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.

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.

Spring is in the Air: Time for another #ISMTeachMeet

My school community is filled with educators who come from a range of backgrounds and have a wide variety of expertise so it would be foolish for us not to take advantage of such a skilled and knowledgeable bunch of teachers and encourage a professional sharing practice.

John Jones, @mrjonesICT, and I first introduced the idea of a TeachMeet to the ISM teaching community well over a year ago. Our first session was met with a mixture of extreme caution, some resistance but mostly curiousity and enthusiasm.  We welcomed some risk-taking teachers to stand up and share their experiences, wisdom, learning and innovative ideas to colleagues. They led the way in ensuring that gradually TeachMeets are becoming part of our School community culture.

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Many teachers found it an enlightening experience to hear what fellow colleagues who they share their morning break with every day actually find useful, engaging tools to inspire learning in the classroom. Since then the #ISMTeachMeet has gained momentum and we have scheduled to have these school-wide at least once a term. Our Spring TeachMeet is lining up to have everything from Design Learning presented by Jen Rhodes @JenRhodes to using Pinterest & Smore to create and share revision guides by Michael Cotgrave @Miclaaa.

Now, my next thought is how about we create a StudentMeet for teachers and students! Why don’t we ask students to present for 2 or 5 minutes about the technology tools and learning practices that engage and inspire them in their everyday learning….. Wouldn’t it make sense to hear what they find successful? My next goal has been set!