Make better Mirrors.

“Any fool can know. The point is to understand.”
― Albert Einstein

How can we better teach students to understand their own learning?

Earlier in the month, I put together this post on reflection and refraction: or my thoughts on the need to make sure our networks are part of the reflective practice.  Incidentally, just this week, a group of teachers and I tapped into the collective wisdom of Madeleine Brookes as she toured us through her thoughts on connectivism and blogging (do read her post here). Then, just this morning I listened to one of my favorite pop-culture podcasts (The Slate Spoiler Series), as they ran through the various theories and reactions to the film Mother!, if you have seen the film, I think you’ll enjoy it too (click here).  I mention all of this, because I think mixed together, they speak to a need to diversify perspective when reflecting. In order to make reflection serve the dual purpose of engaging learners with their own learning AND developing networks that foster critical thinking, reflective activities have to hook our imaginations.

Protocols for reflection should be adaptive.

One thing that I love doing as an educator is crafting questions.  It is something I have invested a lot of time in, and it is the reason I am obsessed with podcasts.  Listening to interviews, eavesdropping on professional critics has much to teach us about question-design.  Anyone who listens to Desert Island Discs knows there is a craft to drawing out better answers. Dana Stevens, film critic, and podcaster is my yoda when it comes to provoking her co-hosts to dig deeper into their responses, you can hear her here. Perhaps the #1 take away I have from years of listening to Stevens is this: don’t let opinions float, and don’t let people ‘off easy,’ great conversations are often the result of great challenges.

How can we ‘be more Dana’ in the classroom?

  1. If your students are blogging about a learning experience, partner them up with a reader who will ask five why’s in response—engender provocation within the portfolios.
  2. Use metaphors. Ask your students to rethink their course, that lesson, a project, an experience as a sport. Huh?  I walk through that in detail here.
  3. Use the WOOP method to encourage students to take ownership within their own learning structures.  You can enjoy a long-listen about the theory here (see another podcast!), or take the WOOP challenge and watch this 5-minute tutorial, or check out the WOOP app. The process of identifying and acknowledging the internal obstacle is huge.
  4. Remember that a small change can have a big payoff: Ask this question: If you had just 30 more minutes to revise/plan for that project/event before it launched, what should you have done with those 30 minutes and why?
  5. In small teams, take turns building journey and empathy maps.
  6. Hit the whiteboards and draft out your force field analysis.
  7. Encourage students to be flexible in their reflection–when they are thinking critically about what happened and why, encourage them to return to earlier posts/statements with this question: “Why might the exact opposite also be true?”
  8. Get out the timer, and quickly offer up snapshots of your learning, Nicki Hambleton explains the process here.

What’s your favorite way to engage with reflection?

mirror flickr photo by sharing user info with oath is wrong shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license


Reflection and Refraction in The Classroom

If reflection can only happen in learning ecologies where learners are given time and direction, refraction can only happen in environments where we believe in transparency, networks and perspective. Schools and societies need both.

I believe that portfolios/blogs are a wonderful way to bring refraction and reflection together.  In a recent post about the power of reading for thought leaders, I came across the following:

I’ve long been a fan of Goodreads as a tool to make our reading habits more transparent and our love of learning more visible (I reflected on this years ago),  and I continue to follow #IMWAYR (It’s Monday What Are You Reading?) on Twitter with delight.  One of my favorite mentor texts for both reflecting and refracting learning comes from our acting Head of School, Nick Alchin, because he often updates his learning community on his reading (see here for just one example).  What makes his example even more relevant for me,  is that I’m able to make connections between his reading reflection and refract it with another member of our leadership team’s reflection, Stuart MacAlpine (see an example here).

experiment flickr photo by uberculture shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

School culture is built both intentionally and incidentally.

When members of the community share their learning processes, make connections amongst their inquiry, and collectively consider resources we see another opportunity to enhance our culture.

Could we do more to intentionally synergize our reflective practice? Yes.

The philosophy behind our use of digital portfolios speaks to this, but we need to build and seek out opportunities to bring it to life. In part, I believe it starts with carefully crafting questions which will be creative catalysts for conversation (I tried to do that here). But we also need to schedule sharing.  Where can we make time not just to record and reflect, but to respond to the reflection of others, thus refracting a network of inquiry?  Much has been said about blogging to develop voice, but I think we need to stop underestimating blogging as a tool for better listening, George Couros has commented on this here:


Is your school culture the product of reflection and refraction?


Featured Image Courtesy of Flickr


From fire hydrant to drinking fountain

Welcome to your 2017-2018 Academic Year!

I had a(nother) great chat with our Head of PSE, Louisa the other day, and it inspired this post (thanks, Louisa).

We teach and live in a world with more resources than ever before.  With all we have access to, sometimes it is difficult to know where to start, what to prioritize, and how best to access the ‘grand cru’ of educational media links.  As I write this post, I write it not to curate a definitive list, but rather to spark a conversation with you–the reader.  My list attempts to offer you my Top Ten Favorite ‘watering holes’ online–these are the ten places I go back to week after week–gathering fuel for myself and my students.  I’ve focused on resources which have felt the most relevant to me this year.  Please–like Ann Powers did in her NPR piece over the summer about the top albums by women in music—debate the list, leave me a comment and feel free to e-shout at me about the resources that I missed out on.

My Top Ten Online Watering Holes for Educators:

10. Vox’s Vox Almanac Youtube Channel

What it is: Mindblowing

Where you may want to use it: Right Across the #IBDP

One of my favorite episodes:

9. Deep Look: from KQED and PBS

What it is: A Scientist’s Delight

Where you may want to use it: In the Sciences or ESS

One of my favorite episodes:

8. Great Big Story

What it is: A great buffet of untold stories that you are going to want to hear more about.

Where you may want to use it: Everywhere and Anywhere

One of my favorite episodes:

7. Today I Found Out

What it is: Bizarre and fun.

Where you may want to use it: Great for start of class/meeting provocation

One of my favorite episodes:

6. The School Of Life

What it is: All the stuff you wish you knew when you were a teen

Where you may want to use it: Excellent for PSE, mentoring of anyone

One of my favorite episodes:

5. ASAPScience

What it is: A weekly show bound to get you hooked on Science

Where you may want to use it:  Theory of Knowledge, ESS

One of my favorite episodes:

4. The Infographics Show

What it is: Gorgeous Information

Where you may want to use it:  Any Humanities course, occasional links with Language and Literature

One of my favorite episodes:

3. The Economist’s Youtube Channel

What it is: Bound to make you strike up fabulous lunch table conversations

Where you may want to use it:  across the curriculum

One of my favorite episodes:

2. The Guardian’s VR Playlist

What it is: Youtube journalism at it’s best

Where you may want to use it:  across the curriculum

One of my favorite episodes:

1. Slate Magazine’s Youtube Channel

What it is: The stuff that will keep you awake at night with wonder

Where you may want to use it:   great for PSE, Global Perspectives

One of my favorite episodes:

What’s on your top ten list? Please tell me all about it in the comment section below!

*Featured Image via Twitter: Ten by Andrea Passoni

Your True Teacher Self

This post is inspired by Invisibilia’s podcast episode available here:

“You think that there is some essence of who you are that will endure regardless of the situation or the context but the fact is this is actually not the case.” 

The longer I’ve worked in schools, the more I’ve come to believe in our ability to transform, our capacity to construct our very own chrysalis.  But, time after time, I do hear people question whether or not people change and debate the power of personality.

Educators, perhaps more than any other profession, should advocate for a definition of self that is adaptable.

Transformation flickr photo by Marie-Pierre et Nathalie shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

Like most opportunities to advocate, the learning needs to start from within.

How can we start to allow our ‘teacher-selves’ to see ourselves as adaptable?

Here are three approaches towards a self-reflection rethink for teachers:

  1. What mythology of your practice have you told yourself? 

When you think of your teaching style, how have you come to define it? Which anecdotes about educating have you most-shared about yourself, and why have they been ‘share-worthy’ in your mind?  Why is it important for you to match that definition? Where and when did you learn to be ‘that teacher’?

Then think: what would change if you abandoned that definition for a month? If you were to redefine the portrait of you, the educator, what ONE WORD would you want to introduce to the new definition and why?

      2.  Host office mix and match up week.

If you sit in an office with colleagues, pick one week to mix up departments.  If your classroom is in a corridor/section of similar subjects, relocate for a week.  If you aren’t in a classroom, but are in an office–move your office to a different location for a week, ie relocate into the library, or a public space.

Then think: how much of my definition of self comes from my routine surroundings?  What is one thing that changed as the direct result of the fresh perspective? 

        3. Rethink your next staff meeting.

Instead of zigging, zag.  When is the last time your meeting’s objective was to get to understand the way your colleagues think? The way you think? Here is my map for hosting a meeting as an open discussion, complete with prompts, questions, and sign ups–feel free to copy and remix. Here is the question guide for that meeting structure:

Then think: what about staff meetings limit our understanding of one another as educators? How can we maximize meeting time to rethink what we want our definitions of educators as educators to be?

Feature Image:
“Tent Caterpillar – Mother Natures Finest Weaver” flickr photo by docentjoyce shared under a Creative Commons (BY) license

Calling time-out.

Sport Gestein flickr photo by WarrenMillerEnt shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC-ND) license

“Do we want to measure skill as precisely as possible, or do we just want to feel alive?”

The question above comes from one of my all time favorite Youtube channels, Vox. A recent video investigates the relationship of luck and skills as they apply to sports analysis.  In this post, I’d like to extend their text as an analogy to explore at your school, as your academic year comes to a ‘time out.’

In part, the idea is to help us think about what Seth Godin refers to as ’emotional labor,’ in this post here. There isn’t a school on the planet who couldn’t do with Godin’s advice to invest in the emotional work of engaging with one another in a productive (and compassionate) way.  The emotional highs and lows of any sport, the disipline, and dedication of training, the camaraderie and spirit of fans, the skill, luck and evolution of talent describe not only that next playoff game–but also work as descriptors of an academic year too.

Before we jump into those questions, please take the seven minutes to watch the following:

The following questions could be used with staff, students, or just as a provocation for personal reflection:

Please feel free to share your thoughts on the questions, suggest a better analogy, or let me know when and where you could see those questions being used to spark conversation in the comment section below.


Featured Image By Flickr

Jimmys Daskalakis