Convocation: changing the conversation

Last Thursday, my colleague, John, wanted to take an hour to just chat all things education.  Like the quick talk from Derek Slvers above, John has a flexible mindset. More schools need more educators who are willing to slinky their way out of their comfort zone.

Lucho Molina Slinky
Lucho Molina


I think the slinky metaphor works, because as any enthusiast of the toy will recall–a slinky doesn’t necessarily always have to move in one direction.  I’ve been thinking a lot about flexible leadership due to a fantastic read:

Persuadable: How Great Leaders Change Their Minds to Change the World by Al Pittampalli

The book walks the reader through myths surrounding effective leadership with pitch perfect examples.  Here are a few of my favorite ‘a-ha’ moments from the text:

“Sometimes the greatest acts of integrity involve being inconsistent—especially when circumstances change, new information comes to light, or mistakes have been made. And because the world is changing fast, now more than ever, leaders need to be big enough to embrace inconsistency when required.”

“Are you committed to growth, or are you committed to extraordinary growth? If you’re committed to extraordinary growth, then you should be killing your darlings. Go out of your way and try to disprove your own favored belief. If you succeed, then you know that you can discard the belief. If you fail, then you can be more confident that your belief is the right one.”

“Civility is overrated. Discourse doesn’t ultimately fail because of a lack of etiquette. It’s because the parties fail to possess a genuine willingness to change their minds. If you have to choose between being polite or being persuadable, choose the latter. Fortunately, you don’t have to choose.”

More schools need to acknowledge how easy it is for echo chambers to drown out dissenting opinions.

Nothing is easier than holding onto long standing view points.  This is why dust seems to just happen.  You have to be proactive in diversifying your perspective.  A great exploration of that notion comes in audible edible media via Hidden Brain, in the episode called “Tribes and Traitors.”

So, how can we bust dust in our own minds?

Kathryn Hile Brooms
Kathryn Hile


Let go of the traditional idea of the staff room.

So many schools have adopted Virtual Learning Environments, intending to connect educators with their community, and of course that has many benefits.  But in 2016, we need to be better than that, we need to let go of walled gardens. We don’t live, teach, or learn in walled gardens anymore.  If we say we want to foster global citizenship, and we believe that more global citizens can and will help society, we need to model that as frequently as possible.

Let learning beget more learning fractals.

michaelangelo francis ripples
michaelangelo francis


Twitter, Blogging, Goodreads, Pinterest–they are all about that ripple effect.  Every ‘a-ha’ moment of my journey as an educator has been the result of someone else being charitable with their ideas, and unknowingly starting a ripple that finally influenced my pond.  The wonderful thing about being an International Educator is that I’ve had the luxury of swimming in many different ponds.  I realize that this luxury isn’t common.  The good news is you can mix up your pond even if you teach in the same school for an entire career.  Actually, I think you have a responsibility, now that you teach in a globalized world to make sure you swim with as many different idea-fish as possible.  If you teach in a walled garden VLE, take the arm floaties off.

What the heck does that mean?

Mix and mingle with teachers from different schools, countries, and continents. Why does that matter? It makes you rethink any confirmation biases you have about education, and it asks you rethink what your own school’s values really are.  Whenever you travel to a new place, you return to your home with a better understanding of what makes your own culture tick. If all great writing is rewriting, maybe all great thinking is rethinking.

The distance from can to will keeps getting larger.

You can connect, lead, see, speak, create, encourage, challenge and contribute.

Will you?

The confusion kicks in when we become overwhelmed by all the things we can do, but can’t find the time or the courage to actually commit and follow through.

In the face of all that choice, we often confuse can’t and won’t. One lets us off the hook, the other is a vivid reminder of our power to say yes if we choose.

From Seth Godin’s blogpost “Going The Distance”

Make room to debunk myths about your own teaching and learning.

Last week, when John and I met to talk, it reminded me again of how our teaching is always public.  Though John and I don’t talk that frequently, it was surprising how much we did understand about the things we value, and the things we want to improve.  John frequently refers to himself as someone who fell into teaching, and doesn’t see himself as an expert.  What I should have told him in that hour, is that the truth is, teachers who take on this Charlie Chaplin idea:

“That´s what all we are. Amateurs. We don´t live long enough to be anything else,”

are setting themselves up for success.  When we eat a slice of humble pie, and take the pressure off, when we remember to heed the advice of Austin Kleon:

“Forget about being an expert or a professional, and wear your amateurism (your heart, your love) on your sleeve. Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you,”

we remember to open ourselves up to the advice of anyone and everyone who has something to offer.  That’s why I love Twitter.  I’ve learned from people I’ve never met.  I’ve learned from former students.  I’ve learned from best-selling authors, and I’ve learned from parody accounts too:

The best leaders I’ve worked with have valued the opinions of everyone on their team.  They’ve taught me, through modeling, to treat everyone like a trusted advisor.  This is why I am so incredibly excited to work on the same campus as Karen O’Connell again next year. She has bucket-loads more experience than me.  Karen is one of the brightest leaders on the circuit, and she has worn more hats than my closet has room for.  But she always made me feel like my opinion mattered.  Karen always made time to talk with me, and to make note of what I was doing in my classroom. I know she did this when she had a ‘todo list,’ long enough to rival a boa, but she did it anyway.

That’s why I take on the reading suggestions of my students.  That’s why I prompt my students to talk to one another, and to consult with each other more than they consult with me. That’s why we use the Harkness Table Talk method, and why I try to listen to them way more than they need to listen to me. The ‘Karen-effect’ is all about making sure that power is not the primary objective of the learning environment.

Mathieu Jarry equality
Mathieu Jarry


How does ‘the karen-effect’ apply to schools at large?

No matter the size of your school, it is important to remember that all schools can learn from joining the open-staff-room platform of Twitter.  The ICT Evangelist recently posted on how to get started as a tweeting school, full text available here. It isn’t just about learning from other schools, it is also learning about your own school:

I am a firm believer in sharing the great things that happen within a school. There are times when schools need to share time-sensitive or pertinent information with parents. This could be done via the school website, but as busy people, how often does your parent community check the site? In these social media times, schools should be putting themselves where their community are, and not just on Twitter. Parents also use Facebook, Google+ and Instagram and some will just prefer good old-fashioned email. Schools should be capitalising upon this and not just leaving it to chance that parents might see an update to the school website.

There are a number of schools doing this, and doing it very, very well:

Check out #SISrocks from Shekou International School:

Check out #NISTmakerspace from the New International School of Thailand

Check out #uwclearn from United World College of South East Asia

(Hash)Tag, are you it?

For the past year and a half, a few in my department have been using #eagleenglish as a subject-wide #, but we’ve been missing out on the magic that happens when you open up a # to the entire community.  Our school crosses over three campuses, and could really benefit from more collaborative discussions.  High school teachers have much to learn from their primary school counterparts.  Digital Citizenship has much to gain from an authentic playing field.  The student council Twitter account from my previous school did so much to get #mightmacans thriving. The former StuCo president has been on Twitter since 2009, and now at university, she still blogs, she’s still ever the beacon for fellow students (#lifelonglearner), oh, and she’s about to read her 600th book on Goodreads.  Connected learners make connections long after they leave your campus.

So here’s my pitch.  I’ll publish this post in just a few minutes, then I’ll be sure to share it, and I’ll intentionally share it with current colleagues.  Our school mascot is the eagle.  I googled what a group of eagles is called, and I’m chuffed to find out it is called a convocation.  What radder title for a school-wide, all stakeholders welcomed hashtag? Maybe #wingspand is better?  I’ll leave it to them.  Yes, let’s keep the VLE, it is a great launch pad.  For those excited about broader connections, perhaps those already experimenting, or someone who has read the Edutopia article linked below, we need to make sure we are extending as well as supporting. Do we need a new #? The current one is underused—or do we just need to reboot and throw a little kindling on the current one? How can we use Twitter to spark broader conversations about our school-wide goal this year? Could we use it as a way to crowd-source for resources and best practice?

12 Reasons to Get Your School District Tweeting This Summer


Our schools and districts don’t have all the answers. Connecting with others doing the same work for kids can help us develop a strong PLN, strengthen the skills of any administrative team, stay current with the latest research and publications, and keep the conversation going from conferences, in-services and informal dialogue. For example, a colleague recently wondered how principals in Finland evaluated teachers. The answer and multiple resources came moments after this person tweeted a question with the #finnedchat hashtag attached.

Schools in 2016 need those casual hour long in person chats every bit as much as they need the interaction with ‘outsiders,’ because as far as learning goes, we need to be as inclusive as we possibly can.  If we truly believe we have the potential to deal with global issues, we need to start by hearing what the world has to say. ‘Tis the season of Spring Cleaning, ready to do some mental dusting?

Nicole Beaulac Bald Eagle
Nicole Beaulac
Bald Eagle

FLICKR + CREATIVE COMMONS= Better Blogging for the world.  Thank you for making the following images available in this post.

Lucho Molina  Slinky

Kathryn Hile Brooms

michaelangelo francis ripples

Mathieu Jarry equality

Nicole Beaulac Bald Eagle

Learning2 Listen

Al Ibrahim Listen
Al Ibrahim


I recently watched CeleSTE Headlee’s phenomenal TED talk on better ways to talk to people:

I’m hoping you took the twelve minutes to enjoy it as well.  In a world that gets busier and busier, I find we constantly need to relearn the fine art of tuning in. Schools are noisy.  They should be, we should be teaching our students how to make a splash, create a ripple, and have passionate discussions.  But we also need to take the time to engage with one another, to champion learning cohorts within our faculty.

As cathedrals of learning go, they can’t do very much without discourse.

How many conversations have you had with colleagues this week? How many times did you go past pleasantries, and really dig into a dialogue with any fraction of provocation?

brighter than sunshine conversation
brighter than sunshine


What does your school do to promote conversation? Do your meetings look and feel like a checklist, or do they engage with a variety of perspectives?

Two weeks ago, while attending Europe’s first ever #Learning2 conference in Milan as a Learning2 Leader I was reminded of the power of cultivating conversations.

Today, according to amazing lead learners like Carrie Zimmer, I’m well aware that this idea resonates with others from the L2 crew:

What we do with our time signifies who we are as a learning community. 

If we don’t have time for story sharing, questioning, and idea exchanges, we need to pivot with our time management. James Dalziel shared a fantastic post on just this idea, in his review of Teacher Self-Supervision: Why Teacher Evaluation Has Failed and What We Can Do about It 
by William PowellOchan Kasuma Powell

The authors argue that there needs to be a dramatic shift away from the traditional view that teaching is an isolated and individual activity toward a new culture where teachers have the need to meaningfully interact regarding their pedagogical practices and student learning. Having another professional presence in my learning environment should not be the cause of stress, tension, and anxiety but instead must become the natural interactive and collegial default by which we share our practice, express our vulnerabilities, and ultimately develop our professionalism.


The #Learning2 conference is designed to spark conversations.  This happens not only in the cohort gatherings and extended sessions, but it also happens in the days leading up to the conference.  As a L2 Leader I had the honor of getting time with fellow L2 Leaders: Warren, Sheldon, Carrie, Steven, Paula, Jeff, Simon, and Marcello.

We talked.

And talked.

And talked.

It was a buffet of ideation and so much more.  #Learning2 creates that space: an arena for meditative musing.

How do you create a culture where dialogue dominates?

Andy Matthews Wires
Andy Matthews


Step one:  Roll out the dough

Sure, every group has at least one person with a little more power than the rest–but when that conversation kicks off, the power dynamic needs to flatten out.  Jeff Utecht is one of the founders of Learning 2, and he has a good 15,000 more followers than the rest of his L2 Leaders, but he let the conversation lead–he didn’t see the dialogue as an opportunity to gain status.  There’s a big lesson there: real leadership is comfortable in the backseat as well as at the steering wheel. When you value the community, when you truly treasure the connections within the community, that level of leveled leadership is easy to do.

Step Two: Invite dissenting opinions

When the L2 Leaders sat down to pitch ideas and practice their Learning 2 talks (see them all here) the aim wasn’t to pat ourselves on the back.  The aim was to make our ideas better.  Ideas only improve by taking on criticism.  Criticism works best when we welcome it.  Be more vulnerable.  This is easy to do when you see your mentors taking it on.  Sheldon Bradshaw has been my mentor since I had the luxury of working with him in Indonesia.  Sheldon was my IT Director.  He took (and continues to take) risks.  When you see leadership modeling vulnerability, it puts the welcome mat down for others. Sheldon frequently asked for my opinion.  When a leader asks you to throw your two cents in, it matters.  When a star guitarist shares their amplifier with you, you feel like a rock star.  If you haven’t seen Sheldon’s talk, stop reading and enjoy:

Step Three: show public displays of affection

Maria Ly redpointing The King, V7 in Yosemite
Maria Ly
redpointing The King, V7 in Yosemite

Put your passion out there.  Learn in the great wide open.  When you know what your colleagues care about, you have a foothold to push forward from.


Some schools are better than others about purposefully linking passions.  Shekou International School seems to be quite good at it, check out their AMPed program:

Don’t wait for passion to push through the chaos on its own.  Intentionally create an environment for it to flourish.  Learning2 is an extremely connected conference.  The conference lives on through social media.  The passion inherent in that learning experience is documented and curated.

Step 3.5: Be beyond the learning

Many mission statements target learning, and reference developing academic excellence. Push past that.  Schools aren’t just about developing students, they should be about developing societies. Learning2 isn’t about technology.  It isn’t about curriculum.  Learning2 is about facilitating a better realm of education not just for teachers and students, but for human beings everywhere.

The thing is, we can only hold schools accountable at that societal level when we are holding ourselves responsible for our own well being first.  The healthiest schools don’t teach well-being, they model and prioritize it above all else.

So, working my way backwards, to recap:

If we authentically care about ourselves, we can truly care for others.  When we care for others we share our passions.  Where our passions meet, diversified opinions are championed. In those exchanges, we are led by our conversations and values, and not by the simple authority of one.

Thank you to the entire #Learning2 team, you’ve taught me to level up on my listening game, and to trust that the conversations you’ve curated will inspire me as I continue on my journey as an educator.

Shout out to Flickr for providing bloggers with stunning Creative Commons images

Al Ibrahim  Listen
brighter than sunshine conversation

Andy Matthews Wires

Maria Ly redpointing The King, V7 in Yosemite

Adaptive schedules.

So much has changed about schools in the past decade. 

With incredible minds like Jane McGonigal and Sal Khan becoming household names, the future is bright.  There is momentum towards disrupting old, outdated practice. People are aware that new times demand new skill sets.  A new list of soon-to-be-needed skills pops up every other month.

"Forward" by Bruce Berrien
“Forward” by
Bruce Berrien


Those in education who have been adapting again and again have weathered an absolute tidal wave of new pedagogical buzzwordiness.  And language matters in education.

The metaphors we think in shape the way we engage in our classrooms. 

I’m currently drafting a Learning2 keynote that looks at rethinking one of those metaphors (I’ll update after next week).  Perhaps this is why I’m surprised to find in 2016 ‘schedule,’ and ‘time table’ have weathered said storm.

Storm by Jussi Ollila
Storm by
Jussi Ollila


Why aren’t we thinking about time differently in our schools?

Whenever an initiative, project, or plan wavers, the first response is almost always: “If we had more time…”

If we don’t have the time we need, shouldn’t we be rethinking the way we invest it?

Last night I finally got around to scoping out Jabiz Raisdana’s killer promo idea for Learning2 in Vietnam this coming October.  Check it out:

I love that professional development today is starting to mirror more the notion of the ‘maker’s schedule’ over that of the ‘manager’s schedule.’  More on that here.

If we know that creative work needs big blocks of time, why isn’t that showing up on our school schedules?  What if schools offered a session like Jabiz’s once a month?  What if we had teachers fleshing out key themes and issues, according to choice, interest, and passion?

What is your school doing differently with time?

What do you wish your school changed about their time investments?

What is the one best thing your school does to save time?

Images thanks to Flickr!

“Forward” by
Bruce Berrien

Storm by
Jussi Ollila

Dividends on an Investment.

“They always say time changes things, but you actually have to change them yourself.”
Andy Warhol, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol

"GotCredit" by Invest
“GotCredit” by Invest

When I first started out on this COETAIL journey, I was seeking enrichment.  I wanted to invest in my own learning, I wanted to invest in myself.  Was I worried about finding the time? Of course.  Every COETAILer will tell you that working through the courses is time-consuming, all great learning is.  How we spend our time matters.  What we make time for communicates our values.  As a teacher, I must make time for learning.  As a learner, I must make time for disruption. 


Throughout my own bloggings during COETAIL, I was able to reflect on the ways I have shaped blogging in my classroom.  When I first started blogging with students six years ago, it looked much different.  It was messier, I was experimenting.  Today, I’m still experimenting.  If I want the blogging culture to be relevant, it has to keep that experimental vibe.  This leads me to one of my biggest take-aways from this final COETAIL project:

Blogging must fit your specific context.

Every class, cohort, school is different.  Honor that.  When I first joined my current school, blogging as a habit–as a network, wasn’t a thing.  I had moved from a school with established blogging, and bubbling bloggers to an environment which was much more conservative.  Change needs to happen slower in conservative schools.  But conservative schools also need risks to be taken, and examples to be provided.  If you are going to be that risk-taker, you need to have a thick skin.  But hey, don’t all educators need to have a thick skin? If we want students to take risks, it is nice if they see teachers doing the same.

Sadhinota 26/40 by Shumona Sharna
Sadhinota 26/40 by
Shumona Sharna

It took almost a year to have the blogs in a place where the momentum was pushing ahead.  At the end of my first year, I shared the progress at a full staff meeting, where different departments were asked to highlight specific achievements made under the theme of ‘technology.’  Here is the video I shared:

Essentially, I wanted to rebrand the blogs as a space for collaboration.  Blogging isn’t solely about the tech.  Blogging is about the community, the creativity, and the many, many skills that go into braving the act of learning in the open.

As I neared the final course for COETAIL, I knew I wanted that time investment to be about student ‘thought-leadership.’  In order to have the blogs empower student ownership and voice, choice was going to have to be at the core of the routine.  I also knew that in order to make this pivot palatable, the blogs would also need to reflect ‘academic’ outcomes.  In the MYP Language and Literature course, there is a specific assessment target which highlights ‘production of text.’  I developed ‘Semester at C’  as a way to target Criterion C, and invest more classroom time in blogging.  I introduced this new wave in blogging to my students in a similar way that COETAIL mapped out the course for us.  Students were asked to track their posts, use the menu–or go out on their own.  They were also asked to leave comments on a set number of other posts.  The most important tool in this step?  Time.  Without providing time at this stage, it would not have worked.  Did I have to sacrifice other aspects of my course?  But do I have many dividends to point to now?  Absolutely.  Do students engage willingly and enthusiastically in writing? Yes.  Do students feel more confident taking creative risks? Yes.  Are students forming networks, and building community? Again, Yes.


So what were my specific targets for my final project?

Screen Shot 2016-04-01 at 19.03.21

A way of rephrasing those goals is to say that I wanted students to feel intrinsically motivate to blog.  I wanted students to invest in their own ideas through blogging.  In attempting to do this, I learned even more about the power of audience.  This is something Kim Cofino recently blogged about here.

I love this TEDx which takes that sentiment further:
  Weeks from now, I’ll still be thinking about this take-away:

How do you galvanize your creators and your audience?

If I could go back and do any one thing differently, I would have put more time investing in our potential audience.  I think a great step forward for schools new to student blogging is to recruit readers.  What if I had asked a set of parents, teachers, and administrators to sign up earlier to leave at least one comment a week? 

I did send individual posts to targeted readers, and almost every time, the teacher I asked to leave a comment did.  Comments matter to students.  Nothing motivates student writers in the making more than the feedback of their community.  And as a community of learners, there is a moral obligation to be a community of idea sharers.  I think this post from @langwitches sums that up even better.

An indicator of success in meeting my goals is that students have moved past my menu of blogging prompts, and are now opting to come up with their own.  The key redefinition is that they are now writing for students beyond the boundaries of our campus.  As a month long initiative that I promoted via Twitter using #March2C, I managed to connect with two teachers in Abu Dhabi (thank you: Mary Lawson and  Matt McGrady!!!) and our students commented on one another’s posts which are still gathering here.

When my grade 9 students served as ‘mentor bloggers’ connecting with those 6th grade bloggers in Abu Dhabi, their comments demonstrated a level of what I’ll call empathetic engagement, have a look:

A sample comment from one of my 9th grade students connecting with a 6th grader in Abu Dhabi
A sample comment from one of my 9th grade students connecting with a 6th grader in Abu Dhabi

Encourage students to target a specific audience.

The reality is, our bloggers are not ‘writing for the world.’  This doesn’t mean they can’t target specific readers far and wide.  When one 9th grade student did write a post inspired by best selling author, Austin Kleon, it is certainly a redefining moment when he takes a moment to appreciate her work:

Screen Shot 2016-04-02 at 12.55.29

While time and resilience are essential tools in building better blogging communities, there are also practical (clickable) helpers too:

Resources / Materials:




PERSPIRATION:  tools to allow your blog to launch


For a full look at my UBD unit planner, click here.

Without further ado, here is my final COETAIL Course Five Project.  All photos/videos are my own, the music is Creative Commons, as cited at the end of the video, but if you would also like to use “Dig the Uke” by Stefan Kartenberg via ccMixter in your own video, here is where to find it.  Thank you to those of you taking the time reading this, and watching my ten minute recap.  If you are passionate about student blogging, and you’d like to connect to talk about future blogging projects, please do connect with me on Twitter, I’d love to hear from you!

As I prepare to publish this post, I’m wondering what COETAIL could do to set up a COETAIL jr program for students…if you have thoughts on that, please leave them in the comment section below.

  Thanks again to Flickr for providing the following amazing images used in this post:

Got Credit by Invest

Sadhinota 26/40 by
Shumona Sharna