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.
A few quick visual posters for elements of Creating Cultures of Thinking. I made these as we work towards some of our goals in the WAB HS and in parallel with my role as a coach in the #CCOTOnline course.
Printable A3 versions and a copy of the Chapter Summary Cards are in this Drive folder. Of course, these are just summaries and tools – to get the most out of them do make sure you read the book and/or attend a workshop.
Global Thinking Routines
Connected to this, here are four global thinking routines from Veronica Boix-Mansilla’s (@VBoixMansilla) Global Thinking Bundle. Click here to read the full Global Thinking guide, and here for her piece in Educational Leadership Magazine on How To Be A Global Thinker. I also love her IB blog post on “bringing international mindedness to life” with portraiture.
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More COT resources
A simple mantra, but one I hold onto as a learning/tech coach, leaned on as PK-12 Director of Learning and will cling to next year as MYP Coordinator. It was the “key concept” of my #HackTheMYP IBAP Conference session in 2017 and over the two years since I’ve been thinking about it a lot.
When I think about past and current successes in the supporting role of a coordinator or learning coach, I think about the naming, noticing and nudging that helps teachers take the necessary small steps towards our goals. When I think about the flops, it’s the “too much, too big, too soon” effects of a loss of teacher agency. It’s a delicate balance between being directive and being supportive. And it so often comes down to making it easier to do better things, so I’ll unpack with some guiding questions I keep in my head.
Is there anything making it harder to do basic things?
With so much that we just have to get done in teaching and learning, are we aware of the systems, practices or ambiguities that make it harder just to get to the starting line? Are our teachers worn out by low-level decision-making or inefficiencies? How can we help and what’s under our control to cover foundations from which we can launch? Does this necessitate ‘managing up’ as we advocate for the teachers in the classroom to those who make the decisions?
Can we define & justify the better things?
We don’t know what we don’t know. Some teachers might be excellent at what they do – is it in alignment with what we need? How do we honour their expertise whilst nudging towards the better thing? Can we articulate clearly what the alternatives are and why they will be better for student learning? If we can’t do this for that teacher at this time, can we do it for someone else, to build a model of what could be?
Are we making it harder to do the better things?
What are the barriers to success in implementing something new or nudging someone along? Are we aware of any mixed messages we are sending in terms of thoughts, words and actions? Are we aware of the pragmatic realities that stand between a teacher’s current state and the goal? Are we asking teachers to make the right decisions – or too many decisions? How do we know? Do our systems and resources support the goal of the new learning? What do we do if they don’t?
How can we make it easier to do better things?
Once we’re clear on where we’re going, are we ready to take action? Do we have our resources ready and the right people in the room? Can we show models of what it looks like or share experiences of successes and failures? Can we clearly connect current practice to the next step? Are we clear?
Over the last few years of working in coordination and coaching, learning through creating cultures of thinking and cognitive coaching, I’ve become more attuned to working with intentionality and purpose. I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I’m thankful always for the experiences of working in inspiring places and reflecting on experience. I wish the same for you.
A few things that work for me…
Keep everything a click away. This MYP-at-a-glance took a couple of weeks to build but it is an example of “investing time to make time” and I have it open all the time and can spring across the MYP in a moment. Similarly, for school documents, useful tools and resources, organise your bookmarks toolbar to become your dashboard for your role.
Organise things clearly and standardise where you can. Present information clearly. Pay attention to design. Link, link, link. It saves so many questions and saves teachers’ time as they don’t need to keep recreating things.
Go visual. Anyone who knows or follows me knows I love to go graphic, especially with the IB’s proliferation of documentation. Flowcharts and cycles really help me work through a process with kids and adults.
Actually listen. “Listen first to understand, then to be understood.” Try to tune into the true message in the conversation, even if it seems aggressive or rambling. It can be hard but what’s the true issue? If you get a chance, learn and practice cognitive coaching or similar.
Avoid pseudo-consultation. There’s nothing worse than having time eaten away by loose “what do you think?” when there is already a pre-determined outcome. Let people know what decisions are made, what need to be made and where the input is needed.
Have examples. How quickly can you move from the hypothetical to the concrete? Teachers are busy, get past the fluff. Test things to see if they work and predict the realistic implications. Have you heard of dogfooding?
What works for you?
This year I jumped the Great Firewall and landed in China, in a new life and new role as High School Learning & Technology Coach. It has been a great learning experience so far, and as a techy learning nerd, I’ve been able to try out new tools for learning and supporting teachers. I’m not easily impressed by EdTech products, but over the last couple of years some great stuff that focuses on learning (not just ‘more tech’) has been coming out.
Here are some of my favourites – they’re not all new, but some were new to me and of course they need to be China-friendly.
Over the last decade I’ve been creating, curating and sharing through my i-Biology.net site and on here, powered by WordPress. I love this platform, but over the last few years have been tinkering with other tools to make collecting and sharing easier for me and for others.
Inspired by Nadine & Jeri, the teacher-librarians here at WAB, I’ve really got into LibGuides. It’s huge, amazing and (I think) pretty pricey, though as I’ve been getting settled here I’ve been building my own TigerTech group and resources on there to support teaching and learning. It can embed almost anything and with a little tinkering can look pretty cool.
I have a lot to learn from my colleagues, but I am loving this tool!
Wakelet and Padlet Backpack
Two simple but great tools. Wakelet has replaced the functions I used to use Diigo and Twitter bookmarks, and has potential to take the place of Storify in archiving Twitter chats and events. See Tanya LeClair’s Wakelet about Wakelet here for loads of ideas. I use the mobile app a lot for quickly saving things to read for later, or categorising them for use in different parts of my job.
Padlet Backpack ($$) is the schools version of Padlet, with teacher and student accounts. Great for collecting up group responses, student ideas, resources and comes with a range of different layouts and privacy settings in the school domain.
Both Padlet and Wakelet can be embedded easily, and they both seem to work fine in Libguides, Moodle & Google Sites.
Equity Maps (iPad)
I love this iPad app and have tweeted about it a lot since I came across it after reading Alexis Wiggins’s Best Class You Never Taught. Taking the Spiderweb discussion/ Harkness table method and turning it into a simple, data-informed tool for empowering group discussion, Equity Maps makes the learning community responsible to their own data. It exemplifies the cultural forces of interactions, expectations and language, and can work really well in a range of discussions. I have used it in meetings as well. It’s one of those rare EdTech apps that goes beyond gimmicks & flash and focuses on making the learning visible.
This is a brilliant social reading app, designed by a teacher for teachers and great for gathering student reflection, questions and comments on a shared reading. Very simple, very powerful – try an example here.
If you are interested, use this link to sign up for a free account (referring five people will give a free year of Edji).
This is super cool. Microsoft translator allows for translation through your device with typing, talking, tap-and-talk conversations and scanning. It also facilitates group translations, where participants can join in a conversation or presentation online, using their own language. Very neat. Give it a go here.
This iPad app is useful for grading and note-taking on the go.
A Few More Technoids
Here are some more recent #EdTech highlights for me, shared through Twitter.
This was a fun year in the #MYPChat PLN (professional learning community)!
We started the journey way back in 2013 with some seasons of weekly hour-long twitter chats based, going through the Next Chapter phase of MYP. Over the years, a warm and supportive PLN has developed and I’ve found the community a great help over the years in various roles.
This year has been the most fun since we started. Taking a cue from EduTweetOZ, we got the discussion going about how to keep the community alive and get perspectives from around the MYP world.
The @MYPChat Roaming Handle Is Born!
And so, with some willing volunteers (open-minded risk-takers, some might say), we set to work. I created the @MYPChat account and a sign-up list on a GoogleDoc, we set a schedule and Season 1 got going Season 1 with the hosts coming from regular #MYPChat contributors: @LennyDutton @reidau1 @alohalavina @alisonkis @DaunYorke @JRafaelAngelM @KetiBrook @vanweringh.
In this slow-chat format, the host holds the account for a week, passing the baton (the login details) sometime on Sunday. Each week, the host sets the questions and away we go. This first season included topics on ATL, service as action, feedback, transitions and much more. It is really great to hear about what others are working on and to see our common framework in action in different contexts.
In season 2, the web was spun wider, with topics including getting going, (over)assessment, interdisciplinary learning, global contexts, standards, inquiry in languages, gaming and a many more topics. This seasons hosts were @ggreen7 @JeremyOtto_ @darrylsjharding @IBMYP_Educator @InquiringOn @LauraEngland @JeffersonLars @babilgre @halcyongareth @TeacherlyIssues @MypClassroom @LancettJohn @MWroundtheworld.
Looking forward to 2019
As we break for the new year, I’m looking forward to supporting the community as it develops further. We’re always looking for keen hosts, and if you’d like to give it a go (it is low-stress), please send me a direct message on Twitter (@sjtylr). We’re looking forward to having hosts from different educational contexts and some weeks hopefully hosted in languages other than English. Watch this space!
After the unfortunate demise of both Wikispaces and Storify this year, we are missing a reliable way to archive the #MYPChat contributions, so that will need to be overcome. However, having the @MYPChat account means the tweets can easily been seen and analysed. A new challenge!
Way back in 2005, skater Danny Way jumped the Great Wall of China… on his second attempt. The first ended up with a broken ankle. The next day, he back on the board and nailed it. Welcome to China!
Now we’re a few months into our new life in Beijing, I feel like we’re sticking the landing. As we roll into the winter break, it’s time to decompress and reflect on the move: country, school & role!
When we decided to leave wonderful Japan, we didn’t imagine at first that we’d be in Beijing. It has so far surpassed our expectations of quality of life, ease of access and yes, cleanliness of air. Of course there are bad days, but #BeijingBlue has been very common and it is a nice place to live. Public transport is cheap and easy, technology like WeChat makes everything much easier than in the past and there is a buzz of life here.
As a family in international education, the list of schools we would have chosen was very short. It needed to be a great place to work, live and learn and we need to be able to survive on the single contract. WAB has so far been a fun experience, the new role is interesting and the kids love the school. There is a lot going on with the FLoW21 work, the day-to-day learning and getting settled in, but the welcome has been hugely warming and we are all enjoying it so far. Fingers crossed it keeps being a positive experience!
When I resigned from my last role (as whole-school leadership – a whole other post), the goal was to get back into the science lab and get teaching again. As high school learning & tech coach here at WAB, I have a science class and a mentor group alongside my main role of supporting teaching and learning with pedagogy and tech integration. It has been really enjoyable so far and I have a lot to learn about a new school, its culture, people and tech tools.
It’s an exciting time for the school’s development and with that comes the opportunity to support teaching and learning in positive ways. I am putting a lot of my effort into listening and building bridges. It is great to be able to work with a team of others within our section and across the school, and to build supporting resources for teachers and students. I love creative work in education and there is plenty of scope for that here. I can put skills and tools I’ve developed over the years to work in a setting where there is support for development and the freedom to try new things. I look forward to seeing how it develops.
Of course, huge life changes generate new challenges. It is suddenly very cold (though our house is much warmer than in Japan), and we have a new language to learn. We’re finding our way around and learning from the little “teachable moments” of being in China after Japan and Indonesia. The kids have a new type of freedom, a bus run and a lot of agency. We have a preteen in a connected world and a learning more about that as we go along. Life stuff is different here – banking, bills and the like – but so far has been easier than Japan. China is more techy and access is more fluid than we expected and are used to.
Working in EdTech in China is… interesting. There is a lot of great stuff being done, and we have access to more than I expected, though we do come across issues with the great firewall. It has taken longer than I expected to leave behind who I was before to become who am I now, but in the last month or so the fog has lifted and I can see more clearly where I can make a difference, without worrying too much about issues beyond my control. On the other hand, there is great technical support here at the school and beyond, and it seems schools work well together on the shared challenges of the GFW.
One of the reasons international educators do what we do is for life experiences – for ourselves and our kids. Embracing the change – the new place, people, school and systems – is certainly giving us some new experiences to enjoy and to learn from!
Happy Holidays and Happy New Year!
I love Creating Cultures of Thinking by Ron Ritchhart of Project Zero at HGSE so much, and refer to it so often, that I made these aide-mémoire cards and chapter summaries, and I carry them with me for planning, coaching and collaboration meetings. The front side has a visual and chapter line, and the reverse summarises the key subheadings of the chapter.
Of course this doesn’t replace a deep reading of the book. I find them a useful reminder and a tool for use in conversations. If you haven’t read the book (or taken part in a COT workshop or course), don’t rely on these for understanding.
In my current role as learning & ICT coach, I use the cultural forces as a filter for thinking and development. They can be used to notice and name forces in a situation. Which forces are being influenced with this? Which force(s) might be in high or low resource? How can we make sure the influence is positive? How can we help make it easier to do better things?
Other COT resources I keep to hand
Most of these are hosted on Ron’s website.
- The Understanding Map
- 9 Apps for Parents
- 10 (+1) Things to Say Every Day
- Thinking Routines Matrix
- Making Thinking Visible Thinking Routines
- A Typology of Classroom Questions
“Children grow into the intellectual life around them.”
Our role as teachers and parents is to provide an intellectual apprenticeship for learners. As Ron mentions in the video below, via Howard Gardner, their time with us should be “time well spent”. This interview outlines some key ideas from the Cultures of Thinking project, and is well worth listening to.