Classroom makeover as professional development?

meet our Spacebusters…

A few weeks ago, the amazing Maija Ruokanen visited our school.  Here’s a recap of what she had to say.

With a book club dedicated to #LearningSpaces, there has been momentum growing on campus (check out our Flipboard of resources here) to do more with our learning environment. Starting this week, a group of 15 teachers will read a series of books to help strike up further conversation (if you are looking for a good text to start with, I’d recommend this one).

But conversation and literature are pointless unless you have a few risk takers willing to take action.  Enter Uzay: one of our school’s tech mentors, and model early adopters. Uzay gave up time to sit down and work through this classroom redesign audit with me so we could ideate the future of her learning space.

As a result of that conversation, and a follow up listen to this episode of Podcast #UWCLearn featuring Paula Guinto, Uzay came up with the theme to pull her room together with: #ideasbrewing.

"Cafe" Romuald Le Peru
“Cafe” Romuald Le Peru


Unpacking the theme

Uzay’s theme presents in a variety of java-fueled signage, and an attempt to bring that ‘cafe’ feel to her classroom.  We have more plans to make that theme really *pop* so watch this space for an update on part II.

Uzay is an IBDP Language&Literature teacher.  Using The Noun Project, we revamped her signage to reflect her #ideasbrewing theme, here’s a sample:

Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 4.38.15 PM Screen Shot 2017-03-29 at 4.38.08 PM


Who did we call?

I’m extremely lucky to be one of several learning coaches on campus.  Dave Caleb and Keri-Lee Beasley agreed to give up their lunch to come in and power through an hour-long makeover session.  We intentionally didn’t have Uzay present for this phase.  Sometimes it takes an outsider perspective to rethink the layout.  This was only done after consulting with Uzay and making note of ‘deal breakers’ and ‘must haves.’

Our objectives for that hour were the following:

  1. Declutter and streamline
  2. Create more space for social learning
  3. Respect both introverts and extroverts
  4. Pull the room together both with the theme and color scheme
  5. Establish levels and ‘cozyfy’

At the end of that hour, we talked about the next step, and what we could do to really honor Uzay’s new theme.  The new space inspired new thinking.  I’m thrilled to continue this project with my colleagues.  I’ve been wondering why schools don’t do this more often: why is it that at the start of the school year, I’ve traditionally only seen teachers working alone during that intial ‘set up’? If Learning Spaces are communal, wouldn’t the design phase also benefit from a team effort?


So what does before and after look like? 

Remember this represents just the first two hours of the process.  I think most likely this will need an additional two hours.  Within those hours you’ll find some very authentic professional development.  During our makeover, Keri-Lee and Dave continued to ask “If you were a student, which seat would you want?” We continued to push to make sure that there was no ‘one best seat,’ which pushed us to think deeper about the student experience. Lastly, this experiment was a reminder of two things we should continually monitor in our schools:

  1. Are people willing to take risks?
  2. Do we have a support network in place to support early adopters?



































Flickr Image courtesy of Creative Commons licenses

“Cafe” Romuald Le Peru 




Sowing ideas one post at a time

abbyladybug Pomegranate Seeds via Flickr
Pomegranate Seeds
via Flickr

How can we use blogs as fertile fields for ideation?

I do believe that my thinking helps to push that of others.  Sometimes in the way they agree, and sometimes when people disagree.  Opinions and ideas are often formed in what people read and how they connect to it.- George Couros

I love blogging. But that isn’t to say I’ve integrated it flawlessly.  I’ve abandoned blogs, started fresh in new spaces, and devoutly followed in the steps of other bloggers.  If you are looking for reasons why students should blog, click here.  If you want to be convinced that you the educator should be blogging, click here or here.

This post will focus on the applications for blogging once you’ve started.  This post might help you revamp your blog, or it might provide you with a few new approaches to learning in the great wide open.  Before we sample that menu, I’d invite you to listen to what some of my former students and colleagues had to say about blogging (just 5 months into the process):

You have all the innovation you need right there in your room” John Spencer (full video here)

1. Map out your menu

Be sure to include options for a wide variety of thinkers.  Here is a sample menu for an English class:

Made with Padlet

 Here’s a sample menu for a Global Perspective’s course:

Made with Padlet

2. Be adaptable:

Remember that we are teaching learners how to engage with a hyper-connected world (more on that here).

Remember that posts are containers. Sometimes my posts contain podcasts. Sometimes they curate tweets. Veer off script, test, trial, experiment.


3. Start and continue conversations:

Connected learning is about linking ideas, and seeing our community as one that values bridges.  A good post will connect us back to learning as well as connect us forward to applications, inquiry, or others.  Posts will formulate questions, and invite more learning in.

Here’s a sample comment a 9th grade student left on a 10th grade student’s blogpost:


4. Embrace the chaos:

“Failure counts as done. So do mistakes,” says The Done Manifesto.

Posts can be lists of questions, a curation of post it notes, or a single image looking for someone to ‘see, think, wonderfy’ it.

“Human beings are collectors,” says Austin Kleon in this talk, “…an artist’s job is to collect things.”  Use the blog as a means to preserve ideas, half-formed, partially-formed, fully formed.   As I type, I’m doing just that.  This post is an example of imperfection.  When I click ‘publish,’ I will share it with my PLN on Twitter and ask for help.

5. Commenting is an art:

If we learn to see ourselves all as ‘idea coaches,’ and to remember that each comment left on a post is an opportunity to encourage, support, or tease thinking out, we need to make the time to learn how to go about commenting a little bit better.  The art of commenting is every bit as important as the art of blogging.

Have a look at this comment left by a 9th grader on this post:


While you may want to develop your own commenting protocols (here’s mine), a good simple guide is to have students think over these ‘thinking moves,’ as a provocation for commenting.

Thinking Moves for Blog commenting – Created with Haiku Deck, presentation software that inspires;


Has this post planted a seed in your idea garden? 

If it has, tell us about it in the comment section below.



On the power of assemblage

When Is the last time you told a friend, colleague, or student: “I’ll be your audience”?

Last Monday, the third #teacherbookclub chat (Via Twitter) hosted the extraordinary co-author of Launch, John Spencer.

If you are in education and you have yet to check out Spencer’s ‘Sketchy Videos,’ be prepared to be amazed:

In John Spencer’s post “Ten Things Pixar Can Teach Us About Creativity” he reminds us that creativity is not the end goal, rather, creativity is a byproduct of healthy communities of learners who prioritize relationships above outcomes:

People are more important than ideas. There was a great quote here, “Ideas come from people. Therefore, people are more important than ideas . . . too many of us think of ideas as being singular, as if they float in the ether , fully formed and independent of the people who wrestle with them. Ideas, though, are not singular. They are forged through tens of thousands of decisions, often made by dozens of people.” This has a few big implications. First, it means trust and relationships are more important than the products we make. Second, it means we need to be okay to abandon ideas without taking things personally. Finally, it means our success in generating ideas does not define who we are as people.

JD Hancock Relationship
JD Hancock


Spencer’s musings on the trust we need to precede ‘creativity’ continues in his book (prioritize it on your summer to-read list):

“If we want students to hit a place of creative flow, we need to give them time to experience this phase. We must allow them to be excruciatingly slow. There’s no shortcut. They can’t bypass the necessary learning and discovery, trial and error. They simply need more time to work through it.”

A week ago, one of my amazing grade 9 students had a day off from school.  With all the open space of a day off campus she could have done just about anything.  Instead of binging on Netflix, she hit that place of creative flow.  All on her own. Check out her amazing project in the making here:

You can read all about the project to be here. Please consider leaving your comments, or connecting her with other students who might ignite other ideas too.

In many ways, that student followed Spencer’s Launch Cycle.  Perhaps she’d even agree with another quote from #LaunchBook:

“There’s power in problem-solving and experimenting and taking things from questions to ideas to authentic products that you launch to the world. Something happens in students when they define themselves as makers and inventors and creators.”

I’ve been thinking about the students and colleagues I’ve known who have been ‘prone to Launch.’  They all share one common trait:  they have a network who will support them by being a member of their audience.

Being someone’s audience comes in all shapes and sizes.  You can comment on their post, quote their tweet adding your ‘yes, and…’ thoughts, ask them to tell you more, connect them with someone who can take their work further, invite them into your network, or just listen.

“Just Listen.”

Sarah Horrigan Listen
Sarah Horrigan

How often do we underestimate the power of listening?

It is one of the most effective ways to make someone feel valued.  Think of the people you’ve most loved working with, I bet they made you feel heard.  The most inspired administrators I’ve had the privilege to work with are all stellar listeners.

As another academic year comes to an end, I propose a goal for all you gearing up to set brand new goals: make any five members of your community feel heard, for the entire year.  What if this goal applied to all stakeholders of your school? How might that feed into other goals?

I’m reading two books at the moment which are proving to be very helpful if you want to unpack that goal:

The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations Into Breakthroughs

by Marcia Reynolds


While I am incredibly excited to listen to brand new colleagues and students at my soon to be next school, I must say, I am every bit as excited to hear from the creator of the Firesaur, to find out how her project evolves.  I’m also excited to hear from members of the #EagleEd squad, and play audience from afar to hear about what they do with blogging, Davos, service learning, and more.
As a goodbye and thank you, I leave with a blogpost (also by Spencer) as a parting gift.  I hope my students and colleagues continue to foster the power of positive relationships and embrace what Spencer calls ‘The Food Truck Mindset”:
Food trucks often allow a chef to continue to improve on his or her craft by learning through making. You figure out if it works by sending it to a real audience. Part of why food trucks can experiment so well is that they are moving through the design cycle faster than a typical restaurant. They are able to test things out to a real audience and see if it works. Schools can easily get bogged down by meetings where they are planning about planning. But if they take this “ship earlier” approach, they can test things, modify them, and then create a new iteration faster. Innovation often looks small and humble at first. But good ideas have a way of spreading when people are able to see it in action.

Happy Making this Summer!

Kind Regards,


Takashi .M Thank you !!
Takashi .M
Thank you !!

Thank you Flickr for the amazing Creative Commons Images!

JD Hancock


Sarah Horrigan