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

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.

Literature Circles: A Powerful Practice to Support Differentiation

Literature Circles. Of all of the practices I introduced as a teacher in the Primary Classroom, I believe this to have been the most powerful. For me, literature has the power to connect us all beyond age, nationality, language, culture, religion or gender and also has the power to provoke thoughts and opinions that lay the foundations for a much deeper understanding. Stories are the way in which we begin to make sense of the world, and literature circles provide a framework through which we can support our students in discussing and sharing their opinions in order to be able to develop deeper understandings.

So, given my enthusiasm for Literature Circles I was delighted to have an opportunity to share this practice with teachers during our recent professional development days at Berlin Metropolitan School. We ran 17 teacher-led workshops in total, that teachers from ElC, Primary and Secondary could sign up to attend, and also our CCEP ( Co Curricula Education Program) educators joined in to both offer and attend workshops.

The theme for our professional Development Days was ´An Inclusive Culture of Learning´ and focused upon differentiation in the classroom. This was the perfect forum for discussing Literature Circles, as indeed, one of the elements as an international educator in a multilingual classroom that I found most appealing when I was first introduced to the practice of Literature Circles, was that they allowed for natural and authentic differentiation for all learners.

The presentation for this session outlining how Literature Circles can support differentiation can be found  by clicking on the link below.

https://app.emaze.com/@AIWWZRLW/literature-circlesPowered by emaze

Sharing Literature Circles with such a diverse group of teachers generated a great deal of interesting discussion and suggestions about how we can implement these at our school.  Teachers came with a variety of experiences of Literature Circles and from working with students from a range of ages. What struck me most was how this framework can function for our youngest students right the way through to our oldest learners. I love the flexibility they allow, and left the session posing questions about how we could transfer this structure to other disciplines or subject areas perhaps, or even work in a bilingual framework. I am looking forward to seeing what interesting ideas our innovative teaching team develop to support deep learning for our students of all ages and abilities through use of Literature Circles as a framework.

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The True Value of Student-led Portfolio Conferencing

2014-04-16 11.23.52I was first introduced to the concept of a student-led portfolio conference many years ago, and quickly became a strong advocate for their use as part of any effective reporting and assessment practice within a school. For further information about student-led portfolio conferences please have a look at the links below:

Student-led Portfolio Conference prezi

Blendspace lesson link: Student-led Portfolio Conferences

The whole process of student-led portfolio conferencing just made complete sense to me from the very beginning, and so I am always taken aback when educators around me require a great deal of convincing into their value and effectiveness as part of the learning process. In the world we live in today, in order to be successful, we must become extremely self-reflective and able to self-regulate and evaluate.

Now, I could list the many valid reasons as to why this type of conferencing has a positive educational impact upon learners, however, following our recent ‘Portfolio Conference Day’ at ISM I was reminded as to the fact there is one over-arching reason to value these:

learner pride = sense of fulfilment

For anyone, at any age, I would argue that pride and feeling valued are crucial in gaining a sense of fulfilment as a learner. Ultimately, isn’t that what we want all learners to feel and achieve? No matter what ‘level’ or ‘grade’ or ‘score’, learning to learn, motivation to learn and gaining fulfilment or feeling proud, is essentially what we should aspire to enable all our students to gain.

Student-led portfolio conferences facilitate young learners in developing crucial life long skills of self-reflecting and communicating effectively. The conference does so in a way in which the learner is encouraged to:

  • feel valued to have those most important to them take time to sit down and listen
  • meet in a space where they can be the ‘leader’ and feel confident
  • exhibit pride in their learning progress
  • find value in, and be encouraged to learn from their mistakes
  • share personal goals in their learning.

Some of the comments by students following our conferences, reinforced for me just how valuable these conference are.

“I felt proud of myself and I also felt quite confident.”

“I’m happy looking back at all my old work and seeing how have improved since then.”

“I felt smart, important and proud.”

“I think my parents enjoyed listening to me show them my work.”

(Year 6 student reflections on their conferences.)

For me, learner pride & fulfilment are the true value of student-led portfolio conferences.

The Power of Blogging & Twitter for Teachers

The Power of Blogging & Twitter Prezi

At our recent #ISMTeachMeet, I shared the prezi above outlining the value of blogging and twitter as valuable tools for personal professional learning and growth. The power of both these tools combined has enabled me to truly ‘make learning connections’ and develop as a leader and learner. Here are some examples of the tweets I shared with ISM teachers which were generated by asking other educators on twitter about the ‘power of twitter’ for educators today.

Learn to Listen, Listen to Learn!

School seems eerily quiet at the moment, you know that feeling when something just isn’t quite right?

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Well, the thing is, we have yet to actually welcome any students into school for the new term and, in reality, a school is not really a school at all unless you have students. I had blogged about this concept of students making the learning environment previously in, ‘What is a classroom?’

https://jennyofee.com/2012/08/27/what-is-a-classroom/

In many respects, it seems the wrong way round for teachers to be creating, planning and preparing everything students are ‘going to learn’ in the year ahead when we haven’t even met the students in our classes yet!

It made me think of this wonderful TED Talk by Adora Svitak, ‘What adults can learn from kids’:


So, when the students do arrive at school, we need to listen to them to learn and to facilitate learning; learn what they need from us, learn where they are in their learning journey, learn how they learn and learn what interests them to challenge and ignite a passion for being curious to learn more.

We also are blessed with possibility to learn new skills and knowledge from them, for example, I hope to continue to develop our ‘Digital Leaders’, a role that @mrJonesICT  began to develop with Primary School students last year. These ‘Digital Leaders’ can teach and support learning in classrooms immensely with their extensive skills and knowledge in ICT. Adults learn from kids.

We all have curriculums to follow, standards, benchmarks and perhaps exams to prepare our students for, but ultimately, if we want to connect with and help students achieve their potential we need to listen to them and believe in their capabilities. I fully intend to listen and to learn from the young learners around me. Building self-awareness around listening to our students can only serve to continue strengthening learning in our community. As @adorasv said, ‘Learning between grown-ups and kids should be reciprocal’.

Appreciation

Handing yourself over to be a student in a completely new discipline or unfamiliar territory can be daunting and this was where I found myself this summer during my Yoga Teacher Training at YogaWorks in Soho, NYC. The whole experience has taught me such a lot as both an educator and as a learner, and reminded me just how often we undervalue the power and impact of a truly GREAT teacher.

There have been many articles and posts written about the key ingredients to maximising learning in a classroom, how to engage students, strategies and tools that can be used to connect students with their learning and how to structure a lesson to maintain student interest. When it comes down to it however, what really makes the difference, is the teacher. It is a complex and arduous task to define what actually makes a truly GREAT teacher, but somehow you just know one when they cross your path.

When I found myself in the Yoga Studio, my classroom for a month, with Paula Liberis, I realised she was exactly that, a truly GREAT teacher. Someone who inspires and who is inspired, someone who has passion for their discipline and shares that in every aspect of their teaching. Someone who engages every student in the room and treats everyone equally. Someone who models and encompasses the values that they teach. Someone who connects to their students in an authentic, sincere way. Ultimately, someone who cares about the learning, invests in the learners and is also a reflective learner themselves.

It seemed appropriate then, that at the beginning of a new school year, this be my first post for the term ahead:  Appreciation of GREAT teachers.

My focus this term is to show appreciation for all of the GREAT teachers who are around me, those both near and far. Every time a student leaves with a lasting memory of their learning; an ancedote a teacher has shared to help them understand something or an experience they have participated in that has inspired, amazed or challenged their thinking, a GREAT teacher has been at work. GREAT teachers are a gift to be appreciated.

No Expectations

Expectations.

Think for a moment about what you expect from yourself, your students, your family, your friends & your colleagues. As an educator I have a lot of expectations, of myself, my colleagues and my students. I would convey the idea that I had ‘high expectations’ – I think wanting to empower myself and others to ‘rise to the challenge.’ Well, looking back now I was mistaken…

During this school holiday period, I enrolled in a 200hr Yoga Teacher Training program at YogaWorks in New York, some might say not quite a holiday! I most definitely had expectations.

Expectations of myself, of fellow classmates, of the teachers, the course and of what my body could do. What I hadn’t expected was to come away with letting go of expectations. I was challenged to ask: Does having expectations actually empower us?

In fact, I have left expectations behind, all of them. For all these years, I have been saying it’s good to have high expectations of yourself and of others, when really, what I actually meant all this time was – BELIEF. I am not advocating letting go of striving for the best outcome or challenging yourself or others to reach their full potential what I am saying is remove the negativity that expectation drags around with it. For me, it took placing myself in the midst of a whirlwind of self-expectation and to be challenged in a completely new learning environment. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing, inspirational teacher and fellow students to enable me to recognize the power of belief.

What a revelation!

Belief in yourself, belief in your students, belief in your family, your friends and your colleagues.

Ultimately, I have learnt how powerful a single word can be.

What a difference to say to a student, ‘I believe in you’ rather than ‘I have high expectations of you’. How much more positive, empowering and supportive. I learnt a huge amount during my Yoga teacher training and I am just realising how much of it will connect back to my work as an educator with young learners.

I will be returning to the school year with a focus on choosing my words carefully; freeing myself, my colleagues and students from expectations and; replacing these with belief. So, believe in your students, colleagues, friends, family and most importantly yourself and see the rewards you reap.

Student Driven Inquiry – Process vs Product

Last month in the Primary School we found ourselves in the midst of the Year 6 Exhibition; which is essentially a student driven, inquiry-based research project that extends over a period of approximately 12 weeks. It overwhelms both students and teachers and engulfs us all in questions, that create yet more questions, challenges and of course there is always a little bit of drama! This is student driven inquiry at its best and it injects a wide range of emotions into learning. For me personally, it is when I can see learning brought to life, largely because of the relationships and connections that are formed during this demanding process.

It is the process that I want to emphasise here. So much of learning (at any age) is about the final product and the learner is so focused on the end result throughout the journey to get there that the learning along the way can get undervalued. What I love about the Exhibition and how it has evolved at our school is the focus upon the process, it is the means through which the learning takes place.

Depending upon who you speak to on any one day during the yearly ISM Exhibition journey towards our final Exhibition ‘product’, you might hear exclamations of joy, despair, satisfaction or even frustration. This is even more prevalent when groups meet for their weekly ‘planning time’ with their mentors. The Mentors have a unique and central role in encouraging, questioning and guiding their particular group to be successful and help students stay on track during the inquiry process.
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For a glimpse into some of the process and understand the final ‘product’ have a look at our student blogs. Each group kept a regular journal during the Exhibition process and at the end of the inquiry they uploaded their learning to share with everyone.
Enjoy learning about The Mediterranean with Year 6!
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