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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Wayfinders: Respecting The Journey

After a decade acting in coordination/leadership/HOD/coaching-type roles, I think one of the most powerful lessons I’ve learned – and want to encourage in others – is to respect the journey. This generates more questions in my head than most topics, as it is so nebulous and complex, yet so important.

Where I like to think of curriculum as a compass, not a calendar, in my experience so far the same rings true for developing people and practices. Schools, teams, teachers and students alike are all on a combination of shared and personal journeys to growth, with different starting points, strengths and needs.

We are all Wayfinders

Not all departments or individuals can be treated in the same way and they certainly won’t respond in the same way to standardised approaches. Sometimes – often – we need to go slow to go fast, to listen and respond accordingly. This can be challenging if we feel like there’s too much to get done.

As a community of wayfinders, it is important to respect the journey so far, and for it to be told in a respectful way. Large-scale change doesn’t necessarily mean that what used to be was bad, but the future direction must be good and be clear to all, built with the culture in mind. Being dropped into this culture on the move can be a shock the system as we try to find our place and role, especially if we were well established in our last role, and we might want to establish credibility early on.

So as schools what are we doing to “respect the journey” in transition? 

  • How can we best support and encourage the experience and expertise of new faculty, whilst enculturating them to the positive elements of “what we do here”?
  • How can we best support and respect diverse teams where everyone is working on varying degrees of expertise in terms of the vision or mission? Where some see the vision as aspirational and yet to others it’s already their daily practice?
  • What can we do to protect teachers from unnecessary burdens that become the blocks to forward movement? To “move your ‘BUTs’, in Teresa Tung’s sense?

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As I  move on I want to ensure that the stories of change here are passed on faithfully and respectfully. As I prepare to find my way with a new community going through its own changes I want to be sure to listen respectfully to their journey so far, and avoid as much as possible falling into the trap of “in my old school…”.

Exciting times ahead.

grandma-tala-advice

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Tankyuu (探 究): A Quest for Teacher Professional Inquiry

One of our big projects over the last few years has been to shift the focus of professional learning and goal setting from competence in the programmes and practices into genuine teacher inquiry. As a lot of foundational work had been done in curriculum, assessment and differentiation practices; it was time build on this and create opportunities for teachers to focus their own professional growth through inquiry. We’re now in our third year of the process, and this post is a summary so far. A lot has gone into this process, and there is bound to be something forgotten in the post. 

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Context

We’re an international school in Kobe, Japan. With 600+ kids from ages 3-18 and around 80 faculty. We have IB PYP, MYP & DP, as well as our own Pathways programme in high school. Although the school had been running IBDP for many years, PYP and MYP were much younger, and so a lot of teacher effort had gone into getting the programmes up and running (including shifts in curriculum, assessment and differentiation).

We’re pretty well funded for professional learning with consultants visiting each year for workshops, teachers heading out on workshops and conferences and a personal PD application fund for continued study. We are also very fortunate to have two-hour PD sessions every Wednesday (early dismissal), so that a lot of development and PD work can be accomplished in protected time.

There’s a pretty robust teacher evaluation system, though it can always be improved (and is an operational action item for this year). While the school was in the implementation phase, teacher goals were very structured, focusing on curriculum, differentiation, etc. As the programmes and practices became more embedded, it became clear that we could do better by tapping into teachers’ own interests, expertise and passions in professional learning. One year we gifted teachers Hattie’s Visible Learning for Teachers, and encouraged groups to form around issues it rose, or topics worthy of investigation (not as a handbook, but a signpost). The next we encouraged Teacher Learning Communities (TLC’s) to form around other books or ideas. This started to generate more questions, more inspiring projects.

In 2014-15 we had the Strategic Planning process for the school, setting the Vision and goals for the school until 2020. We needed a professional learning strategy to complement our mission of inquiry, reflection and compassionate action and that would meet the vision of becoming a vibrant international learning community that fosters creativity, personal fulfilment and local and global collaboration in a compassionate, adaptive environment.

Education Victoria’s (Australia) Seven Principals for Effective Professional Learning (pdf here) were critical in developing the projects further: a teacher-empowering, research-based, student-centred, practical (useful), collaborative and supported expedition into teacher inquiry.

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Book Recommendation: The SAGE Handbook of Research in International Education

Title: The SAGE Handbook of Research in International Education [SECOND EDITION]

Editors: Mary Hayden – University of Bath, Jack Levy – George Mason University, Jeff Thompson – University of Bath

Update Dec 2017: I fleshed this out into a full review for the Journal of Research in International Education. My first official journal publication, and available online ($$ or DM me) here: http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/1475240917744288 

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Summary Recommendation

This 2015 edition of Hayden, Levy & Thompson’s book is a worthy update and makes  for a useful ‘state of the union’ overview on current research in international education. With a rogue’s gallery of contributing researchers and a collection of reference lists that’s guaranteed to send you down the rabbit hole, this is a useful reference for researchers and international school leaders.

There is a striking contrast between the original 2007 Handbook and the 2015 second edition. Where the first was gathering the “what is…?” of international education, the second consolidates the ‘canon’ and restructures the sections to build outwards into studies of internationalising national contexts, future issues in and potential threats to international education.

I would recommend having a copy of this in conjunction with a more standard ‘research methods’ text, such as Cohen, Manion & Morrison. Enjoy.

TaylorS_JRIE_SAGE_Review