone about online meeting etiquette and created Community fact sheets with our rules and essential agreements reflecting our Community Values in the virtual learning space.

Rituals & Routines

Rituals and routines are part of every learning environment, of every school community; whether it be a morning greeting, check in circle, or roles and responsibilities that are assigned to the class each week. These all form part of a shared classroom culture. In the online space, we saw morning check in circles often replaced with a morning prompt in the chat in MS Teams, a way for everyone to say hello and connect before starting their learning day. Or for the younger grades, a morning video message. I also observed the beauty of new rituals or routines forming – a favourite way to end a call in one of 6th grade classes for example, has now become an embedded ritual for the class to say goodbye!

Teachers found ways to adapt roles of responsibility also in the virtual space, assigning chat moderators in video calls for examples or continuing to use hand signals in video calls to show agreement/disagreement/ connection/questions and so forth. We also tried to keep to our regular school assembly schedule and routines to bring everyone together as part of our regular routine.

Learning Purpose and relevance

Ensuring learning is purposeful, challenging and relevant for all students became ever more complex in a distance learning world where differentiation strategies and the ease of interaction between teachers, students and peers is more challenging. Finding ways to engage in learning with materials and experiences at home, ensuring learning engagements are open ended and encourage further student led inquiry all can help ensure that learning remains purposeful and relevant for the individual. We had great examples with students carrying out science experiments, building machines, testing theories and recording their experiments as learning evidence.

Interaction – Dialogue

Here are some examples of teachers finding ways to promote interaction and dialogue using tools such as Padlet to share in online lessons. We also used Padlet to encourage interaction within our community too, with the song sharing and virtual arts day as some examples!

Fun & Connection

Bringing community together through shared events and having fun together! We celebrated Earth Day, Sports day and other events together and brought a bit of fun to lockdown life. I feel fortunate to work with such a dedicated, fun team!

An Open-Minded Attitude

Attitude is something I have been thinking about a lot recently. The power that it holds. The influence that it can wield. The impacts it has. This last year has been tough on everyone. It has demanded attention, in many respects, most of all towards our attitude; to examining our beliefs and values and our response to circumstances at any given moment. So finally, in a moment of quiet, I got to thinking more about attitude and the power it has to determine outcome.

The familiar range of reactions bubble to the surface when a group of students, young or old, are faced with a new task. There are those who approach the given task with confidence and a certain degree of nonchalance, ´This will be easy´ or ´No problem, I know how to solve this.’ Whilst there are those who tentatively step forward and quietly express they will ‘give it a try‘, or say, ´I think I can work it out‘, and others who simply declare ‘I´m no good at this.’, or are absolutely self-deprecating and poke fun at their own capabilities. All within a somewhat ‘typical’ range of reactions.

But which of these reactions actively impinge upon learning and become an unseen barrier to the learner making progress? What have we learned about the importance of attitude during the recent COVID 19 Pandemic? How has our attitude helped or hindered us transform as teachers? How can we develop resilience to navigate emotions and be an agent of our own attitude? These and many more questions are bubbling to the surface for me.

I shared the below image and statement during our back to school meeting in August to provoke thinking around how critical our mindset is in helping us navigate, be successful and thrive and how we need to support each other as a community during this marathon crisis period.

Three things I think I have learned about fostering an open-minded attitude during this past year are:

1. Acceptance enables us to be open-minded and embrace the circumstances we face.

This year has taught us all more than anything that many things are out of our control – we just have to accept and look forward, we cannot dwell. Accepting the bumps, the twists and turns and the nosedives are the only way to be able to keep an open mind and thrive.

2. ‘Self talk’ matters more than we realise.

‘Self talk’ helps and hinders us in equal measure. We are often our own harshest critic. However, a kind word to a colleague, to a student, to a friend can also help us to remember to be kinder to ourselves. Spreading gratitude and value can help us manage our own ‘self talk.’

3. Finding time to be mindful, is essential to being able to thrive.

We all have experiences that centre us, that help us feel refreshed, remind us of what is important and this can be anything from sport to cooking to reading. For me, being able to participate in a Mindfulness course with colleagues was a wonderful experience that not only fostered community during this difficult period but also helped me find practices that I can embed in my daily life to become more mindful.

Love for the Learning Buzz!

What have I missed most over the past months of school life? We have been roller-coasting through school closure – distance learning – hybrid learning – back to school – quarantining – distance learning.

There are many things – but my first reaction was ‘There’s a learning buzz’. 

If I asked you to describe what an optimum learning space looked like when students are engaged in learning, what would you envisage? Would it be students sitting diligently at their desks writing in their notebooks? Would it be quiet? Would it have an atmosphere of excitement? Of calm? Of fun? Of concentration? Of questions? Of noise? Perhaps a whole melange of the above and more!

If I had had to answer this question 20 years ago, I would probably have included adjectives such as calm, hard-working, learning-focused, and organized.  Now, I feel as though I have a completely different answer. In my experience, the classroom that may appear at times bustling, busy, noisy and ‘out of control’, may indeed be the complete opposite.  If you scratch beneath the surface the classroom in which the teacher has most ‘control’ and in which students are the most engaged learners tends to be one where activity is busy, can be chaotic and conversations are fast-paced with questions and ideas flowing.

To clarify – I am not talking about a scene where students are running all over the classroom and the teacher is straining to be heard. No, I am talking about that type of learning buzz that gets noisy, where there is laughter and chatting and everyone is working their own way at their own pace. ‘Classroom management’ and ‘control’ of the classroom are terms that I am not fond of. A classroom space, a learning environment, is not in my opinion one that is best forcibly controlled, but one that is nurtured – a space that allows everyone to stretch their minds, feel safe, and find freedom. This allows students to engage and truly deepen their learning through activity choice, discussion, debate, and reflection of well constructed questions.

Often, when I have visited a physical classroom space just for fifteen minutes, and especially during a time of transition, this provided a wonderful opportunity in just a short space of time to develop an understanding of the particular culture and personality in this classroom. I really do believe that classes form their own distinct personality and develop their unique culture.

In the best cases I observed a hive of activity. So much so that the teacher did not even notice I had joined the classroom. Students were navigating the room focused on routines whilst still chatting about the learning they had just completed. The teacher used a multitude of ways to incorporate reflection, incorporate choice, refocus the students, and all whilst giving students an opportunity to also ‘take a break’. On occasions, when you have the pleasure of visiting a classroom like this, you can feel the cohesiveness of a group and how there truly is a ‘learning buzz’ in the room. 

This is what I have missed the most. It leads me to the question – how do we find ways to develop a community culture and ‘learning buzz’ in online virtual classroom communities?

Innovation in Education

Almost two years ago I attended a conference in London called LearnIT; tech focused, it hosted a truly inspiring bunch of innovators and change-makers in the world of education and learning. I found it so motivating to hear the stories and listen to panel discussions from the many diverse voices. Often these highlighted how a simple ideas can transform experiences and impact learning in profound ways. So, when I heard from the HundrED organisation I was fascinated to learn more and find out how to get involved.

HundrEd is a non for profit organisation with a mission to support innovations coming to life and being shared world wide. I loved the emphasis on young people’s voices and leveraging the perspectives and opinions of our students, of all ages, to take action. So, I set up a call for our students to explore how they could become Student Ambassadors. We met virtually online and some of our Primary students stepped up, applied and indeed became Student Ambassadors!

In 2020, I decided I would step up to also become a HundrED Ambassador and I am so glad I did. I was part of the review panel for the HundrED 2021 innovations. It was such an interesting process and so inspiring to read about the unique ways in which change in education is being fostered. I had the opportunity to explore and learn about around 25 different innovations that were nominated to be part of the HundrED 2021 Innovations. I shared my feedback on each innovation and based on all of the feedback from around 150 HundrED Ambassadors the HundrED Research Team then went through a collaborative iterative process to select the final 100 innovations. You can see the final Global collection at the end of this post.

Most of all what I took away from being part of this process was how much I gained from the experience; learning about diverse perspectives, exploring different contexts and developing understanding of the solutions being found to address specific learning needs. I was inspired by the amazing ideas, the commitment to being inclusive and the passion by so many individuals to improve learning for all young people, everywhere. I highly recommend getting involved in HundrED!

Calm is a Superpower

I was privileged to be asked to participate in a podcast series with SkyGems Academy involving educational leaders from around the world reflecting on their experiences and the learning in their contexts during the COVID 19 pandemic. So interesting to hear from diverse school leaders, the different, and similar, challenges faced and the ways in which communities pulled together to navigate through the crisis.

Reflections on Intercultural Understanding

I recently concluded two days of listening, exploring and learning about developing intercultural understanding within our school communities. As someone who signed up to participate in the course, I am already committed to the critical nature with which we must address promoting intercultural understanding. Evidence is all around us signalling the need for us to act; learn from the past, and listen, really listen to understand. The two days spent with a knowledgeable and interesting group of people, was insightful, thought provoking and provided me with so many ideas and ambitions as I prepare for the upcoming school year! As we got to know each other virtually, what struck me most is the joy that comes from simply hearing other people’s stories. We shared artifacts that reflected our identities and made connections; reveling in commonalities, and curious to know more about differences that we identified. A reminder of just how important giving space for this type of sharing is as we bring students, teachers and our parent community together.

The Teaching and Learning for Intercultural Understanding Summer Institute was facilitated by three wonderful educational leaders, Debra Rader, Sarah Kupke and Heidi Bachman. The institute was based around the work of Debra Rader, and her development of a Framework for Developing Intercultural Understanding (Rader, 2016), which is published in her book Teaching and Learning for Intercultural Understanding: Engaging Young Hearts and Minds. (Routledge, 2018) A highly recommended book for those of you interested in fostering intercultural understanding with children; it comes with lesson plans and resources to accompany a whole host of high quality children’s literature.

What is Intercultural Understanding? 

This is defined in the book as:

…the willingness and ability to interact effectively and appropriately with people different from ourselves, and in diverse cultural settings. This requires knowledge and understanding, beliefs, values and attitudes, and skills and behaviours that are developed throughout our lives.’

Rader, 2018
  • Knowledge and understanding
  • Transformative beliefs, values and attitudes
  • Essential Intercultural Interpersonal and Life Skills 
  • Engagement in positive action

Through exploring the Framework, with all of the diverse perspectives, insights and experiences, it helped me to reflect on how I might envisage using this as a next step in my own school community. These are some of the ways in which I could envisage using the Framework to support further embedding Intercultural Understanding:

Knowledge and Understanding

  • audit our curriculum: Review our Programme of Inquiry to identify where we see different elements addressed, where we see opportunities and how we can deepen learning and understanding.
  • engage our students and teachers in a review of literature and resources used – do these include multiple diverse perspectives? Identify resources to include to support intercultural understanding.
  • identify ways in which our Home Language Program can incorporate elements of knowledge and understanding related to building intercultural understanding
  • use the Framework to review our celebrations, events and traditions. How do we already foster intercultural understanding? How can we do better?
  • when reviewing policies, use the framework as a lens through which to pose relevant questions, identify strengths and gaps
  • explore the routines and rituals we have as a learning community. Identify core questions we can be posing to continually foster deepening knowledge and understanding
  • engage student leaders in identifying ways in which they can promote and share their knowledge and understanding. Where do students have a voice in our community? 

Transformative Beliefs, Values and Attitudes

  • as a tool for initiating discussion within our community about beliefs, values and attitudes. Where do we see our strengths in these areas? What is our shared vision as a community?
  • connect these to our mission, Learner Profile and Educational Philosophy statements
  • make these visible through explicit sharing in our celebrations, school traditions and rituals
  • re-focus the work of our Diversity Committee to explore these transformative beliefs, values and attitudes, and find avenues through which to articulate and celebrate these

Essential Intercultural, Interpersonal and Life Skills

  • review our curriculum to identify where we currently address these 
  • articulate these essential intercultural, interpersonal and life skills through the IB Approaches to Learning skill progression
  • make these skills visible with our students through a split screen approach in their learning
  • use reflective practices that require students and teachers to consider these core elements

Engagement in Positive Action

  • identify ways in which to share, promote and celebrate individual positive actions – within and beyond classrooms
  • incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework and lens through which to organise our actions as a community
  • encourage and build partnerships within our local community to encourage and model individual and collective action
  • implement our Eco School action plan to unite our community in committing to sustainable practices on both an individual and school wide level
  • identify ways in which to share, promote and celebrate individual positive actions – within and beyond classrooms
  • incorporate the Sustainable Development Goals as a framework and lens through which to organise our actions as a community
  • encourage and build partnerships within our local community to encourage and model individual and collective action
  • implement our Eco School action plan to unite our community in committing to sustainable practices on both an individual and school wide level

What other ideas can you see? How might you use this Framework within your school context? I am curious to learn of other thoughts and ideas and to hear examples of how schools are actively addressing intercultural understanding in their communities.

Joy in the Small Moments

I recently shared a post with my school community about taking time each day/each week to find joy in the small moments that are scattered throughout our lives.

Despite the disruption, confusion and upset all around us during this COVID-19 Pandemic, there is joy to be found in the small moments. These nuggets of joy can act as reminders, inspire us, and fulfil us, especially when our days are all the more stressful, demanding and filled with uncertainty. As we continue to be faced with huge challenges as a result of the world wide pandemic, I keep returning to three different common themes that I believe we have to keep reminding ourselves:

  • This is a crisis – even as we begin to ‘return to normality’ people have changed, our perspectives have been changed, our daily lives have changed, families are changed; our world remains uncertain on a global scale and many lives have been lost. This all equates to an ongoing crisis with impacts that will long be felt beyond when it seems on the surface all is ‘normal’ again.
  • Connection and community are critical to all of our wellbeing. We need to be open to, and embrace, new and different ways to maintain and grow connections and community. For our students especially, our focus needs to be on supporting their wellbeing, hearing their worries, and moving at their pace. We need to listen to them more than ever. We all know that learning requires a safe and secure environment for us to be able to engage and embrace in learning. For many students security and stability are scarce as we move through uncertain times and so providing opportunities to come together and find joy in the small moments.
  • Kindness to ourselves and one another. This for me, is the most critical point – only through kindness and empathy can we find the best pathway forward, one that is sustainable, inclusive and responsive. Showing appreciation, gratitude and finding the joy in the small moments can help us be kinder to ourselves and each other. This can only be a good thing for all of us as individuals and as a community.

As we are in the midst of all of this transition and change, uncovering joy is truly priceless for us all. Finding ways to connect and share with each other, celebrate kindness and be together as a community are all things that will sustain us. It has been noticeable throughout this period how nature is being appreciated more than ever and that much more noticing is happening around us, more time to think and more time to appreciate. Perhaps, it will also prompt us to think, that those small moments are really not so small after all. They are what matters most.


“….Find out where joy resides, and give it a voice far beyond singing. For to miss the joy is to miss all.”


Robert Louis Stevenson

‘Small Moments’

As we approach the beginning of the new school year it got me thinking about ‘small moments’. Our Writer’s Workshop training has focused us all at BMS on how a story can be created from just a simple ‘small moment’. So much of preparing for the welcoming back to school of our students, teachers and parent community is about communicating ‘the big picture’ and ‘big events’, making a good impression and getting everything ‘right’ (whatever that is!) but it is all the ‘small moments’ which truly matter.

The ‘small moment’ taken to have time for a colleague to chat about organising their new classroom or offering to take a new member of the team for coffee. The ‘small moment’ to listen to a new student and hear their story, to show them their way around the school. The ‘small moment’ of sitting down to lunch together with a colleague we don’t yet know. These are the moments that matter when we are all settling in and finding our way. These are the ‘small moments’ taken to learn about each other which woven together begin to tell the story of a community. This is what creates a climate for exponential learning. These are the small moments that I want to participate in as we start our school year, and I trust that our students, teachers and parent community will write many ‘small moment’ stories together.