For my summary CV, Bio and portfolio of writing, resources, workshops and work in international schools, please visit the About page here.
These are strange days. Despite everything that is happening in the world, we remain optimistic and thankful. With the world changing around us (and my own roles shifting, again), it has been hard to open the WordPress and just write. It has been ages since I last posted, and life is rushing forwards.
I’m nearing the end of two weeks’ It’s now three weeks since I got home from two weeks of isolated quarantine, alone in a hotel in Beijing. Super thankful that the family could do their quarantine at home, I had lofty goals of finishing up some old drafts and notes. But the laptop represents work: posting and creating slips aside in the need for balance.
Well, that didn't happen. The next blog post, if/when it comes, is going to be a purge of titles of unfinished posts, drafts and notes. https://t.co/2iviqErSiT
— Stephen 🌏 Taylor (@sjtylr) April 18, 2020
So this is a post about the posts unblogged. To do them justice is more research and drafting than I can spare time or cognitive load for. Maybe the collection of titles tells its own story. Some would have been useful, to someone, about the time I was planning to write them. Maybe. Now I’m purging them to clear some head-space. More to come.
As the campus closure kicked in over Chinese New Year, with very little notice, and people scattered worldwide, we needed to get online and ready to keep teaching and learning. We thought it would be short, until it wasn’t. We will be finishing the year this way.
If you want to see some of what we’ve been up to over the last few months, visit WAB’s Online Learning Portal here: www.wab.edu/online-learning.
A personal impact of this was the need to pick up next year’s role (Dir. Innovation in Learning and Teaching) on top of this year’s (MYP Coordinator, Curriculum Coach, Teacher), as well as some tech leadership as we got over the first couple of months. Two huge jobs (plus), with a lot of responsibility, uncertainty, no transition, displaced and parenting has been a challenge. I’d say this remains the hardest thing we’ve had to do professionally and personally during my career, but lessons learned from hard yards previous have been invaluable.
I’m thankful for all our colleagues and friends who have really stepped-up as educators and humans, keeping learning going and spirits up. I’m thankful for the way the school has looked after all of us; we feel safe and secure, despite the difficulties.
Most of all, I’m thankful for my family. They’ve been troopers throughout this. Even though it has had emotional moments, it could have been so much worse.
I wonder how we’ll remember this time when they’re grown up.
Spreadsheet to help with comment generation and moderation of MYP Personal Project. It is a long job, particularly with large class sizes and teachers working across time zones. The comment bank aims to help keep comments aligned and neutral, and comments for individual students can easily be modified. See the video below for how it works.
Click here to make your own copy: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Lg7szHq6xHQ8WJol7fI4KG0e0qaS8Zo5Mwqya_fodxI/copy
This was a great challenge during the Learning2 Conference last week in Nanjing. It was my first time at the conference and I was looking for an experience that would push me and provide something to think about. I presented this short talk, and an extended session on Global Ignorance, Factfulness and Data-Informed Inquiry. You can see more action from the conference on #Learning2 on Twitter.
The “buoyant force” talk is based on an idea I started writing about in 2017 but had been thinking about as a coordinator for a while. The essence of it is that in our rush to “get ready for” the next stage, do we risk forgetting the forces that are acting on our curriculum on the way up the school? The images are a blend of my own photos and some from Unsplash.
Here are the slides for the workshop version of The Buoyant Force, presented at WAB’s Future of Education Now “Festival of Learning” Conference. The format was a series of provocations and discussion for participants (a mix of WAB and visiting educators) to engage in reflection on the forces acting on learners through transitions.
There is more depth on the original post, but here are some key ideas:
As many of our schools are in the process of change and reinvention, do we consider the buoyant force in our planning? For example, schools offering the MYP for the first time might have their older learners “test out” the Personal Project. How does that go with learners who have been enculturated to a different way of doing things? What would we expect to see with the following cohorts, who are more used to the programme?
Similarly, if we are going through dramatic change in a school, where are we investing the efforts? We can harness the buoyant force to drive the change by creating the change earlier in the continuum – and then planning for those learners pushing upwards.
Did they do something fab in Grade 8? Great, then how do we make the most of it in Grade 9? Is everyone on board? How do we expect to see this cohort raise our game?
This was my first Learning2 Conference. Despite following it for years, there was always a clash with school commitments, prioritising others on the budget or transition. I’m so glad I finally went I’m over conferences in the regular format and the opportunity and challenge of being an L2 Leader was well worth the time and effort. The people were amazing and it felt like a productive, supportive, calm and inspiring community.
When I agreed to do the talk I had the kernel of the idea, based on the blog post. In a day, with some coaching and feedback, I was pretty happy with the product. I’m very used to leading workshops and active conference breakout sessions, so “doing a talk” was a new experience. Watching it back, there is plenty I’d change. It’s a bit TED-y. The lights were bright. But the response was positive and we had some great conversations afterwards. I am expanding this into a workshop for our school’s “Future of Education Now” Conference, where we will unpack the big ideas.
Thank-you L2 & FOEN Teams!
In leadership roles in spaces with many moving parts and challenges, I’ve learned that unnecessary ambiguity can lead to unnecessary conflict. As a coordinator we can often predict where some of these conflicts might arise.
In something as complex as an international IB school, with a range of perspectives and experiences, having the “truth” to hand can be an effort and relationship-saver. Thinking carefully about the cultural forces of expectations and language can shape more positive interactions.
I’ve more recently started to lean on the phrase “here’s where we’re going with this” (Ron Ritchhart), in making as clear as possible to my colleagues and students the direction we’re going… and that it’s a shared journey.
We can invest time to make time (COT), to set the stage for productive collaboration, through resourcing, accessing “truth” documents and being clear with intention and the use of language. Through clarity of message, direction and resource we can minimise the chances of someone’s energies being sapped on surface-level frustrations. We want the mental energy to be spent on productive, collegial discourse.
Another line I love in Brené Brown’s post is “talking about someone rather than talking to them is unkind.” So much so, that in the agendas I control, we have two guiding questions at the top:
Simple principles, easy to live by.
They have helped me mature and maintain calm over my journey so far.
A rough metaphor for leading from the middle, the Middle Leader Sponge often has to clean up spills and messes and absorb the stresses or worries of others so that they can go about their own job without passing on that stress. Sometimes an approach needs the soft side. At other times a little more scrubbing gets the job done but the sponge can’t afford to cause new damage.
However, a saturated sponge can’t absorb any more and could end up creating new messes if one tried. There are times it might feel like trying to soak up the mess of a broken sprinkler system, set off by little fires in many rooms.
The Middle Leader Sponge needs to find ways to wring out the worry, so that they can get back to it. How do you do it?
A quick post to share an animated gif, made in the new Keynote 9 update. It is a rebuild of a lower-quality animation I made years ago and use often, inspired by a cartoon I saw but cannot track down again (and I’d love to find it). I have used it in the context of critiquing my own MA dissertation and more frequently in conversations about not over-describing the 7-8 level of MYP assessment criteria.
A growing concern for me in MYP is the power this line from MYP subject guides can have on the opportunities and expectations for and the language of learning in the classroom:
Subject groups must assess all strands of all four assessment criteria at least twice in each year of the MYP.MYP Subject Guides
There is a danger that we ignore the heart of the discipline in anxiety for “getting it right” in terms of assessment; that reporting drives practice. Don’t boil teaching and learning down into a checklist. We can do better, we can enjoy it more and we can collect acceptable evidences of understanding in a range of forms.
Connecting to this, here are a couple of really powerful posts from Grant Wiggins: On Intelligent vs thoughtless use of rubrics (and part 2 here). It’s not the first thing generated and should not be over-described in the first round of a project, or we risk shutting down the avenues for true inquiry. For another MYP parallel, here is an older post connected to my “all in one” project, focusing on “zooming in” to the third band. Jennifer Gonzalez’s single point rubric is well worth reading
A post that really influenced my thinking on authenticity in assessment and learning opportunities was this, from Grant Wiggins. It defines authenticity as:
Authentic tests are representative challenges within a given discipline. They are designed to emphasize realistic (but fair) complexity; they stress depth more than breadth. In doing so, they must necessarily involve somewhat ambiguous, ill structured tasks or problems.Grant Wiggins
He outlined 27 characteristics that can be used to develop assessment tasks and learning opportunities, which I summarised in this table:
An important takeaway from this, is not that “real world” is better than (or less than) anything else. It is more that when everyday usage of the content diverges from authenticity true to the discipline, we should aim for sophisticated authenticity rather than shoehorning-in some “pseudocontext” and pretending it is “real world”. It is better to think as a mathematician in a sophisticated inquiry than to not think at all…
Similarly, the following on the force of Opportunities, from Ron Ritchhart’s Creating Cultures of Thinking (graphic by me) can be considered. Note the call to “authentic intellectual engagement”.
Transition years can be full-on and exhausting. New country, new role, new friends, kids, colleagues, tech, language, environment, expectations, opportunities. Embracing the new and trying to avoid old traps. Parenting through transitions and creating new memories. Overcoming challenges when things go wrong or culture shock hits.
We’ve been fortunate to land in a city and a school racing towards the future. Beijing five years ago was a hard no, but we tracked the environmental data, learned from friends and have arrived at a time when I think the transition is easier than ever. It is getting cleaner, there are technical solutions to almost all communication, transport and shopping issues (WeChat and Microsoft Translate are awesome). People are friendly and there are loads of things to do. The only thing static about Beijing is the air.
It is very, very dry.
Sadly one of the things we loved we’d had to leave behind in Japan was the ocean. And for a family like us that has been a challenge. The move overall has been great and I needed to make a dramatic change in work-life balance and stress. I think we’ve been doing OK with that and need to protect it with the new role next year. Breathing sea air is not much use when you’re too stressed and burned out to jump in.
So it was brilliant to get back to Indonesia for a week, for a megadose of vitamin sea. The last time we visited Lombok, almost 15 years ago, I was just finishing up as an ESL teacher. Hesty wanted to learn to dive, and I had a question to ask. I spent everything I had (it was not much) and took her to Gili Air. She learned to dive. We got engaged. I left for the PGCE, she finished her degree.
Soon enough I was back in Indonesia, in a new IB school in Jakarta. We saved up, got a proper ring, got married and had Anya. Moved to Bandung and had Samudra (“Ocean” in Indonesian, via Sanskrit). Seven years in beautiful Japan and now Beijing.
Fifteen years since I last dived went by in a heartbeat. We made it back to Lombok with kids big enough for an adventure. One Bubblemaker, one Junior Open Water diver, three surfers, four ocean lovers. We saw turtles and corals and spoke lots of Indonesian. We learned about the work of the Gili Shark Conservation team and helped out on a beach clean. We were encouraged to see that although so many years had passed and development had inevitably taken hold, the changes were not too dramatic. Lessons are being learned from Bali and there is a swing towards more sustainable choices.
This is where our heart is. We will be back.