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


Books as your Belay Loop

The belay loop is a strong, rigid loop of webbing that attaches the leg loops to the waist belt. The belay loop is also one of the most important parts of the climbing harness since a locking carabiner is attached to the loop when you are belaying or rappelling. The belay loop is extremely strong so it can withstand all the energetic forces of climbing, including severe falls.

(Click here for more via Climbing.About.Com)

Kyle Harbour Belaying
Kyle Harbour


Continue your #Climb this summer

You’ve come so far this year.  Forget about grades and report cards.  Focus on the writer, risk-taker, and inspiration you have been for one another this year.  Think of the feedback you have provided for your peers, the ideas you have seen come to fruition.  You’ve authored work and shared it with your community all year.  That’s huge.  The ideas you’ve produced on your blog, and the contributions you’ve given to your peer group are more important than you will ever know.

Never underestimate the power of a compliment. 

You’ve given dozens of them this year, and I promise you, many of them will be remembered for years and years to come.  Each and every one of you is a better listener today than you were in August.  That matters.  Each one of you has made someone else feel heard this year. When a community feels heard, when the majority of your tribe feels valued, your potential explodes.  As your cohort moves closer to graduation, check in on the culture of your class.  Taking care of the heart of your grade level starts with your ears.  Listen, and invite one another to share.

empathetic leaders are great readers.

If we want to be curators of our school culture’s stories, we have to practice empathy.  I cannot think of another activity that will help you train your mind to strive for empathy more than reading will.  Private reading is a social act.  I blogged about this in an earlier post here.

Invest in your community this summer by reading.

We’ve looked at a number of great books to watch out for this summer. Click here or here to revisit them. Seek out books that you will use to practice empathy with.  Seek out books to spark a conversation with.  Pull yourself up this mountain of learning one chapter at a time.

Seek out the librarians and recruit their help

Ms. Kandelaars and Ms. Glausen know their stuff.  They are the queens of the library, and they will help you.  They’ve ordered every single book I’ve asked them to order.  They think about learning through your eyes, and they try to equip the school accordingly.  They will help you find new passions, and they will allow you to do better research.  The library is a place for you to go to when you need the quiet inspiration that is book hunting.  Thank you to our school librarians for creating that environment. It matters.

Ask other people to share their ‘must read’ books with you

Diversify your book shelf by asking people which books have mattered to them. I’ve given you a head start on this by asking a few of our #EagleEd teacher team on Twitter to share a text with you:

Mr. Paron:




Dr. badcock:



Ms. Jarvis:



Mr. Dalesio:


Ms. Koch:


Mr. Bond:



Which books will enable you to #climb this summer?


Thank you Flickr for providing these Creative Commons images

Kyle Harbour


Schools that Goodreads together Collaborate together

Jurgen Appelo GoodReads icon
Jurgen Appelo
GoodReads icon


I can’t thank Paula and Jabiz enough for encouraging me to get my students on Goodreads this year.  I wish I had done this years ago. Why?  We’ve become a network of empowered readers, pushing one another to find new texts, and join different groups on Goodreads.  I’ve begged a number of colleagues to sign up too (here’s how to sign up, and here’s how to beg). Yes, I have a full-blown obsession with Goodreads.  Here’s why I think you might want to fall in love with the app too:

Listen, look, and be aware of what your students are reading.

In a media world which consistently depicts teens as lazy and out of touch, Goodreads is the perfect counterpoint.  The majority of my some hundred students this year all joined Emma Watson’s “Our Shared Shelf,” the feminist book group on Goodreads, virtually over night.  Click here to read all about the group’s interesting back story.  I didn’t ask students to do this.  I didn’t even know the group existed.  They found out about it, and encouraged each other to check it out.

If we want students to read more, we need to get out of their way, and let them.

In an anonymous survey we gave to our students, approximately 75% of our students say that they read titles that are suggested by a friend (not a teacher, not a parent, not a librarian). And Goodreads is a platform that allows students to see what their peers are reading–and enjoying.

(Taken from this Edutopia piece written by Beth Hughes)

Stop assuming your student needs to put their phone down.

Ask a few teens how many books they have on their device, and be prepared to be amazed.  A few months ago, a student asked me if they could use their phone during our Drop Everything and Read time, and without thinking, I said, “No, please choose one of our library books.”  As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I realized my mistake.  Reading is both very social, and very personal.  Choosing what you read is a way of exploring your interests, defining your character, and feeling an ownership over your own headspace. I turned back to that student, and said, “Actually, of course you can, enjoy your book.” That same student was sure to recommend the book she was so excited to continue reading to me on Goodreads later that day.  And yes, I added it to my ‘to read’ shelf right away.

This Tech Insider post, “11 Stanford students reveal what’s on their home screens,” flips the common narrative about students and their phones on its head.  The power of mobile is the story of collaboration and relationships. Or at least that can be the narrative, if we are mindful in setting that tone, and modeling that theme.

What does your ‘to be read’ stack say about you?

Well, this Buzzfeed quiz suggests we can predict your age based on your reading habits, for starters.  But I think we learn a great deal about our colleagues by sharing our book stacks.  unpacks this via his piece:

What does your bookshelf say about you?

Sharing your shelf is sharing yourself – showcasing the building blocks that have crafted your knowledge, personality, and identity. While the internet has long valued the voyeurism in sharing and viewing photos of beautiful books as objects, grand libraries as cathedrals of intellect, and bookshelves as marvels of design, I created as a way to attach individuality and ownership to these previously anonymous assortments of titles. I also don’t have enough time to visit everyone’s living room, but that doesn’t leave me any less curious as to the books there.

What does your school’s participation with Goodreads say about their values?

We throw the term ‘life long learner’ around loosely these days.  What is documenting your life’s reading other than a nice actionable ‘life long learning’ goal? When administrators make the time to connect and share their love of reading with your students, it matters.  A special shout out to Mr. Monk, Ms. Taylor, Mr. Peel, Ms. LeGuen, and Dr. Badcock for making that time. I hope they have some very engaging summer reading coming their way, and I look forward to following their reads from a continent away next year.

Dedicating ourselves to learning means we need the support of our community.  After a year of experimenting with Goodreads in my classes, with a few colleagues, and with a few colleagues-to-be at my next school, I cannot overstate the applications this tool has a a relationship builder.  Jennifer Roberts puts it better in her blogpost here:

The best part of Goodreads however, is the way it has helped me build relationships with my students. Many of them are much more excited about reading. They are picking up things I recommend to them and recommending books to each other. Previously reluctant readers are seeking out books at the public library. A tough (and very at-risk) student noticed that I had Shadow Speaker on my to-read list. He approached me shyly one day after class and told me he had a copy at home he could loan to me. He doesn’t turn in homework very often, but he brought me that book. I better go read it.

As educators, we all need more ways to make our passions visible.  Connecting and networking your reading habits is a great way to do this.

Even HBR has a piece on the power of networking with Goodreads, scope it out here.

Moyan Brenn Reading
Moyan Brenn



FLICKR’s Bank of Creative Commons Images is fantastic, thanks for these:

Jurgen Appelo

GoodReads icon