Phil Beadle: Pointless, Posh and Boring?

Not Phil, but how the kids he works with view school.

Phil Beadle is the author of Dancing About Architecture and is currently in Australia, working at Knox Grammar School as a Teacher-in-Residence.  During this time, he has done an interview with ABC’s Richard Fidler for his ‘Conversations’ series. The conversation is fast-paced and really interesting and well worth a listen.  Recorded on my birthday (!) I consider this a special gift from Phil to me (thanks, Phil!) and now I would like to share ten points of note from the conversation:


  • Show up.  Be there, be engaged with your kids.  Let them know you are there for them, consistently.


  • Eat lunch with your kids – look out for them from a different environment – who needs more from you?


  • Groups not rows – discourse with each other not a reliance on the teacher as the font of all information.


  • Grouping slightly higher attaining boys with slightly lower attaining girls is optimal for all students.


  • Have a performance space for your students – they need a stage to share with each other and a space that you step back from to let them shine.


  • Instead of a ‘zero tolerance’ policy, schools should have massive amounts of tolerance. Set clear expectations and ‘sweat the small stuff’.


  • Your mantra should always be “What is best for the child?”


  • Hand the learning over to the young people and get them to develop their oral skills. End teacher-led discussions to avoid rogue student behavior.


  • Never let your kids behavior change your behavior – always project positivity and professionalism in the face of poor attitudes.


  • Use praise liberally and ensure everyone in the classroom gets it.  The absence of praise is an utter negative.  Believe in the beauty of real, descriptive praise.


Phil concludes by speaking proudly of his little book on creativity, Dancing About Architecture. If you haven’t done so already, get your hands on a copy and have a read (you can borrow mine!). It really is inspiring and funny and challenging and the perfect pre-back-to-school read.


Design Thinking for Educators

A collaborative effort from Edutoptia, IDEO, and Riverdale, Design Thinking for Teachers looks fantastic!

Firstly, what is design?

Week 01 IDEO from Design Thinking for Educators on Vimeo.

Design Thinking is a mindset:

  • do you believe you can change the world?
  • do you have faith in your ability to look at problems from different perspectives?
  • are you inspired by the people you spend your time with to find solutions to make things different?
  • can you use a process to unleash creative thought?

I like the simplicity of the process that has been laid out as a blueprint for Design Thinking.  That is not to say Design Thinking itself is going to be simple! Design Thinking is thinking in a way that is similar to other goal oriented ways of doing, but this process seems so well designed (naturally!) and the support for teachers to incorporate this into their teaching seems endless!

Here is the Design Thinking Process:

If you go here to the Edutopia site, you will be introduced to this process in greater detail via Design Thinking for Teachers – Week One. There you will be able to join an online community of educators looking to gain a deeper understanding of Design Thinking.  This starts by contributing an example of something you have seen that constitutes ‘good design’ and explaining why this is so.  I chose these two things to add:

Both of these items take something we are all familiar with and then add something creative, thoughtful, whimsical, interesting and fun.  Who wouldn’t want to showcase their lego masterpieces knowing they were not going to fall off the shelf?  Who wouldn’t want to watch dice roll as the dice “watched” them back! The range of other examples of good design added by other educators is enormous.

Move on to step two: download the week one challenge, do it and then post about it. Do this! I have printed it and I am going to do it while I watch some more Olympics! I am tempted not to do it but I think it is good to go through the same sort of process our kids go through.

The final part of Week One is to download the Educator Guide to the Design Thinking Process and reflect on it.  The guide is phenomenal.  Not only does it outline the five phases of Design Thinking (above) it breaks this phases down into smaller steps and outlines why you are doing them, how doing it will impact your overall design, what your desired outcome is and more! It reminds you of the importance of communicating with others who may share the same frustrations that have led you to want to re-design something, it discusses the value of group work and defines this as working with at least one other person, it gives you tips for how much time you might expect to need, and adds in a few suggestions if you get stuck.  Quite simply, it is a stunning piece of design in and of itself.

Take a look at the resources and sign up for the challenge. It started today and runs for five weeks with 2-5 hours of work per week. Here is the upcoming schedule:



I just finished week one of Design Thinking for Educators.  It really is brilliant.  I learned a lot from doing the mini design challenge:

1. To listen more

2. To think about the needs of others

3. To focus on finding solutions for other people that are outside the box


I also learned a lot from what other people posted.  Having used the IDEO Design Thinking method, I am so much more confident in using it with my kids.  Much more powerful to come from a place of “Hey, I have actually used this myself” rather than “I hear this is good…”.  It is not too late to sign up – and you can do it while watching the olympics (promise!).


Quitting is Not An Option



Quitting is not an option. It is a phrase we hear a lot, but do we really mean it?  And when push comes to shove, would you quit?  Is there anything that would stop you?


Today I went to my first Air Show.  I wasn’t sure what to expect but I had a super-excited husband accompanying me and it was a great day out!   One of the aerial displays was from a man named Dan Buchanan.  Dan moved from New York to Lake Tahoe and was in the process of pursuing his private pilots license in 1981, when he had a hang glider accident as a result of flying in weather that he confesses he shouldn’t have been flying in. Dan was paralyzed and lost the use of his legs.  Despite this, he was back flying six months later.  He continues to share the thrill of flight with millions of people around the world during his annual 25+ city Air show tour, driving 45,000+ miles each summer.

As I watched him zipping around in his hang glider, I had no clue that he was without the use of his legs.  When I met him after his performance, I was struck by the passion for his sport that emanated from him.



So I ask you again…

When push comes to shove, would you quit?  

Is there anything that would stop you from pursuing your passion?

21st Century, Inspiration, Play

There Is No Purpose Without Play

This great cartoon just arrived in my inbox from GapingVoid. Here is the text that accompanied the image.  It is worth reading through – and clicking through the links.  Really interesting stuff to help you answer the question, “Are you having fun yet?”

“Purpose” is a big deal in business these days. Finding and having a strong sense of purpose is an important part of having a strong company culture. The blogosphere is utterly awash with it.

My friend, Tony Hsieh of Zappos, really nailed this idea in his New York Times bestseller, “Delivering Happiness”. And another friend, Mark Earls, nailed this idea sooner than most of us with his whole “Purpose-Idea” thing.

With the Olympic GAMES upon us, I was thinking about the idea of “play” in the world of work… (What my favorite future-shocker, Pat Kane calls “The PlayEthic”)…. and how The Play Ethic is so necessary for said “purpose”.

In my experience, the big ideas come from play, not from pressure. Any half-decent artist, hacker, inventor or scientist will tell you the same.

Playing is how we learn to hack, how we learn to invent, how we teach ourselves to create.

How we teach ourselves to SURVIVE.

So as wonderful as the Olympic athletes are to watch, I think maybe it’s time to rethink The Games, not in terms of “achievement,” “excellence,” “competition,” “glory,” but a celebration of PLAY itself.

Just an idea.

-Hugh McLeod


It would seem Nike are on a similar train of thought.  Their non-Olympic, Olympic commercial, showcases “all the little leaguers, backyard champions, and living room gymnasts doing what they do for the love of sport with no expectations of being exalted on high and showered with accolades in the form of lucrative endorsements.” (KC Ifeanyi) They are playing. With guts and spirit and determination.  But ultimately, for the love of play.


So, how do we embrace this culture as educators at school? I think it has to be a conscious decision. We need to choose play.  We need to make sure we are looking for ways to learn through play – and this is not breaking news!  There will be achievement, excellent, competition and glory.  There will also be failure, mistakes, recalculations and second-tries. There will also be a whole lot of learning.

Millions of people watched Caine Monroy make his cardboard arcade.  We are nearing the one-year anniversary of the flash-mob surprise for the boy with a passion for play and a huge imagination.  In honor of this, everyone has the chance to participate in the Cardboard Box Challenge, culminating in the Global Day of Play.  I have signed up to join in and hope others in my school will want to play too.

I had an interesting conversation recently about “Global Day of _______” type events.  Does having a one-off event hold meaning for a school that is supposed to provide an integrated, student-led, inquiry-based curriculum?  Some would argue that days of fun that support a cause are good fun, a good idea and as teachers, we should be exposing kids to what is ‘out there’.  Totally agree.  But I think we need to go deeper.  If it is good enough for one day, why not all days?  If we are prepared to forgo “normal” school for a day of play, we must think it is important.  If it is important, why not include it every day?  I love the idea of a Global Day of Play.  I just hope it doesn’t start – or stop – there.  I plan on introducing the value of play from the get-go.  It is something I have been looking into and reading about all summer and something I feel passionate about incorporating into my classroom – on the Global Day and Every Day. A new daily question in  my classroom:


Are we having fun yet?

21st Century

How Do We Connect in the Classroom?



I just watched the opening ceremony of the London Olympics™.  I loved it.  It might not have been everyone’s cup of tea but I love the beginning of this iconic event. All throughout the ceremony, I kept wondering what those copper ‘things’ were that the kids were carrying.  When I saw them come together to represent each country coming together in peace as the cauldron….perfection. What a great way to represent the unique differences of each nation combining as one.

I read a great post which introduced me to the Köhler motivation effect – the idea that when people work together as a team, the weaker members become stronger. I thought about this in relation to our classrooms.  Many would argue that group work is an integral part of the modern classroom, but what about the introverts?  The kids who excel when working on their own?

My take on it…

By it’s nature as a ‘class’, our kids are already grouped together.  As teachers, we need to turn that group into a team – people who will support, encourage, question and connect with each other through (to steal from Barrie, above) ideas, hopes, faces, dreams, actions, stories, and memories.  When it comes to ‘working’ wether kids choose to do this in groups or individually, they should know that they are connected to and supported by the other members of our team.

How do you bring your class together as a team?


Don’t Underestimate Encouragement or the Power of a Great Question

In response to the letter I sent out to my incoming class of fifth graders, one student wrote back with the following quote that is so far, fueling her passion to be “fifth grade and fearless”:

“Nine-tenths of education is encouragement.”

-Anatole France

So true. And it can come in many forms.

For me, I rely heavily on what my husband refers to as “my emotional paycheck”.  Like most teachers, I am not in it for the money.  I am grateful for having a job, and one that I love at that.  The paycheck = great.  The feedback, encouragement, critiques – way more valuable. So to are the people who give so freely of their time to help make me a better teacher.  Recently, I have been working on a new website to showcase our PYP Exhibition: The Passion Project.  It has been a mountain of work, but totally worth it.  When I was at the bottom of the mountain, I put a few feelers out to people I have worked with – and they came through big time.  The ideas, suggestions, critiques and encouragement were all so welcomed and so valuable.

Most valuable were the really good questions. The ones that didn’t tell me what to do, but gave me something to think about and ultimately led to a better website than could have been created on my own.

So…that’s my takeaway for the coming school year.

1.Ask better questions.

I came across a book called “Ever Wonder” by Kobi Yamada.  The Ever Wonder book is filled with intriguing questions that invite powerful answers. The quality of our lives is in direct proportion to the quality of the questions we ask ourselves. If you want better answers for your life, ask better questions. Ever Wonder raises our awareness and points us toward life-enriching change. Ask Better Questions.  Love it!



2.Give encouragement freely.

If you want something more tangible than words of encouragement, you can’t go past the adorable gift left on my front steps today from a sneaky duo.  A beautiful book of encouragement and celebration.  I can see my class making these for each other next year….


Perspective is a Beautiful Thing

I have just gotten home from two weeks of camping in Utah, Arizona, Nevada and California.  It was fantastic.  We saw forests, canyons, rivers, lakes, oceans, beaches, deserts, lots of freeways and back roads, orchards, farms, cities, towns, and old friends from our previous life in Japan.

When I walked into our house at 12.17am after just over 8 hours of driving, I was struck by how big, how spacious, how clean, and how different it felt.  It was absolutely exactly the same as we had left it fourteen days ago, yet it felt different – in a good way.

Soon, I will be having to head back to my classroom – a place I haven’t been for much longer than two weeks! What am I going to do there to make it different for my incoming class of students?  I have more kids this year, all with big expectations and high ambitions as they ‘finally’ get to fifth grade, the pinnacle of Elementary School.  I am hoping that absence will have blessed me with a new perspective.  Fresh eyes to view the space and make changes that will be welcoming and inspiring.

I am leaning more and more toward the idea of a ‘fresh slate’.  I know I could make the room super cute and coordinated on my own.  Last summer, my husband and I spent hours of our time and hundreds of our dollars to transform the space from a fourth to a fifth grade classroom.  This year, I am toying with the idea of giving the kids more of that ownership.  Letting them work out the kinks and find a solution that works.  If you know me, this is not easy for me to even contemplate (“What if things don’t match?”  What if they make ugly choices?!) but I think it could have major payoffs.

How much do you let the people who inhabit your classroom have a say in how it looks?

Is it time to start anew?

21st Century, Creativity, Innovation, Inspiration

How One Teacher Is Making School Different

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of interviewing Learning Advisor, Susie Greenslade.  Susie works at Discovery1 – a special character, state-funded public school in Christchurch, New Zealand.  I posted about Discovery1 a few weeks back.  Talking with Susie gave me a few more insights into her school, why it works and how she is making school different.

Click below for more information on:

Below is a summary of our conversation.  Susie has inspired me to continue to work away to make school different in my classroom.  We both agreed that valuing our parents and working in partnership with them was the way forward.  Susie is clearly a passionate educator who loves what she does. Her homebase kids and her school community are fortunate to have her.

Speaking with Susie…

Partnerships with parents and having children learn around their passions and interests were the two key factors cited by Susie when I asked what made Discovery1 successful.  This doesn’t happen by accident.  

Parents who wish to enroll their child at Discovery1 attend orientation meetings, take tours, visit two or three times and then sit down with their child’s learning advisor to decide if it is a good fit for the parents, the child, the family and the school. Once they are a part of the school community, Susie makes time to speak with them every day, supporting them in their journey.  It’s not just their child who has started school – they have too.  Parents are partners at Discovery1.  Susie helps her parents feel comfortable in the learning environment and looks for ways to help them utilize their passions in helping children learn.  This might mean leading a workshop in a skill they have expertise in, taking students on a field trip to their place of work or a place with whom they have a connection, providing transport to and from the homebase or something completely different! She does it all without overwhelming the parents and keeping them engaged in their learning. In her words, “It wouldn’t work without the parents!”

Susie meets with her homebase of 26 kids and together they discuss their ideas and passions.  This forms the basis for the learning that will occur.  Unlike most schools, planning at Discovery1 occurs after this discussion with the learners.  Susie hosts a homebase meeting a couple of times over a term (ten weeks) in which she shares the ideas of the children with the parents.  Together, they work on plans for how to best help their children explore these passions.  In addition, children can sign up to participate in or run workshops that happen twice a week on things that are of interest to the children (workshops based on a list of options curated by the children). When I asked Susie about her obligation to the New Zealand Curriculum, she said that it is still there, it just doesn’t drive the learning.  She and her colleagues regularly review the skills required by the curriculum and check off what has been achieved through student inquiry.  More often than not, they are amazed at how much more they achieved than they could ever have ‘planned’ to do! 

Assessment at Discovery1 comes in a number of forms.  There are documents that students use to analyze their own understandings (see below).  There are also Learning Stories.  Susie co-lead research into Learning Stories in 2007 and continues to use this method to record the understandings and learning at Discovery1.  Photos, narrative and analysis of learning through these stories, paints a full picture of child development through their time at school.  Kids, parents and teachers all write them. Sometimes a story will be written for the whole homebase, a small group, or for the individual.  

If Susie could add or subtract anything from Discovery1 to make it more successful, she immediately would suggest smaller homebases (groups of students under her primary care).  When the parents are on board and willing to contribute to the learning of the group, everything else falls into place.  The resources for students to inquire are all there.  Most people are willing to help a  child who has a passion for a particular topic or skill.

Susie is inspired as an educator by the children she works with and their families.  Her goal is to facilitate adventures for her kids. To extend their fervor.  She makes school different by being an advocate for her children and by making their voices heard.  She is a passionate advocate for the special character of the school – keeping true to that is what makes Discovery1 what it is. Her main goal is that she want kids to have a childhood – and a really good one at that! She works hard to build relationships and establish a sense of belonging.  And  PLAY! She loves to have fun!

Discovery1 Self Evaluation Documents (click image for link):


Radically Different

I read a really interesting post yesterday titled Redefine “Better” by Will Richardson.  The quote above was mentioned in that post along with Richardson’s thoughts about why we don’t need “better” in schools and what we do need:

  • We don’t need better assessments; we need different assessments that help us understand students as learners and constructors of their own ongoing education instead of knowers of information and narrow skills.

  • We don’t need better teachers; we need different teachers who see their roles as master learners first and content guides or experts second.

  • We don’t need better schools; we need different schools that function as communities of inquiry and learning instead of delivery systems for a highly proscribed, traditional curriculum.

-Will Richardson

I read this and was intrigued but not surprised.  It’s why the bumper sticker on the back of my car doesn’t say “Make School Better” but “Make School Different” (Thanks, Phil Sharp – you can get yours here).  In my mind ‘better’ sounds like polishing what is already there and I would hope we are all getting to the point where we realize that the way the majority of school is structured hasn’t changed since school began.  We don’t need a polished up version of that, we need something different. 

I then read a post by a teacher.His son is heading off to the University of Colorado at Boulder. Titled The Times, They Are A Changin’ this post focused on the way in which ‘college’ was being introduced to freshman and their parents including an outline from the College of Arts and Sciences that explained the behaviors they were hoping to sharpen in their students over the course of their college career.  The list was impressive in that it was very much process oriented rather than driven by product.  Not a list of papers, tests, assignments to be mastered but a list of skills, attitudes and behaviors to be cultivated:

  • Develop critical thinking skills

  • Deliver effective oral and written communication

  • Hone research and organizational skills

  • Learn to look at multiple sides of an issue

  • Apply reasoning and logic

  • Make time to meet goals and complete projects successfully

  • Heighten self-confidence

  • Heighten self-understanding

  • Refine analytical skills

  • Acquire critical reflective reading skills

  • Improve numerical skills

  • Work productively and in teams

  • Cultivate sensitivity to individual and cultural differences

From a presentation by Peter J. Freitag

So I then went back to the Harvard Business Review article Declare Your Radicalness  which, in addition to outlining why we need to do so, gives four pointers on how this might look in a manifesto for creating something different:

Seek The Roots

This requires a paradigm shift – radically different thinking that challenges traditional ideas.  Look at how school has been “done” and then do something completely different. Not a little something. A BIG SOMETHING. This may ruffle some feathers and have people raising their eyebrows – great!  You are clearly on the right track! Keep going! When we started The Passion Project at school, the idea of our fifth graders taking the morning to do some running training, get aviation lessons or help out at a Bird Sanctuary caused many a raised eyebrow – school outside of school?  By the end of The Passion Project, it seemed like the most natural thing in the world to do – to utilize the community in the education of a child. Sometimes what was thought ‘radical’ really isn’t that bad.

Reorient The Branches

Once you have your radical new ideas, how are you going to bring them to life? I thought about this as I was planning on how to start the coming school year with my new fifth graders.  The night before I was to meet with them on their last day as fourth graders, I began to draft the same old welcome letter that I have churned out for the past 16 years of teaching.  And then I stopped.  I was wanting them to know school would be different and yet a letter printed on yellow school bus paper was the radically different way to do that? Instead, I gave them all a QR code that linked them to my online letter embedded with warnings, assignments, and (optionally) requiring a video camera for completion. I didn’t have to tell them school was going to be different – they figured that out themselves.

Reimagine Fruition

What is the point of your new idea? And how will you sell it to the massess? And how are you making sure that it is just not the same old thing, gussied up?  I do wonder about that last one.  I like my warning letter to my fifth graders.  I just have to make sure that what follows isn’t a slightly polished version of everything we know about school, but something that really lives up to the hype of being different. No pressure….

Seed The System

I love this one.  The article states that “for an idea to be radical in human terms, it’s got to seed a system, nurture a thriving jungle of human interaction”.  Nurture a thriving jungle of human interaction. I couldn’t think of a better byline for a school if I tried!  Welcome to our school – a thriving jungle of human interaction.

So, where to from here?

Here is my plan for being a radical teacher:

  1. Buy the bumper sticker.  If it is on your car people will see it.  If they see it, they will associate it with you.  They will then start to expect it and you need to deliver!
  2. Read Stop Stealing Dreams. It will fire you up and will also give you background on how school was structured so you know how to make it different.
  3. Try something different – and expect for not everyone to like it.
  4. Explain why you are doing what you are doing – you are a professional! Share your why with the parents of the kids you teach and watch them climb on board.
  5. Do something that scares you a little, everyday.
  6. Start from within your own classroom – not everyone is on the same path of radicalness as you are!
  7. Exceed expectations. 
  8. Outsmart or…
  9. Care MORE

Our goal?  To Make School Different. 

Stand out or fit in.

Not all the time, and never at the same time, but it’s always a choice.

Those that choose to fit in should expect to avoid criticism (and be ignored). Those that stand out should expect neither.

~Seth Godin


Share Something Wonderful Every Day

I like the idea of sharing something wonderful every day.  Usually, I get my own dose of wonderful from Samaritan Blog.  Yesterday, it was this, although I challenge you to watch without a tear in your eye:


Today, I came across this, phenomenal film – take the 2 minutes to watch it, it is mother nature at her finest!

Murmuration from Islands & Rivers on Vimeo.


I want to make sure I include time each day for my students to share their piece of wonderful: something they made, found, discovered, created, curated or stumbled upon.  Because don’t we all need a whole lot of wonderful, every day?