Secure Your Own Mask First


I was speaking with a friend who was helping me out with a project I am working on. After we were finished talking, she asked me how I was doing: staying at home with my two sweet babies. She had seen the bomb site that is our upstairs living room (laundry EVERYWHERE) and the dog hair, the toys, the laundry, the dishes…did I mention the laundry?

She said that the best advice she had been given when she became a mom 22 years ago, was to “secure her own oxygen mask first before helping others”. She likened me to the captain and reminded me that if the captain goes down, everyone goes down.

I have been pondering this and she is right on many levels and the analogy is very apt for busy parents staying at home and raising a family. But it is also true for pretty much everyone. If you are well taken care of, well rested, well fed, well nourished by the books/people/things/spaces that make you feel good, you are in a much better position to share of yourself for others.

Many teachers are notoriously bad at this (no scientific research, just observation). We want to help our colleagues, our principals, our team, our students, our parents and so often we put all of these people above our own needs.

What do you want in the kids that you teach?

Here are some possible ideas:

  • Kids that will prioritize their health: drinking water, using the bathroom, eating a healthy lunch, getting outside and breathing fresh air.
  • Kids that are mindful of themselves, seek to be mindful in their intentions, take time to reflect on their learning and where they are going.
  • Kids that come to school well rested with a good breakfast in their belly.
  • Kids that listen to each other and ask questions, lots of them. And then listen some more.
  • Kids who are open to new ways of doing and new ways of showing what they know.

These things are not going to happen without some seriously mindful teachers, modeling this behavior for their students. Mindfulness is not a new concept but it is one that is taking off in education and for good reason. Having clarity about your intentions puts you one (giant) step closer to achieving your goals.

One of the most mindful practitioners I have had the pleasure of knowing is Neila Steele. She is the very definition of a mindful educator – and parent, wife, friend, all round great person. Her husband, Andy Vasily, hosted a session with her on his Run Your Life podcast with her on this topic. In the podcast, they cover the following:

What is mindfulness?

Specific mindfulness strategies

The power of visualization

Teacher and student well being

The importance of breath awareness

Mindfulness resources



Take a listen to the podcast. And think about your own life. What one change could you make today that would better equip you in serving others tomorrow?  How can you take a more mindful approach to your own well being in order to be the best teacher/colleague/friend/parent/spouse possible?



Get Into The Groove

OK…I know you are already humming along with Madonna after reading that post title so here is the song in all its glory – turn it up and belt it out! You know you want to!

It has been a while since I was in the blogging groove and it will be a while still before I am back in the teaching groove. Lots of reasons for the hiatus but this is the biggest one:


We welcomed a sweet baby boy (Harrison Jaap terBorg) into our family on May 2. I am on maternity leave (and loving it) but I am still working on my masters (I use the word ‘working’ VERY loosely at present!) and keeping an eye on what is going at school when I am not up to my armpits in art projects, trips to the sandpit, coffee with other mama’s, and cuddles and snuggles galore.

One of my last posts was about what we believe in and how this impacts our classroom practice. A first grade colleague, Teri Lynn Biedenbach, was looking for new insights into creating Essential Agreements with her team this year and I shared this post with her. I had lunch with Betsy Riley, the third grade team leader, and shared the same concept with her. I was curious to see how both women would use these ideas within their own teams.

Grade One


Teri Lynn expedited the process by starting with a number of words on post-it notes: Cooperation, Trust, Innovation, Inquiry, Play, Respect, Creativity. She goes on to explain the steps she and her team went through:

We brainstormed based beliefs connected to the words I listed. Everyone wrote their own ideas on sticky notes and stuck them around the connected word. We then looked for commonalities and created two simple yet meaningful belief statements.

Because we believe cooperation, trust and respect are important within a team environment, we will listen actively, and be open-minded to the ideas of others. Whenever possible we will plan collaboratively.

Because we believe innovation, inquiry and creativity are important when planning and teaching, we will create hands-on experiences, guide students to draw their own conclusions, use visible thinking strategies, and be open to trying something new.

We focused more on us as a team working together. Not sure if I approached it right, but my team seemed to enjoy the activity and feel that what we came up with is meaningful so I guess it’s a good start.

Grade Three


Grade three began with a group brainstorm of ideas. Everything kept revolving around the idea that in all things, the team would model the same behaviors expected of their students. Betsy asked for my help in turning their ideas into “something pretty” to refer back to over the coming weeks. I created the following visual which not only documented “what” they believe in, but left room for each teacher to articulate how this would look, specifically, in their own classrooms. I chose to do it this way in order to acknowledge the collaborative component of their team thinking AND allow each teacher to reflect on this and their own practice.


Both teachers have gone on to use a similar process with their students in creating shared beliefs about learning for their classrooms.

Here’s what I love:
  1. Both teachers were seeking ways to change how things had been done in the past, not for the sake of change, but in order to build a better learning environment within their teams and for their students.
  2. Both teachers thought about their team members and the time allocated to this process and modified it in ways that were meaningful to their teams.
  3. Reflection occurred throughout the whole process including scrapping ideas, seeking new ideas, building on input from other team members and continuing to think about how they would do this again differently next time.
  4. The process was different but each team came up with strongly worded beliefs about their teaching and co-teaching.

This is what we should be building room for in our classrooms. The ball got rolling in Bangkok with Nicky and Beth. Let’s consider them our ‘experts’. Information was shared about their teaching practice and modified by other teachers to suit their needs. Hopefully someone will read about their work and be challenged to re-address their own beliefs about teaching.  Nicky and Beth established their co-teaching beliefs after much reflection and work together. I am interested to see how the beliefs of these teams will change over time and be revisited throughout the year.

What are your beliefs about teaching?

How do you articulate your co-teaching goals at the beginning of the year?

Know Your Team

Coach Stephen Garnett. He is the assistant basketball coach for Whitman College. And he has an impressive pre-game handshake ritual, individualised for each player on his roster.

Check him out. 

He knows his team and I think he understands that leadership means moving alongside each team member and supporting them in ways they need to be supported. I believe that when individuals feel valued and appreciated and noticed, they will work in a way that reflects that belief.

Think about the leaders at your school. Do they notice you? Do they value you? How do you know?

Think about the students in your class. Do they feel appreciated? Important? Valued? How do you ensure this is so?

Think about the people you work with – your co-teachers, team members. How do you make sure you allow for individuals to exist within the confines of a partnership or a team?

A few days ago, I posted about Conceptual Co-Teaching and I got a comment from a friend and former colleague asking “what about when the differences are so different?” I think that is when we really have to step up and look for commonalities in what we believe. When the conversation about beliefs with regard to teaching and learning are difficult, that is all the more reason to have them. Of course, it is easy to say this here – the reality when working with another person can be quite different.

Beth and Nicky – the teachers who created the Conceptual Co-Teaching framework – posted a video of one of their co-planning sessions on Twitter. It is a great example of the type of conversation that elevates learning for students and teachers. I would use this video to show what collaborative planning can (should?!) look like. Here is what I saw when I watched the video:

  • The focus is on the students, the context for learning, the connections that can be made, and the scaffolds that can be put in place to support learning.
  • Very few (if any?) “activities” are mentioned.
  • Standards and curriculum objectives are referenced and a lot of time is dedicated to the idea of modeling transferable skills.
  • Space is embedded in the planning for students to inquire.
  • Technology is used to support and extend learning through the addition of Skype and bringing an expert in to amplify the conversation.
  • Time was used SO efficiently – so much was planned in such a short time and all consolidated into two (large) post-it notes.

Obviously, this kind of relationship doesn’t develop overnight but is the serious work of teachers who want to make it work and are supported in doing that by leaders who care about the individuals in their team.

What could you do today to improve the relationship between your co-teachers?

How can you value each individual while elevating learning for your students?

Math Advice for Parents

This morning I got an email from mathematics educator, Jo Boaler of YouCubed from Stanford University. As a former participant in her online course and a follower of The Week of Inspirational Math I was curious to hear more from her and her ideas related to encouraging a math mindset.

Her email was directed toward involving parents in their child’s math education and to this end, she had listed six points she wanted to share with them:

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You can download the full document here and it includes some great links on the second page to additional resources, games, apps, information about brain science, and more.

This week, I have an iPad Pro and Pencil on loan to me from Apple. I used the Pro and Paper53 to distill Jo’s message to parents into a sketchnote. I typically use a Cosmonaut on my regular iPad and I have to say the Pencil with the iPad Pro is just so good. Yes, there is a bit of lag but the sensitivity and ability to focus on details is awesome. And it really just feels like you have a familiar pen in your hand. I tried to do this quickly – as if I were at a conference or listening to Jo talk and the combination of the app and the pro/pencil made it a really efficient process at just under 12 minutes:


I think Jo’s ideas are great and could form the basis of a really interesting parent information session on math. If you don’t already follow YouCubed I would highly recommend it and hope to see more work along the lines of the Inspirational Week of Math coming soon.


State Your Beliefs

Many schools I have worked in have asked teachers to create with their students Essential Agreements for their classroom. This has spilled over to asking grade level teams to create similar Essential Agreements for collaboration or team meetings. Occassionally (which is a generous use of the word) single subject teachers are also part of this conversation. In all cases, what typically happens is that ‘rules’ are created along the lines of:

  • Be on time
  • Focus on the discussion at hand
  • Be prepared
  • Be positive and open-minded
  • Respect other people’s ideas and running temperatures
  • Care for each other’s well being
  • Keep a sense of humour and positive perspective
  • Communicate openly and be willing to voice concerns
  • Seek help as we need it
  • Model behaviour for our students and keep students at the focus

I have been part of these discussions and creation of agreements and for the most part this is a quick conversation that is dealt with on day one and rarely (if ever) reviewed over the course of the year. Their purpose is to unite a group of very diverse, talented, individuals into a cohesive unit, providing guidelines for the group on how they will essentially treat each other in the coming year.

While this is a fine idea, I am not convinced that this is actually all that productive. The lists generated are basically rules so they are going to need enforcing – by whom? Or they are so general (Be prepared! Be positive!) and subjective that they are often open to (mis)interpretation by different members of the team.

What if we spent the time discussing what we believe, instead?

I was looking through Twitter and (like a Magpie) was drawn to some simple graphics that were posted by Nicky Bourgeois of Conceptual Co-Teaching – belief statements created by Nicky and EAL teacher Beth Q Dressler on the following big ideas:


These big ideas were used as discussion springboards so the teachers could articulate what they believe in. Why they do what they do.   What they value. Think about that for a second. How powerful for teachers who are working with the same group of students to have this kind of discussion. For each person to share their beliefs about learning and to come together to create a shared statement that will best support and encourage student growth, autonomy, and learning. In most cases, we work with teachers with a similar mindset but we still come from diverse backgrounds and experiences. And regardless of diversity being a good reason for employing this sort of strategy or initiating this kind of discussion between team members, I believe it is important that every teacher be able to express why they do what they do.

Here are the belief statements created by Beth and Nicky in response to these six guiding questions:

What do your students bring to school?


How do you position yourself?



How do you illuminate big ideas?


How do you allow the unexpected to happen?


How do you build together?


How do you respond to your learners?


If you were fortunate to attend the recent IB Conference in Hyderabad, you may have seen Nicky and Beth presenting their Conceptual Co-Teaching framework based on their reflections on working together. I didn’t go, so instead stalked questioned Nicky on Twitter about the evolution of this process and through our conversation, Beth joined in with this:

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As much as I would love to see this process/protocol adopted, I absolutely agree with Beth that it must be more than just a procedure we tick off our to-do list. She says it brilliantly:

“Discussing beliefs raises the conversation and has more impact”

And isn’t that why we are here?

I have been a Homeroom teacher for 15 years and a single subject teacher (Art and Technology Integrator) for 4 years. As a specialist, I would love to be part of this conversation with the other teachers who work with the same children as I do. I think it would be empowering, I think I would learn a lot about what others value, I am sure I would have my eyes opened to different ways of thinking and doing, and most of all, I think it would be amazing for the kids to be guided by educators who had taken the time to discuss and figure out what their driving force is, why they do what they do.

What do you believe?

Why do you do what you do?


We Can Make It Work

Scrolling through Facebook, I noticed a HuffPost Parents link to a post written by a mom of a child with autism. Essentially, this mom declines birthday invites on behalf of her child as she is not wanting to steal the spotlight from the birthday child in the event of meltdowns that are likely to occur in what would be an overwhelming situation for her child.

Until one day.

The mom of the birthday child attached a note to the invite, per her son’s request, and detailed events of the party and possible ways of making it work for the friend with autism to come and be part of the special day. The words she used to spark the first ‘yes’ to a party invitation?

We can make it work.

What if we used this phrase more often in school?

What if we thought about each child in our classroom in the same way this mom thought about each guest at her son’s party?

What if we started asking how we could “make it work” for each child and their family in our care?

What would that look like?

I think, that it would be an example of Personalized Learning at its finest. As I wrote in my book Imagine A School:

My point was that ‘one size fits all’ doesn’t really look good on anyone and expecting students to ‘fit in’ to what we want is not in the child’s best interest.  Instead, asking how we can help each student stand out, and in doing so, personalize their learning experience, is the way forward.

A parent at my school recommended this book to me. It is an easy read but one which points to the possibilities that exist when we start thinking of students as individuals and look for ways to utilize technology  to support a more personalized approach to learning.


The book points to a three step process:

  1. Defining what Personalized Learning is and WHY we are pursuing this for our students.  Knowing WHY you are about to embark on a project is key. Even more important is being able to clearly articulate your ‘why’.
  2. Acknowledging that the role of technology is to AMPLIFY the role of the teacher. I love this idea and have done ever since Sal Khan wrote of this same concept in his book One World Schoolhouse. Technology is not going to replace teachers BUT teachers who use technology will replace those that do not.
  3. Starting from a point of Whole School Design in the implementation of innovative personalized learning. This is also key. Of course, personalized learning can exist in one classroom in somewhat of a vacuum to what is happening in the rest of the school, but this is clearly not ideal. Innovation needs to be the collective mindset of the whole school and school leaders need to take the lead in moving their school forward.

Making this switch, and using technology to do so, could be considered “innovative” in light of the ‘factory’ approach to schooling that many institutions employ. One of my favorite thinkers and educators, Will Richardson, recently posted on Medium imploring schools to ‘stop innovating’.  In doing so, he was cautioning educators about the danger of confusing the purchasing of technology with a change in mindset regarding what true innovation in schools should and could look like:

Innovation in schools of any type needs to start with the idea that the goal is not to force kids to abandon their passions and interests for our curriculum when they come to school, which is what we currently do.

Richardson goes on to add:

How we innovate depends largely on how we define learning. If we believe that learning is defined by “student achievement,” i.e. test scores or GPAs, then the vendors peddling their gadgets and code will continue to reap the profits of selling into our desires for better. But if we believe that the most powerful learning that kids do can only be measured by their desire to learn more, then any innovation we introduce must focus on creating fundamentally different experiences for kids in our classrooms, with or without technology.

I believe that technology does, can and should play a role in innovative learning environments. I also think that having a school leader or leadership team who have a clear vision about how and why they want to innovate is key for this process to ‘trickle down’ within the school. And so I said as much to Will:

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Will took the time to respond to my thoughts:

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It starts with a clearly stated belief around how kids learn best.

I would also suggest that it starts with a mindset driven by those same five words used by a mother seeking to include her child’s friend in a positive, shared experience: we can make it work. 

How do you innovate in your school or classroom? What are your beliefs about how kids learn best?

Here are some more thoughts by Will Richardson that may provoke a response in you regarding this.



Empathy By Numbers

I just saw this video from GOOD.

Data Source: — Written and Produced by Gabriel Reilich. Animation by Jake Infusino.

The last two lines of the animation really hits home:

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This video would serve as an excellent provocation as part of the Design Thinking process. With this information, students would be equipped to think about others on a massive variety of topics:

  • gender equality
  • population growth
  • access to education
  • human health
  • differences in religion
  • communication and languages
  • access to technology
  • basic human needs (water, shelter)
  • distribution of wealth

The statistics in this video were really interesting to me but three stood out in particular:

There would be 50 men and 50 women.

This makes Justin Trudeau’s cabinet selection of 50% men and 50% women and his response as to why he did so (“Because it’s 2015”) even more of a no-brainer. But it also poses the question as to where else we see a 50/50 split in gender roles? Politics? Teaching? Aviation? Technology?

31% Christian, 23% Muslim

I was surprised by this one too.If the world were 100 people, almost 1 in 4 would be Muslim. Which makes the vile rhetoric coming from the US Presidential Elections even more deplorable. To be actively alienating and condemning 1/4th of the world’s population makes zero sense to me.

English would be the third most spoken language.

Mandarin and Spanish both rank ahead of English in terms of languages spoken. Quickly followed by Hindi and Arabic.

Mostly, this short video made me think of where I fit in in all of this and how, if the world really were 100 people, would I fight harder for equality? I think I play my very small part in doing things like loaning money through Kiva but what else? Then I heard the very eloquent Justin Trudeau speaking on Multiculturalism and the roles schools can and should play in its development. So good!


How would I use these videos in school?

The first video is great for PYP Exhibition students. I would use this as students are thinking about the problems and issues that are interesting to them. In terms of thinking empathetically and creating solutions to problems, I think this video goes a long way in distilling the facts of where we are in the world so that children can use this information in a positive way.

The second video I would use in faculty meetings. I would have teachers identify what it means to be multicultural and how that would look in light of an ever-changing demographic within our school communities.  I would then play the video and have teachers reflect on their initial ideas. Including ideas of other cultures doesn’t mean excluding ideas of the predominant culture.

How do you bring global ideas to your classroom?