Making sure that CA Inspires

Today was Saturday.  Yet, today was one of the best days ever at school for me.  Yes, it was the weekend.

The school was abuzz with a range of activities,  One was an end of year softball tournament for middle school girls.  Great weather, lots of fun, a wonderful outdoor community event.   #community #WJAA

What struck me most though, was the source of two other events that took place today.  Both of these were original, filling a need that no other event does, and were being held for the first time.

IMG_2287We hosted Creative Connections for the first time.  This event was proposed by one of the school’s visual art teachers together with one of the design teachers.  This professional development experience included a visit to #Kyotographie, variIMG_2228ous design challenges and sharing of ideas in art and design. #design #CreativeConnections



IMG_2260The other major event was student generated. Through an open-ended design course, one grade 10 girl has been exploring issues facing children of multicultural backgrounds in Japan.  Today’s event brought in various members of our community, students, and others from beyond the community, such as Mixed Roots Japan, and involved a    discussion about growing up in Japan, musical entertainment, and a shoIMG_2279wing of the movie Hafu.  I was really excited by the relevance of this event, the energy it created, and the autonomy it provided to the student involved.  She also was able to bring in other students who collaborated with her and supported her.  It became a unifying event. #mixedrootsjapan #hafu


My learning from today:

We need to make sure we empower students and teachers to let their ideas flourish, and sometimes we just need to get the heck out of the way.



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Finding flexibility in our schedule

Whether waiting in lines at Disney, or enjoying travel on the Shinkansen, October break is a great time to catch up on reading all those extra articles saved to Pocket.

Want High Schoolers to Succeed? Stop giving them fifth grade schedules“, on “The Hechinger Report”  really piqued my interest.  The school only has structured lesson times on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  On Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, the students’ learning is self-directed: they study the subjects they need to work on the most, on a drop-in basis.

I can see something like this working well at my current school where we need to find time for students to have alternative learning experiences, such as PBL, internships and mentorships; we also want to allow for differentiation: students spending time on disciplines where they need to improve most.  Surely such a strategy would also significantly help to develop every student’s self-management skills.

In practical terms, we currently have a 10-day schedule, where each Friday either has periods 1-4 or periods 5-8.  So each period would lose one hour per fortnight if we kept Fridays unscheduled.  Our school a small, but very active student population, and many students are frequently absent on Fridays due to extra curricular events.  If we changed Fridays to be a non-scheduled day, the often high rate of absentees would not impact lessons as it does now.

Obviously students would need to be held accountable for how they spend that one day per week.  Actually, this provides another opportunity within our school.  We are looking for ways to make the homeroom teacher’s relationship and interactions with students more meaningful, and using the week’s homeroom sessions to plan and document with students how they use their Friday would be an ideal vehicle.   I am sure we could arrange for one of our school’s coding gurus to create an app that students used to enter their schedule and goals for the day, that then could be relayed to teachers so they know which students to expect at what time.  Some kind of reflection, celebrating the day’s achievements regarding goals set, and outlining next steps, would also be included in the structure.

What do you think?  Is a move such as this too risky, or is it a much-needed respite from our timetabled education system?

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The Perfect Unit Planner

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 18.51.14When I recently attended the PTC “Curriculum Leadership in the International School” my burning question was “How can we get teachers to enjoy and see the value in unit planning?”

IMG_6748Whilst unit planning is a necessity, often teachers don’t see the value of the unit planner in relation to daily classroom lesson planning.  However this is counter to experts’ current thinking, as illustrated in the recent ASCD Education Update (April 2015) article by Laura Varlas, titled “Writing a Master Plan”.



I had an epiphany at PTC one day, when my burning question was answered.  I was in a small group charged with designing “the perfect unit planner”.  We had group members from a range of backgrounds, including some IB PYP teachers.  So our ideal planner was modelled on the PYP.  I think this approach would help IBMYP and IBDP teachers.  Whilst IBMYP planners translate into excellent classroom practices, they can turn teachers off, with their complex web of layers, from global contexts, to key and related concepts, ATLs, statements of inquiry, and more.

Screen Shot 2015-09-21 at 21.02.34Here is my version of the perfect unit planner, based on what I learned at PTC, particularly in the session mentioned above and illustrated in the image.  I like the collaborative approach suggested by the use of the first person plural pronoun.  I also am hopeful that teachers would see the value in planning with these prompts.

I don’t know if it is “perfect”, but it definitely resonates with me.  What does your perfect unit planner look like?





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I read an interesting article this week through ASCD that looked at teacher leadership models, and how to create time for teacher leaders, without impacting FTE and budget.  The article was titled “The Little Engine that Could: A PA Leadership Team Casts an Ambitious Vision” and described the journey of a district that needed to provide time for its teacher leaders but did not have the financial support required.

Working at a school where expanding FTE without the accompanying expanding enrollment is not an option, the ideas presented in this article really appealed.  The practical solution of bringing leadership in to teach, in order to release teacher leaders got me thinking.

In the Secondary School at Canadian Academy we have high expectations of our HoDs to be curriculum leaders, facilitators of collaboration, plus managers of budget, ordering and other practical tasks.  The stipend is not great, nor do teachers receive any release time for this role.  Hence the appeal of giving time to HoDs through leadership team members stepping into the classroom.

The challenges would be:

  • ensuring the quality of teaching and learning is not impacted by such substitution;
  • deciding how often this strategy would be needed;
  • ensuring that this would not entail more work for the teacher in working with the substituting administrator.

There are probably more questions I should be considering, too, but the idea is probably worth mulling over some more.


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Beyond Blogging

I am offering a PD session based on the recent #BeyondBlogging workshop I attended in Yokohama, extremely capably run by Rebekah Madrid (@ndbekah) & Jabiz Raisdana (@intrepidteacher).

I have wanted to take the time to pen my thoughts from the workshop, and preparing for tomorrow’s session gives me the perfect incentive.

My main challenges:

  • condensing a 2-day workshop into a 45-minute session, and
  • transforming a rich experience that left a range of questions for me into a clear linear set of “answers”.

Obviously I do not intend to provide a set of answers.  Impossible.  However, I feel that I have made some progress in that the workshop has left me with my own essential questions.  For me, these questions fit our school’s context and where I am right now in my sense of online sharing in education.

    • How do we elicit creativity in our students?
    • How do we foster a culture of sharing, collaboration and connectivity in our community of learners?

For me, the response to the first question involves mostly choice for the students.   Not just with format or topic, but in terms of time and space.  Easy to say, much less easy to do.  Jabiz’s video provides more answers to this question.  (I will be showing the video at tomorrow’s PD session.)

The second question is neither easy to say nor easy to do.  I think we have a rather conservative teaching and learning community at CA (#canacad), and need to nurture a culture of idea sharing, both online and in person.  That is our school’s project coming out of the workshop.  I am very proud of the ideas my colleagues came up with, and hopeful we can do something great with a range of approaches.

So, here is my presentation for tomorrow.  I hope Jabiz & Rebekah don’t mind I have used the same tuning in exercise, as well as the video mentioned above.  I also hope that I will be able to meet the first “challenge” I listed above.

We often read or hear that questions are more important than answers.  I think all of us, including the workshop leaders left with lots of questions, with maybe one or two answers.  Perhaps that is the mark of an excellent workshop, then.

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Takeaways from Beyond Blogging Day 1

  • Give students choice:  how they express themselves, the medium
  • Model – creativity, sharing
  • Remind students that they have choice in how they present their thoughts
  • Get out of the kids’ way
  • Once you use a new platform, app in class, the students will find it less enticing
  • Having kids produce, create is key
  • failures are important, too
  • have kids categorise with Learner Profile, AtLs etc after they have posted, eg in prep for student lead conferences
  • making your workplace a dynamic interactive sharing environment needs a multi-prongued approach and is ongoing.
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Take-aways from the #yourturnchallenge

Today is day 7 of the week-long Your Turn Challenge, started by @winniekao.  The prompt for this final post is “What are you taking away from this challenge?”

I am taking a few things away:

  • It is not hard to blog each day if you just set aside a few minutes.
  • Having a prompt question is a great way to get bloggers started.
  • I need to work on my writing style:  I continue to be envious of those who are more pithy in their wording and more agile with sentence structure.
  • Blogging is a fabulous reflection tool, and helps solidify my thoughts.  I already knew this, but Your Turn Challenge provided a useful reminder.
  • I need to think what I want my blog to be: currently it is named “What I learned today.”  I need to decide if that is what I want to focus on or on something else.

So, thanks @winniekao, #yourturnchallenge has given me a great deal to think about.  I wish we could continue. 🙂

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