Wayfinder Learning Lab

"Learning is about living, and as such is lifelong." Elkjaer.


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The Buoyant Force: L2 Talk & FOEN Workshop

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.

Future of Education NOW at WAB

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.

The Big Ideas Of The Buoyant Force

There is more depth on the original post, but here are some key ideas:

  • Transitions are hard, are we making them harder by disregarding the skills, knowledge, concepts, identities and motivations of learners as they push up towards us?
  • How are we capitalising on the buoyant force of learner agency in our transitions? When a fired-up PYPx student transitions into MYP, what do we do with that experience? Those skills? Do we give them the opportunity to show us what they can do as continuum learners?
  • Do we use this to raise the bar for inquiry and understanding?
  • By misinterpreting backwards mapping as “we’ve got to get them ready for [high stakes terminal task] by practicing [high stakes terminal task]” at every stage of the continuum, are we reducing our planning to a backwash of demands?

The Buoyant Force and School Innovation

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?

An L2 Reflection

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!


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Clear is Kind.

I love this post from Brené Brown, adapted from her book Dare to Lead: “Clear is Kind. Unclear is Unkind.”

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.


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Middle Leadership: The Sponge

Squeezing the sponge. [gif made in GifBrewery]

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?


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Reductive Rubrics, Authenticity & Opportunities for Learning

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.

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“Zooming In” to MYP Assessment

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

Authenticity & Opportunity

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:

https://grantwiggins.wordpress.com/2014/01/26/authenticity-in-assessment-re-defined-and-explained/

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…

Creating Cultures of Thinking

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”.


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A Megadose of Vitamin Sea

15 years since we last dived… and we came back to the same place, Gili Air.

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.

This was super cool. Gili Shark Conservation told us about their work and mentioned that they could ID turtles. Sam was fired up to find the turtle we saw while we were snorkeling near Manta Dive and get a photo. One day the current was strong and visibilty was low. Then one day we saw it… and my GoPro camera door was open. He was gutted. I ran up to the dive centre and luckily another guest lent us their camera. We got the photos. A few days later, they sent us the pics, we sent them in and Andre from Gili Shark ID’d it as a new turtle: “H40 Samudra”! Awesome!


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Cultures of Thinking & Global Thinking Routine Posters

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.

This Drive folder has the files as pdf.

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Follow the conversation on Twitter:

More COT resources

Stephen’s LibGuide for Cultures of Thinking, for the Faculty of Western Academy Beijing


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Make It Easier To Do Better Things

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.

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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?