Sunday, October 26, 2014

Food for Thought: Great start to the Year

Dear all,

I hope you have all had a deserved and relaxing break and are refreshed and ready for our second quarter of the year. I know when one is tired it is often difficult to focus on the good things that have happened, and that is why I have left my vacation Food for Thought till today. 

The first quarter was wonderful, with glowing comments from CIS/NEASC visitors, and a completely clean bill of health for all our IB programme 'Matters to be Addressed'. This alone would be a fantastic achievement for a quarter but walking around ISHCMC there has been an incredible learning buzz right from the start of the year. You have really been 'Walking the Talk' with our new mission. I couldn't have thought of three better words to describe what I have observed so far this year. There is a powerful energy running through the school in both the way students are thinking and acting. The lessons that you are planning are without doubt engaging our students with their learning. Students at all levels are being empowered through their learning, mindfulness activities, leadership roles in student governance and ASA's. I believe there is an increasing spirit and pride in our school; as standards rise and we become more competitive in all that we undertake. A good example of this was the Celebration of Cultures event on the last Friday before the break.

There have been many outstanding things that have happened in our classrooms as we develop our constructivist pedagogy in line with our mission. I would like to share two developments with you. 

The first is the Grade 5 Provocation that took place in the last few days before the break. Here is a link to the video that captured the students at work........definitely energized, engaged and empowered by the learning challenge thrown down by their teachers.

Secondly, the Secondary Science department has worked together to create a pedagogy portfolio on Firefly, throwing down the gauntlet to other departments and Grade levels to follow suit. They have created a couple of teaching examples for each MYP Grade level/ DP subject. Their initial idea was that teachers in the department would record their best examples of 'constructivist' teaching so that if they were ever asked to demonstrate what they were doing as a department, the examples would be readily at hand. Then they realized that if they saved the examples onto Firefly, then they could share them with one another. ​They plan to continue to build and improve the examples in the portfolio. What they have put together so far is not the finished product, but its a beginning.

These are but two of countless examples of good things that we should be proud of that have been happening at ISHCMC since the start of the year. 

As Dylan Wiliam says," it is not changing how a teacher thinks that is important, but rather what they do." This is what has been so wonderful for SLTA observing initiatives and changes that are taking place everyday around the school. Obviously not everything is perfect, but what matters is that everyone is trying new strategies, listening and collaborating with each other and developing new activities with their students. Already this year we have been able to learn from Paul and Sharon Ginnis, Nathan Horne, Kim Engasser, Gareth Jacobson, Lance King and Lana Fleiszig. During the next quarter we will be visited by NWEA ( 7 and 8 November, using MAP data), Robyn Trevyaud (10-15, Digital Citizenship). I know this will make many of you smile but little by little we are moving towards being the Best School in the Universe. 

Looking ahead to the second quarter we have a secondary school production, MARISA tournaments, ISHCMC Goes Wild and lots of great days with our students. I hope you are looking forward to the second quarter as much as I am, because I know it is going to be hard work but a lot of fun as well.

A sincere thanks to all of you for the fantastic start to the 2014-15 year.

See you tomorrow,


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Food for Thought: ‘I couldn’t continue as a teacher without understanding how students learn’

Dear all,

Its been a good week at ISHCMC. Good parent/ teacher/ student conferences, excellent volleyball and swimming results and an overall good feel as we move towards a well earned October break. In this first quarter all of you have reflected on your teaching through a SWOT, set measurable goals and are meeting with your principals ahead of classroom observations. Hence, I thought that this short Dylan Wiliam video, and a reflective blog post by a teacher fits well with what you have been thinking about so far this year and the culture we want to build for teaching at ISHCMC.

Have a good weekend,

Esme Kettle reflects on her realisation that, after seven years in the classroom, she didn’t know how to teach


Esme Kettle had come across the title ‘master’ through films about Jedis but it wasn’t until she thought about master teachers that she began to question her techniques in the classroom. Photograph: Cine Text/Allstar/Sportsphoto Ltd.
The term “super teacher” is enjoying another outing into the fray, championed by the shadow minister for education, Tristram Hunt. The debate involves the usual suspects: improve standards, a model for best practice and a career path that doesn’t take good teachers out of the classroom.
My first encounter with the term “master” was as an older sister. My brother would receive cards on his birthday or at Christmas addressed to “Master Thomas” and, mute with envy, I would read the contents to him thinking, “If he’s such a master, shouldn’t he be able to read his own post?”
Further encounters would come through films about Jedis, a television show about cooking, the master of my college at university and an unassuming Korean man in Melbourne who invented a martial art. With the exception of its use as a salutation, the prevailing message conveyed with “master” is that this person is at the very top of their game.
As a political scientist (or, at the very least, a graduate of political science), first past the post (FPP) is a concept and process that I should be able to explain with clarity and panache (particularly given I delivered GCSE citizenship to two cohorts for two years). But when it comes to this model in the electoral process, I’m completely lost. It’s the off-side rule of politics for me.
There’s no need to hand back my undergraduate degree just yet. I can give the textbook explanation and make comparisons with proportional representation, but I can’t explain it in any detail or expand beyond that. I simply do not understand how it works. I can fake it; I know the right words, when to go left, when to go right. To the untrained ear, I am well versed in our nation’s electoral processes, but even now, I am at a loss to even make an analogy for the purpose of illustration.
For those with concern for my previous students, I’m an advocate of the teacher as a facilitator so you needn’t worry. Somewhat ironically, my students know this model far better than me because I challenged them to help me understand it. Their frustration at my continued lack of understanding propelled them into further research and they also achieved some empathy with me as a teacher: “I can’t make it any simpler, miss.” Indeed.
I raise it now because there are many concepts and processes in pedagogy that I could make a similar confession about. Until recently, I had more interest in what children were learning – the content of the curriculum – rather than how they learned it. I used bells-and-whistles strategies that engaged students there and then but were forgotten about once the bell rang. I could never understand why at the end of every term my students would say, “We like your lessons miss but we don’t like the subject.”
Until now, I had little interest in research-based models of practice for deeper learning. I thought about my classes as discrete groups and planned lessons according to our last encounter. If that sounds like “personalised learning” to you, then you and I would have got along great a year ago. What I’ve realised, however, is that this is personality-based learning. The hit and miss that I had come to accept as standard in my classroom was the result of me allowing my personality to take centre stage.
During an afternoon coffee with a colleague a year ago, I shared a fear I’d harboured for some time; I was good at my job (my classes made progress and we had a good relationship), but I wasn’t sure I could do it without the bells and whistles. I wasn’t sure I completely understood how to teach.
So I started to read and I was reminded of words that I’d sped read during my PGCE. From zones of proximal development to early cognitive development, I became interested in concepts I hadn’t considered since leaving university. Perhaps education has more in common with democracy than I first realised; could we establish a common framework for delivery that can work for the majority? And if so, is it a logical next step to have those who have mastered the process as our representatives?
Teaching is often referred to as a craft or an art, but to me it is a very human act that we cannot escape from regardless of our profession; consider how much is taught outside the classroom and how many people might fit the role of “teacher” in everyday exchanges. But to call yourself a professional teacher, or even master teacher, requires a deep understanding of the concepts involved and, most importantly, an ability to pass that understanding on in easy-to-follow processes.
In the year that has passed since that coffee, I have returned to the classroom on the other side of the world. I am teaching without bells or whistles, delivering a primary curriculum that I must teach myself first. Without engaging in this deeper understanding of how and why learning takes place, I couldn’t do the job. While I am happy to call myself a political science graduate without understanding how our elected officials come to power, I couldn’t continue as a teacher without understanding how students learn.
Next year will mark my eighth year from qualification. With those years, has come experience of course but also, age. I am not a young teacher any more and the bells and whistles I used to rely on, which were starting to feel cumbersome, would feel totally unwieldy now. Trying them out was important part of my development as a teacher, but there must come a time when you can explain not what you do or why you do it but how. That’s the hallmark of the master teacher.
Esme Kettle blogs at Those That Can and writes under a pseudonym.

I have just been sent an article by Martin that complements with the one above and is very relevant for high school or Diploma teachers in particular. I have posted it here: 
or you can read the original here:

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Food for Thought: How well are we really doing?

Dear all,

Hope you have had a good weekend.

This weekend I spent a few hours looking through old educational videos that helped me reflect upon the question of how well are we really doing at ISHCMC? One might say we are doing well because CIS/NEASC and the IB have given us positive reports, but who is to say they are measuring what is important for our students education today. We have just produced a 100 page assessment report for Cognita that shows our students are performing above world average against the vast majority of the tools that we use to measure student progress and achievement. But is that really good enough?  Do these tools measure what is really important? Are we good enough in the areas of students development that will enable them for the rest of their lives?  I don't have an answer. What I do know is that our students are buzzing about their learning at the moment, appear to be having fun at school and are thoroughly energized and engaged by the learning process. So we are definitely doing a lot of things right.

The videos I have chosen to share are ones that you may have seen before but I hope will still spark you to think about 21st century education and what we should be trying to achieve as a school and in our classrooms. They will only take you 20 minutes to watch but should lead to some personal reflection and educational thought.