Wayfinder Learning Lab

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


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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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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?


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Jumping the Great Firewall

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! 

New Life

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. 

New School

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! 

New Role

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. 

New Challenges

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. 

New Experiences

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! 


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My Best Books, 2017-18

This year has been high on transition, anxiety and exhaustion, and very low on sleep. On the plus side, we’re feeling positive about the move to an amazing school, and the sleepless hours have meant even more reading than normal. Here is a selection of the books that have kept me going and inspired me over the past year.

Factfulness

“Please return your brain for a free upgrade.”

I really think all international educators should read this book by the wonderful Hans, Anna and Ola Rosling, of Gapminder. I’ve been a Han Rosling fanboy for many years over on i-Biology and this is the perfect tribute to him and summary of the important messages from years of research, action and TED Talks.

Buy it! It’s better in print than on Kindle, and on Gapminder you can try the global ignorance test and their Dollar Street project.

I’ve written a more complete review of Factfulness here, and have been tweeting about it with Friday #Factfulness.

 

The Binti Trilogy, Akata Witch & Akata Warrior

by Nnedi Okorafor

“Being in this place of diversity and movement was overwhelming, but I felt at home too… as long as I didn’t look at the ships.”

“Prepare to fall in love with Binti” says Neil Gaiman’s cover recommendation, and he couldn’t be more right. Nnedi Okorafor has created an outstanding body of work, with Binti as my introduction to her world-building, characters and afrofuturism. I won’t spoil it, but give Binti a go – it’s a quick read, packed with imagination an you could well be as hooked as I am. My own 11yo daughter loved it too. I immediately read Home, pre-ordered the trilogy finale, and got stuck into Akata Witch (and more recently finished Akata Warrior). The Akata books (Sunny) are renamed in the UK (here and here).

Okorafor is my new favourite author, and this short TEDx talk by her is well worth the nine minutes. I can see Binti becoming a great reader for MYP Lang Lit units of inquiry as it will resonate with Third Culture Kids (TCK’s).

 

Bold Moves for Schools

by Heidi Hayes Jacobs &  Marie Alcock

I’ve blogged about this before, and tweeted about it plenty. Reading this really resonated with who I am as an educator and curriculum/pedagogical leader. It is clear, provocative and practical, with lots of great ideas and suggestions encompassing curriculum, pedagogy, leadership and more. I had a great time at a Bootcamp with Marie earlier in the year, and it got me thinking a lot more about Webb’s DOK4 & Transfer. Well worth a look, especially if you’re looking to the future. Read more here. I also enjoyed Quest for Learning by Marie Alcock, Allison Zmuda and Michael Fisher (see here).

“Innovation requires courage coupled with a realistic sensibility to create new possibilities versus “edu-fantasies”. Moving boldly is not moving impulsively or for the sake of change. Moving boldly involves breaking barriers that need breaking.”

 

The John Catt Stable

These last few years, John Catt publishing in the UK have produced a range of great books on education. Back in 2014 I read and wrote about Martin Robinson’s Trivium 21C as a vision of a well-implemented IB Diploma Programme, and reviewed it for IS Magazine. This year I’ve read and loved all of the following, though my particular favourite has been “What does this look like in the classroom?” by Carl Hendrick and Robin MacPherson, illustrated by Oliver Caviglioli (reviewed and linked here).

These are the kinds of books educators should be reading in initial teacher training, as well as keeping as reminders of what works and why – particularly if you want to avoid throwing the baby out with the bathwater in a quest for dynamic learning. Other gooduns I’ve read this year (and there are more than this):

 

Reasons to Stay Alive

by Matt Haig

A wonderfully-written, honest and raw description of living with and through depression and anxiety, and great twitter account to follow. Matt Haig’s Reasons to Stay Alive is warm and funny whilst dealing with serious issues.

I look forward to reading his new follow-up, Notes On A Nervous Planet.

 

Recipes for Wonder

by Alom Shaha & Emily Robertson

This book is so beautiful I got three copies: one for us, one for my niece and one for the school library. Alom Shaha (@alomshaha) is on a mission to help parents become their child’s first science teacher and with this book, illustrated by Emily Robertson, he has a winner.

Books of “experiments at home” have been around for ages, but this goes far beyond: with personal stories, “the power of I don’t know”, inquiry questions and “Mr. Shaha says” explanations, it helps frame each activity through thinking as a scientist. Get it here, or in real shops.

 

The Idiot Brain

by Dean Burnett

Who knew brains could be so funny? Dean Burnett, neuroscientists did, and The Idiot Brain is a witty, readable and up-to-date primer on what we know about our brains, how they (kindof) work and how we know.

If you’re at all interested in how your jelly mass is ruling your life, and sometimes working against you, give this a go.

Grace of Kings

by Ken Liu

In summer 2016, a tweet from Saladin Ahmed sent me down a rabbit hole of rediscovering fantasy/sci-fi through nonwestern authors and stories. One of them, which I only got to in this year, was Ken Liu’s Grace of Kings. Epic, detailed and well-developed, the Dandelion Dynasty is a universe I’ll return to in the future.

And you know how it goes with Amazon recommendations connected to your “likes”…

Ember Quartet (Books 1-2) &  The Grisha Series

Excellent YA fantasy, the Ember novels by Sabaa Tahir and the Grisha novels by Leigh Bardugo are fast-paced, with rounded characters, solid arcs, darkness, humour and plenty to set them apart from traditional fantasy. Bardugo’s Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom are also a fun heist novels set in the Grisha world.

Authors like these have given me a renewed interest in a genre which I had abandoned years ago through boredom. I wasn’t aware of how much great stuff was out there.

 

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On my summer reading list (let’s see how many I get through):

 

So… what are you reading? Recommendations below, or find me on Twitter.

Happy holidays!

Stephen

 


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Life Coaching & International Educators

A year ago we decided to move: the administrators’ timeline at our school is before summer for the year-after-next.

It was a very tough decision to leave behind a great school and this life that we love so much in Japan but the timing is right and although I find the current admin role rewarding, I’ve been missing students and the lab too much.

After seven years in amazing Kansai, and a middle -schooler on the horizon, we felt it was a good time to make a change.

Around about the same time, Sam Sherratt posted this. I completed the form, and didn’t think much more of it. I missed the podcast episode.

The summer was anxiety-ridden. I was looking for a return to a non-admin role and so knew it’d be months before anything was posted. In the unknown, I worried a lot about what I was doing to my family. Did I mention we’re at a really good school with a great quality of life in beautiful Japan? The anxiety was accented by the pressure from the Search associate to prioritise admin roles (even though I was looking to get out), as a single-income family.

Then I remembered Sam’s tweet and followed-up with a DM. He pointed me in the direction of Kavita Satwalekar (InnerSenseCoaching), a life coach used by ISHMC. I’ve been through Cognitive Coaching training with Ochan Powell and I think it opened me up to opening up. We got in touch and Kavita guided me through a dilemma coaching session, one of her first online. It helped unblock my thinking and get to grips with what I really needed. There was a sense of relief and I was able to ignore the admin jobs and focus on what was important.

Screen Shot 2018-05-04 at 22.21.27Luckily we’re in the visa process for a new life, but moving on is hard (did I mention Japan is awesome?), and it brought me back to the podcast. For the first time since the coaching session I listened to the episode featuring Kavita, and I recommend it to anyone on the recruiting trail, in transition or any school administrator with a heart.

Links: iTunesCastbox

If you have an hour, I recommend listening to the discussions between Sam, Cathy Brown, Chad Walsh and Kavita. Without spoiling it too much, listen out for conversations on:

  • Do we truly understand what stress is and how it interacts with us? Why do we need external forces to realise this?
  • How do we truly take care of others and ourselves in a  community where we’re in each others’ pockets? Who’s taking care of those who are taking care of you?
  • What can we learn from observing ourselves through ideas from the book “Don’t sweat the small stuff at work”?

I find it interesting that they discuss how the survey results suggested a strong desire for a (totally impartial) life coaching role in school communities. Personally I’m glad I followed the lead and invested in it.

If you’re coming up on recruiting and in a dilemma, give the podcast a listen and think about coaching. It might help. It did for me.


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Let’s All Meet Up In The Year 2000… (on #Factfulness)

… won’t it be strange when we’re all fully grown? 

November 1995: I’d just turned 15, Britpop was at its peak (who did you prefer, Oasis or Blur?) and Pulp released this singalong anthem. We loved it.

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I couldn’t predict the year 2000, even in 1995. I had no idea I’d be ringing in the new year behind a bar in Belfast while studying to be a marine biologist. The thought of living in Indonesia, Japan or China had never entered my mind, never mind the notion that I’d be raising a cross-culture family in international schools, or that so much of our lives would be shaped by travel and the internet. My barely-myelinated teen brain was busy enough navigating embarrassment-avoidance, dodgy hair and GCSE’s.

51kmdnvzmsl-_sx324_bo1204203200_Disco 2000 popped back into my head (and wouldn’t move, thank-you), as I was reading Hans Rosling’s wonderful #Factfulness. As we form our worldview, it is often shaped by early experience; genuine conceptual change takes some effort and cognitive dissonance.  I wondered how the world has changed since my own worldview had first formed, and how the countries I have lived in compare now to the UK back in 1995 or 2000.

The world we are in now is far from my 15 year-old reality and the future is possibly even more uncertain now than it was when I was singing along to Pulp: make sure you read Aloha’s post on the agile learner in the VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) world. As the Roslings state in their book, “the world can be both bad and better“. We can educate for hope, not despair, but we need to ensure that through factfulness, our programme frameworks and position of privilege we can help create the conditions for knowledge-rich inquiry that connects the Global Goals to sophisticated learning. We didn’t need to worry about this in 1995, did we?

Now we’re approaching 2020 these aren’t 21st Century skills, they are now skills. We can’t accurately predict the future, but we can temper our learners, developing wayfinding global citizens that maintain a positive outlook. Take the Global Ignorance Test here.

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Shifting Perspectives: The Four Levels

This is important learning from the Roslings’ work, helping to break the us/them, west/rest view of “otherness” that we can tend to in our world view. See also Dollar Street, an interactive way to develop IMaGE through peeking into the lives of others like us.

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Learning Forwards: #Factfulness in an international inquiry context.

I’m really looking forward to connecting with more IB educators on discussing this book. The presence of the word “fact” can cause a knee-jerk reaction in some, a misconception on the title perhaps, but this book is more about high-quality inquiry than many I have read.

In our positions of great privilege in international schools, we owe it to our learners to ensure they are not ignorant of the world. We can achieve this through factful inquiry: lines of inquiry that rely on data, real perspectives and avoiding the danger of the single story. We can move beyond stereotypes,

I want my own children to be empowered as knowledgable investigators, creative problem-solvers and open-minded wayfinders. We’re already using Dollar Street at home to look into lives aroud the world (comparing our “halves” of Indonesia and the UK, for example).

Check out Rosling’s statements on education at the end of the book. If you have read it and want to chat more, come on over to #Factfulness.


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Which Way Next?

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Weeman working out which way in Whinlatter. 

As hiring season begins for international schools, it is really starting to sink in that this will be our seventh and final year at CA and in Japan.

This conversation is happening all over the world right now as international educators decide if they will renew their contracts or stay on longer. In our cross-culture family, the search for a new adventure it is part of our DNA.

It’s exciting and terrifying in equal measure.

We really love Japan and all it has to offer families. The school is great and I’m proud of being a small part of its journey in recent years.

There’s so much we’ll miss, but the timing feels right as a family and professionally. At the crossroads between admin and the classroom, I can see paths heading in different directions.

So which way next?