EARCOS Leadership Conference: things to think more about

Why skills matter

I attended a workshop at the EARCOS Leadership Conference titled Developing resilient self regulated learners. The presenter, Lance King is also one of the contributors to the IB’s Approaches To Learning ATLs. As it turns out there is a lot of research pointing to the “clear link between the use of learning strategies and academic performance” (Farrington et.al. 2012).

An interesting point that Mr King shared from PISA, the worldwide study by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), was that “students who use appropriate strategies to understand and remember what they read, perform at least 73 points higher in the PISA assessment – that is, one full proficiency level or nearly two full school years – than students to use these strategies the least” (PISA, 2012).

There are three types of skills that matter:

Cognitive skills–time management, question formulation, taking useful notes, and reviewing information, and students teaching other students.

Affective skills–Persistence, failing well, emotional management, mindfulness and resilience.

Metacognitive skills 
Metacognitive knowledge–students becoming aware of what they learn and the thinking and learning strategies they use to succeed.
Metacognitive performance–using the knowledge of strategies and skills to change approaches that improves performance.

Perhaps building independence and autonomy in learners may hold the key to helping all students find success in both academic and non academic situations…

Transcultural Schools

Among the sessions I attended, the discussion lead by Eeqbal Hassin on culture provided much food for thought. Of most interest to me was the culture continuum he described that includes Mono–Multi–Inter–Trans… Having been interested in intercultural competency for some time, one question that arises for me is why do we see a tendency for stronger cultural cliques when diversity increases?

Workshop notes


Farrington, C., Roderick, M., Allensworth, E, Nagaoka, J. Keyes, T., Johnson, D., & Beechum, N. (2012). Teaching Adolescents to become learners: The role of noncognitive factors in shaping school performance: A critical literature review. University of Chicago. Retrieved from https://consortium.uchicago.edu/sites/default/files/publications/Noncognitive%20Report.pdf


Professional learning: Inquiry & action research

Dan Pink in his book Drive pointed out that, “for artists, inventors, school children, and the rest of us, intrinsic motivation–the drive to do something because it is interesting, challenging, and absorbing–is essential for high level creativity.” Which is why it seemed like a good idea to prioritize time for teachers to collaborate in action research teams to explore areas of interest as part of their professional learning this year. 

In addition to being an attribute of the IB learner profile for students, inquiry is a skill and disposition we value and want to practice as adult learners too. We know that getting good at something takes time and effort. So, during our PD days at the beginning of the year we generated ideas to pursue through inquiry. Topics ranged from targeted feedback and wellness to integrating the Sustainable Development Goals and living the UNIS Hanoi vision, mission and values.

In the following weeks, self organized teams used the Question Formulation Technique to launch their inquiry. The process of inquiry is as important as the topic of focus. So to support our ongoing practice of inquiry, all teams are following some sort of inquiry or action research model–and will offer some feedback on the model’s pros and cons at the end of the inquiry. Model 1: Action research template, model 2: design thinking, model 3: Action research/inquiry cycle, model 4: Action research for PE & sports. (Of course, if teams found another model they wanted to follow that was fine too.)

In the same way that we introduce students to different strategies to support their inquiry, teams are using different models to both learn and reflect on what approaches help inquirers find agency and come up with actionable outcomes. 

Related resources:

The Right Questions. October 2014 | Volume 72 | Number 2 http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/oct14/vol72/num02/The-Right-Questions.aspx

Teaching Students to Ask Their Own Questions: One small change can yield big result by DAN ROTHSTEIN AND LUZ SANTANA. Volume 27, Number 5. September/October 2011.

The Right Question Institute

Why invest time in action research?

One of my professional learning goals this school year has been to deepen my understanding of action research by engaging in it with interested colleagues. action researchAction research is an active learning approach undertaken by an individual or a group to improve some aspect of teaching and learning in their context.  Citing Gladwell (2000), Michael Fullan (2006) argued that the role of community in school improvement initiatives is to provide a safe and structured process to challenge old beliefs and to create new ones through “purposeful interactions between and among individuals” (p. 116). We know that we learn more when we reflect on our experiences rather than going through the motions and simply moving on. Which makes action research job-embedded PD. I like the point Peter Cole (2004) makes about this kind of professional learning:

“Schools and one’s colleagues within the school provide the conditions for a more authentic learning experience and one that is more likely to result in change in classroom practice than does an experience designed for and delivered to a generic audience drawn from a wide range of school settings and contexts” (Cole. 2004, p. 7).

In other words, school-based learning that addresses contextual teaching and learning challenges can have a bigger impact than off-site PD or using outside consultants who do not address unique contextual issues.

So far we have teachers looking deeper into assessment, personalized learning, science misconceptions and student directed learning. One of our MS science teachers who is leading her own project asked if we could come up with a template to signpost the process and provide a structure to document the work with. Here’s what we came up with. Another helpful resource I have been using is Richard Sagor’s book, Guiding School Improvement with Action Research. The book offers strategies and examples that have helped with developing conceptual maps of focus areas and pointed to some different kinds of data can be collected.

So what’s next?
The plan is to share a collection of case studies and research stories for our colleagues at ASIJ, and perhaps beyond.

Reflecting on EARCOS leadership conference

I am never one to shy away from a challenge and am quite fond of tackling wicked problems. 🙂 Which is why I was excited to join Paul O’Neill in planning and facilitating the EARCOS Preconference session for curriculum leaders. The focus? The knowing-doing gap. 

Given all we know, why is change so hard? There is no easy way to answer that question and we certainly didn’t try to–rather we hoped to create a space to enquire and explore ways to understand and adapt to challenges.

We started by crowd-sourcing some of the common things we know schools and educators keep doing despite what we know from research and from our own experiences in schools.

doing knowHere are some of the ideas the groups charted.

Change of any kind can feel uncomfortable–at an individual and at a system level. Is it because we expect instant success? How open are we to tolerating the dip that usually occurs pretty much whenever we change something? In an educational, context Dylan Wiliam expressed it like this in his book, Sustaining Formative Assessment with Teacher Learning Communities:

“The collection of routines that teachers establish to get through the day are their greatest asset, but at the same time, a liability because getting better involves getting a little bit worse, at least for a while.”

Our day with curriculum leaders afforded the time to explore, through case studies drawn from the people in the room, where we get stuck and how to navigate some of those dips. We gave people opportunities to plan with team members, to immerse themselves in curated resources, enter into coaching and consulting conversations, and explore how a framework can be useful for analyzing change with.
The following are a few of the tools our colleagues helped us field test and used to do some problem solving and forward planning with:

As always, I learned so much from listening to other people’s stories. It was a rewarding day spent with thoughtful and caring educators.




Change knowledge and leadership

I am fortunate to work with principals that model leadership. An example from a few weeks ago was when writing consultant Penny Kittle ran a session for our 9th grade teachers about how to support reading and writing across disciplines. Both our HS principals joined in as participants, and continued conversations about the strategies we explored in the following weeks with individual teachers and the whole staff.

“understanding requires interaction”

One of the many insights I gleaned from Michael Fullan’s book The New Meaning of Change was what a powerful influence principals can have on change initiatives. Why this struck me as significant is because, although we expect principals to be leaders of change, the realities of their jobs means they can get swamped and side tracked by the day to day running of school.

Fullan points out that without visible, tangible support from principals for change initiatives teachers won’t adopt new practices. Yet, if administrators do some or all of the following, their agency for change can be huge. Do you know principals who regularly:
Visit classrooms to see what is happening?
Follow through on decisions?
Attend workshops and training?
Articulate challenges to show understanding of realities effecting implementation?


Could building houses have made me a better teacher?

I used to build houses. My husband and I spent several years buying and rebuilding homes. We got pretty good at it. I loved the work because I learned so much about building and engineering from start to finish. I learned from structural engineers and builders who helped me turn ideas and drawings into realistic, functional and beautiful buildings.

memories of building

Memories of building projects

I learned to think critically and collaboratively as I worked with skilled people to realize ideas. And I got my hands dirty at every stage; I jack-hammered foundations on a two story beach house, I became pretty handy with a nail gun working along side builders to frame a house, and I even screwed down roofing before storms came through. Getting my hands dirty provided me with new insights and a deeper understanding and appreciate for construction and design. Those insights continue to be of use to me as a teacher and educator.

Two projects I am working on right now are as equally exciting to me as building houses. The first is a collaborative course I have been working on with a Math and English teacher called Data & Rhetoric: Power of persuasion. It is an attempt to design a truly interdisciplinary course that crosses the fields of statistics, english and design. We floated the concept for the course over a year ago; it would be different in structure and execution from a typical high school course. What was conceived though long conversations and real uncertainty about whether the new model would even be allowed to fly is about to start in just over a month. As I compare building houses to creating a new type of course I see some similarities in the process:
  • we had to be able to visualize it,
  • we had to be able to help others understand it (talk, share, show),
  • we had to believe in it even before there was anything to show (class sign ups, curriculum mapped).
The second project is at a different point of conception. Our school’s action plan includes initiating capstone experiences for students. Where to begin? As I think back over the analogy of building houses I feel like we have already begun the work of envisioning capstone experiences by creating and exploring a number of prototypes and programs. During the last two years we have been tweaking our Independent Study model which has provided insights we can draw on. My hunch is that from those insights a new and exciting model for Capstone is already forming.


As we start to sketch out what our Capstone ‘structure’ looks like I imagine different pathways, alternative avenues, and most importantly, flexibility because not one size fits all. Our students have such diverse needs and interests–and some don’t even really know what they are interested in by their senior year–so we need to design something functional and human-centered to meet that diversity. We have our work cut out, but like all creative projects I am invigorated by the possibilities and potential.


I wonder if I will build better houses in the future because of what I am learning about creating new structures and learning experiences for students?

Creating room for change

I’ve been thinking a lot about what helps create positive conditions for change. Having just had the opportunity to facilitate an online course on Coaching Innovation provided rewarding opportunities to reflect with others about change and how to support teachers in their complex job.

logo for GOA course

I keep coming back to why change is so hard, and how do we create environments that nurture, encourage–and maybe even challenge people to keep improving how they approach teaching and learning.

Change is hard on any level. As I shared with course participants–in my limited experience of running, changing my foot strike felt awkward and clumsy. To adjust it took a significant amount of intentional practice, and quite a bit of feedback from others. I eventually did integrate the changes into my style but it took some uncertainty and frustration before I was satisfied, before it felt natural and became second nature to me.

How much more complicated is it with teaching and learning! Anytime I have made changes to something that has been part of my regular routine there’s been a clumsiness and awkwardness for a while–a noticeable dip in performance. This absolutely goes for teaching and instructional coaching which are so much more complex than any physical sport I can perform.
Dylan Williams in Sustaining Formative Assessment with Teacher Communities
puts it like this:

“The collection of routines that teachers establish to get through the day are their greatest asset, but at the same time, a liability because getting better involves getting a little bit worse, at least for a while.”

In addition to pointing out that we need to expect the process of making changes to result in a short term drop in performance, Williams also advocates that we need to make room for those efforts by creating space for change–yes, we need to stop doing something and intentionally make room. I think that is one of the hardest things to ask school leaders and teachers to do because the things we currently do–particularly relating to students–are certainly important and we may also love doing them.

Maybe that’s why change IS so hard.

So, as you think about this coming school year, what will you stop doing so you can make room for improvement in another area? What will indicate success along the way even before you get over the performance dip?

What ‘Thinking Collaborative’-ly taught me

Is there such a thing as ‘Organizational Intelligence’? ‘Resilience’: who has it and how do I get some? ‘Non verbal Elegance’….um, what the heck is that? Attending the Thinking Collaborative Global Conference in KL a few weekends ago was a chance to learn about, see modeled, and dig into some of the research underlying ‘how we work’ including the three topics I opened with.


Notes from the Organizational Intelligence Keynote

Cognitive Coaching and Adaptive Schools are now one organization called Thinking Collaborative and the event hosted by ISKL was the first of it’s kind in the Asia region.

Bob Garmston opened the conference with a keynote on Resilience. “Resilience is not something you can teach” rather is it a mindset or a character trait that people acquire over time in response to the circumstances of life–and quite often, hardship and challenges. What is our role as teachers in helping students develop resilience? Bob challenged the many international school educators present to think about what kinds of life experiences third culture kids face and how we can foster student resilience in that context. Based on research he proposed that there are four areas to keep an eye on: 1. Social competence, 2. Cognitive-problem solving ability, 3. Emotional Autonomy, and 4. Sense of purpose and future

An indicator of possessing the innate capacity of resilience is demonstrated strong personal competency across these areas. How can teachers help students who may be low in one of these areas? During the session we explored case studies and practiced reframing situations to support student efficacy, consciousness and interdependence. (I found Resiliency: What we have learned by Ryan & Hoover an interesting read.)

Day two started with a powerful group simulation led by Bill and Ochan Powell which demonstrated the power of Organizational Intelligence. The group is mightier than the individual–well unless there is an imbalance in power and one member dominates. (Book on this topic: The OIQ Factor: Raising Your School’s Organizational Intelligence)

We were able to do some nifty statistical calculations that brought home that the group truly does possess greater intelligence–but to benefit from it you need to have culture of respect, trust and collaboration. We learned that the elements of space, time and social sensitivities are key factors that impact an organization’s intelligence. One of the activities for this session included sorting examples from our daily professional life in the four quadrants of the TIme & Task Management Matrix. Ouch–how reality bites!

One of the most interesting break out workshops I attended was ‘Nonverbal elegance with paraphrasing’ presented by Bruce Wellman. It turns out that humans “have a rich repertoire of nonverbal expression” that when cued into, can be helpful indicators of whether we understand things fully or not. This workshop was like an episode of ‘Lie to Me’! Bruce shared examples of students describing their understanding (e.g. a science experiment) where cues in their nonverbals demonstrated a mismatch. Given that up to 90 per cent of what we say is echoed with visual gestures, learning to be more aware of incongruencies can provide teachers with indicator that a student is in Vygotsky’s ‘zone of proximal development’. Research supports that intervention from a teacher at those points moves learning forward.

Nonverbal Elegance

Where did these ideas come from? It turns out that research into mirror neurons in the brain uncovered the truth about how intertwined our communication system actually is. Bruce introduced us to four physical references to keep an eye out for: ‘characters in space’–where do they point or put them?, ‘concepts in space’–held high, low or between fingers?, ‘sequence or hierarchy’–up & down or left to right? and ‘time orientations’–do they count them on fingers, pointing left or right? We finished off the session with time to practice noticing these markers in conversations between participants as well as in a few amusing clips of famous politician.

It was a great learning experience topped off by meeting some fantastically friendly educators from around the region that we got to discuss and work with over the weekend.

Focusing Four
Adaptive Schools Strategy


The art of empathy

ASIJ has been working with the NoTosh team this year on gaining and understanding of the design thinking process and trying it out in aspects of our teaching practice. I have been really interested in learning about how to develop in students a mindset of a ‘problem finder’ and how empathy fits into that.

In the Graphic design course I’m teaching for GOA I’ve tried to intentionally focus student on using a few phase of the design cycle with some success. So I thought I’d share my learning from a recent unit on ergonomics.

I usually frame a new unit with learning intentions and success criteria. In this case it was:

Learning Intention
we are learning about identifying and defining problems

Criteria for Success
we can say what we observe a situation and describe gaps
we can say what people in a situation are experiencing (developed empathy)
we can write a need statement

The Hook I gave them a scenario for conducting independent research into the situation I called Learn Safe: Ergonomics

“…investigate a growing concern about habits relating to posture. Many more schools now have 1-1 programs, and students spend long hours in front of screens, hunched over text books and may sit for long periods of time at desks. Your job is to research and investigate this situation, identify gaps, define a need and come up with possible solutions.”

I shared articles to stimulate thought and discussion before sending them off to observe and interview people in their own local environments. We talked about who to interview: an expert is very different from a ‘user’ or subject (I modeled this in a video); and suggested how to combine observation with interviewing to develop empathy for ‘users’. e.g Actively intervene during an observation & use open ended questions: ‘Show me…’Why did you choose…? What do you like…? What don’t you like…? What suggestions…? What issues do you consider when xxx…?

Activities–Students observed and recorded their local context with a partner and then compared and synthesize their observations. Artifacts they generated included video interviews with experts (doctors, coaches), friends, siblings, photos of people sitting, wearing backpacks, slouching on buses, leaning over computers. Their notes and sketches fill in the details and made the situation ‘visible’ to the whole class. It was great!

From all these observations partners then had to find and define a problem worth tackling. They crafted a needs statement that identified the user, their need and the underlying problem. I introduced them to the hybrid brainstorming model and pairs practiced that as part of generating 100 ideas to tackle the problem they defined. Every pair made the target number! Some were sure wild and crazy ideas but they were mixed in with some insightful ways to impact the situation.

100 ideas 1

It’s a design class so students presented their work as a graphic representation for peer review. We stopped at that point but students can choose this work as the basis for their major project which starts in about a weeks time.

Slouch_1 Learn Safe 1

Did they develop empathy for others in this assignment and see how observation and interviewing can lead to greater understand of a situation? I’m not sure, but I am trying to intentionally build these things–practice and applying things in different contexts help me ‘work stuff out’ so my hunch is that will be true for some students too.

How much time did we spend on this? Remember that this was an online course. We did this assignment over two weeks while another individual practical project was going at the same time. I was really impressed with what students achieved in that time.


Edcamp Tokyo

Edcamp Tokyo (held at YIS last Saturday) was a most rewarding day of conversation on inspirational topics proposed on the day but the 40+ teachers and administers who showed up. Having time, space and  interesting people who are open to sharing ideas, questions and resources made the event hit a sweet spot for me.

My favorite topics of discussions were ‘creativity’, ‘20% time’ and ‘interdisciplinary learning’ but the list of what groups talked about was broad ranging, and the notes we generated during each hour long session are evidence that they were each as equally engaging.

The day ended with a simple share out of technology tools and tips in the most relaxed demo slam I have seen; people just kept hopping up and offering more ideas. It was great! I’m already looking forward to another #edcamptokyo in the new school year.

Interdisciplinary learning Edcamp Tokyo - 3 Edcamp Tokyo - 2 Edcamp Tokyo - 1