Why I Quit Blogging – And Why I’m Back

The past year and a half has been intense for me. After 21 years of elementary teaching, I traded in PYP for MYP and became one of three Design teachers at my school. Just prior to this, I applied for the assistant principal (Primary) position. I didn’t get it. Just recently, I applied for the deputy principal (Primary) position. I didn’t get that either. I thought I was ready for another rejection. Turns out, not so much.

As much as I would love to be a solid subscriber to Seth Godin’s “pick yourself” philosophy, I lean more toward imposter syndrome. And I love a little external validation. So why quit blogging?

I started to waiver in why I was doing it. It takes time and for what? My primary reason was as a reflective tool – it always has been that for me. A chance to process my thinking and to reflect on my practice. Turns out, when you stop reflecting, your practice can stagnate too. I also began to question if I had anything worth sharing. Turns out, I do, and that engagement with the community I have worked hard to help build, is something I have grown to miss.

So what does this all mean? It means I am going to follow the same advice that I give my daughter: “Be Brave. Speak Up. Persist”. I can wear the shirt but I have to do what it says! The combination of International Women’s Day (IWD) and Elizabeth Warren stepping out of the race for Democratic nominee for president was a bitter pill. Women everywhere need to keep rising up, choosing to stand out, putting themselves out there. Even when it feels like it is all for nothing.

I have seen many people quote “Strong Women: May we know them, be them, raise them” in light of IWD and I want that to be more than a slogan in my house and in this blog. So I am back. Back to writing my thoughts, sharing my ideas, stating my beliefs. Even when they’re not perfect. Even when I am not picked. And especially when my daughter is watching.

It’s good to be back.


PYP Early Years ATLs

I keep coming back to the ATL’s that run across all the IBO programs as an opportunity for discussions with learners about learning, a way to differentiate learning, a way to plan for new learning to occur.

My most recent discussion was with my daughter’s K2 teacher. She wanted a way to communicate the ATL skills to her learners in a clear, simple way. Looking through the Early Years document under the Principles into Practice, we tried to pick out one skill in each of the five areas. I later went back to the document and created a second set of skill cards to cover other ideas under each skill category.

This is a work in progress and two of our early years classes are trialing ways to use these cards to see if they are useful or if there is a better way of working with them. One teacher has containers with small 2-inch black and white cards that the children will select and tac to their work. Another teacher has large posters with one skill on each poster that children will write on/place sticky notes on.

Here are the images and the PDF download.

Icons made by Freepik from is licensed by CC 3.0 BY

Millennials?! Who Needs ‘Em?

Ah….we do. The six millennial Co-Chairs of this year’s Annual Meeting have delivered a strong call to action to participants in Davos. Their stories ask us to consider:

  • refugees
  • climate change
  • sustainable development
  • circular economies
  • reimagining education
  • global food crisis

Mohammed Hassan Mohamud is a Somalian refugee who has spent the last 20 years living as a displaced person in Kenya. His speech (which is appropriate for elementary students) is passionate, quiet, and real. He says to the leaders in Davos:

My story is inspiring, I get that….but what will it inspire you to do?

Mohammed Hassan Mohamud

What will it inspire you to do?

Mohammed’s speech is about 4 minutes long. It is about as long at the “viral” video of a group of catholic school boys and a Native American elder. I would suggest that if you ask in the break room if your colleagues have heard about the “catholic kids” or the “Davos refugee”, one will rise quickly above the other in the “most viewed” list. However, to both videos, I would say, “What will it inspire you to do?”.

For me, the response is: build empathy to inspire action. Empathy on it’s own is not enough. Consider this:

“Empathy is not endorsement. Empathizing with someone you profoundly disagree with does not compromise your own deeply held beliefs and endorse theirs. It just means acknowledging the humanity of someone who was raised to think differently.”

Dylan Marron

Dylan explains this further in his TED talk (below) and was inspired to create a podcast “Conversations With People Who Hate Me” in order to understand those who, well, hate him.

And then, take action. What will that look like? Will start a campaign, change your own behaviors, advocate for others, raise awareness, include challenging scenarios in your teaching to promote those difficult conversations?

Here are some ideas from the TED Ed Blog:

4 Ways to Promote Empathy

How to teach Empathy through STEM

What Does It Mean to Be a Refugee?

Last week I happened to be on Twitter at the right time and saw a tweet about a unit planning game to support the SDG’s. I tried it out and it looks really useful. I can see students being supported to use this to plan inquiries with purpose.

How might we take what we have learned from 8 minutes of video this week and turn it into something for good, something that demonstrates that through empathy we can take action to bring about sustainable change? I plan on asking my kids and look forward to seeing how they might use our units on game design and sustainability to create change.


Imagination and Designs

We did a reshuffle of our kids for semester two Design today. We introduced our provocation and shared the basic premise of what would be happening in each of our classes. Then kids chose where to go.

As I sat with my new class of kids, I decided to use the rest of the lesson to just get to know them and for them to get to know me. I also wanted to get a head start on organizing our written communication/file sharing so I had everyone create and start adding to an introductory document. I shared three prompts:

  1. Things you should know about me.
  2. What I learned about Design from Semester 1
  3. My goals for Design in Semester 2

We sat and talked while we were working, sharing stories about who we are and what is important to us. I learned that Kai’s fourth grade teacher was Mrs. Gijzen (“She was so kind!” – ahh, what a legacy!) and that all my kids are fluent Mandarin speakers (I see opportunities to engage with our local community in our future!). Tonight I came home and in opening each student’s document and reading what they wrote, I came across this:

“Design was completely different than I thought it would be. I thought it was a class that was full of imagination and designs, but what I have learned was that Design class is full of essays and writings and I need to work on my writing to be better at Design”

Grade 9 Student


Because I thought it was a class full of imagination and designs, too! 

In Design, we are guided by the MYP Design cycle and the MYP Criterion. And what I realize I have done is approach this in a very, very traditional way that results in a bias toward those who are capable of writing well in English. When I think about last semester, the image that comes to mind is students hunched over computers, tapping away. Is that what Design is?

I had lunch with a colleague today in which I was sharing ways I wanted to simplify and scaffold the written portion of Design and this has only amplified that goal. Imagination and Designs – that’s what’s on the menu in my class this semester. What I have realized is that my practice hasn’t supported my ideals. I have wanted one thing but have shown I value something very different by the way I both structure the class and reward participation.

This feedback was a gift. Now to ensure I put the learning into practice. We are moving into our unit about our impact on the planet and what we can do about it and I keep thinking of this quote:

“If not now, when?”

And then in browsing Terri Eichholz’s Video Board on Pinterest, I saw this:

“The difference between what we are doing and what we are capable of doing
would solve most of the world’s problems.”
Mahatma Gandhi

How do you ENGAGE your students? How do you ease the written burden that we sometimes saddle our students with?


Parasite on the Planet

By @tersonya on Keynote with Apple Pencil

For semester two, our provocation in MYP Design, Grade 9, is “Parasite on the Planet”. We want to challenge our designers to use design to make less of an impact on the planet.

For my part, I am going to look at how we might repurpose, reuse, and generate new ideas for fashion related items. I am hopeful that there is enough scope to this provocation to make it engaging and meaningful for all learners.

For the most part, we will be driven by the concepts of sustainability, culture and fashion. Do we live in a disposable culture? How does one determine if something is fashionable? How can we develop a sustainable and fashionable culture?

Here is the overview I want to share with our kids:

Made on Keynote

There is a lot of other material out there with regard to this topic that inspired this choice of unit:

Thanks, Mitch, for sharing this one!
Can fashion be a source for social change?

What might you add? Have you done a unit like this before? Any ideas are welcome!


Game Over…

This semester I have been working on a Game Design unit with my Grade 8 Students. As with most units that you run for the first time, there were elements of success and elements of “hmmm….not sure I would do that again that way next time”. 

I tend to give a lot of freedom in my classes.  The expectations are clear, the support is there, but I let kids decide on what they want to do and how they want to do it. Which inevitably means some kids choose to be more flexible with their time than I would like – something they become acutely aware of as the semester draws to a close. 

So, what have I learned from this experience? 

It’s About the Process

I want to be more explicit in the keeping of a process journal to document learning. Many of my kids do this, but not all and not to the same level of organization. I came across this post which offers this advice that I am going to adopt: 

We will begin to keep a weekly process journal of what you’ve accomplished in and out of class for the week. This is a way for you to organize your work as well as your thoughts. It could/should include:

A summary of what you  accomplished in class.
A summary of what you worked on outside of class.
Any ideas or inspiration you have for your project.
Links to resources you found or notes you took.
Screenshots of what you have done.

This journal should be updated at least once a week. It should be at least a paragraph (±100 words?) but probably not more than a page.

Its All Connected

I am pretty open to kids doing this in a traditional written format, or if it is better for them, a reflective vlog might also be an option if they choose. I want it to be useful as a tool for keeping us (them?) focused and organized. 

Start With The End In Mind

I want to share all the Criterion rubrics with the students at the beginning of the unit. I think it will help with organization and with the big picture thinking. I also hope it might lead to a less linear approach to the unit if the kids (and I ) can see the whole Design Cycle in front of us and can choose to add to different parts of the overall assignment as we jump from research to testing to refining to rethinking – instead of feeling like there are a few weeks for inquiring and analysing (Criterion A) and then move on.

Here is the summary rubric I shared with my kids to help them pull their assignments together at the end of our unit – something I will share at the beginning the next time I teach this class.

Get Connected

I want my kids to have access to people and resources beyond our classroom, our school. To that end, I have found that there are loads of people and resources in the realm of game design that I can connect with in order to improve the unit.

Kathleen Mercury has an amazing blog packed with Resources to Teach Game Design. In particular I love her approach to beginning a game unit: Introducing games through play and 10 Minute Prototyping for Game Design. But honestly, that’s just the tip of a massive iceberg. She has so much stuff there it is crazy! And her Twitter feed is just as amazing. I need a few weeks to plough through it all but I know there is some great stuff in there!

I then happened upon this tweet in December that got me thinking about a collaborative student project:

I am looking forward to seeing how this idea develops in the near future!

I sought feedback from my kids along the way during this unit and I got a lot of helpful advice for how I could do things differently and what they liked about what we were doing. Ultimately, I want to make sure we are process oriented, connected, purposeful, and playful. I will keep you posted when semester two kicks off in a few weeks!


The Day You Begin

Today a box of books arrived at my school. I love books – and the book whisperer who sent them. They all looked amazing but the one that I read first was, The Day You Begin by Jacqueline Woodson, Illustrated by Rafael López.

As I read the inside of the jacket, this stood out to me:

And they remind us that sometimes, when we reach out and begin to share our story, others will be happy to meet us halfway.

The Day You Begin – Jacqueline Woodson and Rafael López

This is a great “new beginnings” book for those people starting a new semester or getting ready to start a new school year. And it’s also a reminder that while calendars or school years can mark the passage of time, there is nothing like the present moment to make the decision to begin something new or choose to see things in a new light.

This is the opening page of the book. It is framed to evoke a feeling of apprehension. My hope would be that kids read this as a positive statement of just how special and unique they are – and that everyone is. And because no one is quite like you, take the time to listen and learn from each other.

A lot of the book is framed in this way: emphasising the “different-ness” of one’s lunch, language, vacations, families. It ends with an affirming message of celebrating the differences in us all. I would just hope that this is the message that rings through.

I love Jacqueline Woodson’s books. Each Kindness and The Other Side are two favorites. I question sometimes whether these books are for kids or adults. I look at the way my daughter settles in with her “new best friend” be they boy or girl, older or younger, English speaking or not, and I wonder if she needs to listen to a book that points out our differences. Then I read the comments on blog posts and news sites and I wonder if it is not the adults who need reminding of the simple truth that “every new friend has something a little like you–and something else so fabulously not quite like you at all.”

I would read this book to humans of all ages. It’s a message we can’t hear too often.


Planning Process

Earlier this year in April, I was asked by the IBO to create a planner for the PYP. Under the new PYP Enhancements, schools are able to create their own planners. The IB have created a planning document to guide this process – kind of a ‘cheat sheet’ to ensure your planning is balanced and reflective of the PYP elements. After being asked to do this, I tapped into one of the most valuable resource a school has: its people. Within a very short space of time, I had our principal, math coach, literacy coach, 2 second grade teachers, and a 4th grade teacher ready to help.  We met, standing up around a white board table with markers in hand, and we talked. And we listened. At the end of it, I would take our ideas and try and synthesise them into a visual planning tool that both reflected our beliefs about learning and the PYP ethos on learning and planning for learning. And then we’d do it all over again. And again. And again. Until we came up with version six or seven which was submitted to the IB. 

The big ideas from this planner: 

  • it is about each individual student
  • we need to take time to provoke and wonder
  • we use our observations and conversations to guide next steps
  • our role is to gently prod and guide kids to their zone of “I don’t quite know what I am doing but I know you’ll help me learn”

The document is on the PYP Communities page and can be downloaded by schools. I created it on Pages – which I know is not everyone’s cup of tea, but it is my tool of choice for projects like these. I still “own” the document and can share it and schools can choose to use it as it is or as a starting point for their own planning journey. 

Recently, at the Learning2 Conference in Tokyo, Ben Sheridan shared an L2 Talk titled, “Together We Are Better”.  And I couldn’t agree more with that sentiment.

What could have been a lone endeavor on my part became a collaborative undertaking. I learned a lot about listening, about digging into the intentions behind people’s words, about respecting ideas and asking questions to make sure I was understanding what others were trying to say. I am really proud of the work we have done. Is it the best planner ever? Almost 🙂 What it is though, is a reminder to me that we can harness the power within our schools to create great things when we work together. 

Last night I recorded a Webinar with Sarah from the IB on the Planning Process. It will be released soon and contains a wealth of information for you if you are planning on embarking on your own planning odyssey.  From my perspective, the freedom to do this is a welcome change to the PYP and the learning about learning that occurs as a result is priceless. Give it a go and then share your ideas. I would love to work on Version 67 of this planner we have drafted….but first, Christmas holidays in New Zealand 🙂


Parenting in the Digital Age

This week, our counselors and tech team hosted a parent coffee morning on the subject of “Parenting in the Digital Age”. As the parent of a rising first grader who will be asked to buy my child an iPad for use at school next year, I was very interested in hearing what was said at this morning meeting. 

As a member of our school strategy team, I have been working with Grade 1 teachers to analyse at we already do in relation to iPad use. Our wonderings are focusing around the big ideas of:

  • educating students to be more mindful
  • the developmental path toward self-regulation
  • tech addiction – what are the facts?
  • what are our intentions for using technology in the first place

I recently came across the organization ZeroToThree. They caught my eye on Twitter when offering a webinar about screen time for young children in which they were planning on talking about “minimizing the negative effects of screen time”. 

Screen Sense: All the Need-to-Know Research on Screens for Children Under Three from ZEROTOTHREE on Vimeo.

This was the first I had seen anyone suggest that negative effects existed. Take a look. Most people when you ask them (and I did) start talking about creation over consumption. This is good. I have said these same things before. But I haven’t known what to say when it comes to minimizing what we know to be true: that there are negative effects of extended time on screens. Here are my notes from the Webinar. And here is a really useful and detailed report on the research behind the webinar

So, what are my big takeaways from looking into this thus far: 


Negative effects of screen time can be minimised if the quality of content that your child is consuming/interacting with is high. If the TV they are watching is educational and interactive, if the apps are challenging and require mind-on thinking. ZeroToThree suggest you evaluate media and apps using E-AIMS:

  • Is it engaging? Is there a goal or story as part of the experience?
  • Is the child actively involved – that is, are they required to have their minds on? Are they responding to questions? Is it interactive?
  • Is the content meaningful? Does it reflect their everyday life and therefore can they relate to it?
  • Is it (or can it be) social? Is it language rich? Is there talking or responding? For some games or online experiences, this element can be provided by an adult or other child so there is an element of exchange within the experience. 

There is a flowchart to guide you through choosing media content that is available for download on the ZeroToThree website

For a copy of the full flow-chart, visit the ZeroToThree Website.


The suggestion is that all media pass through a simple test: 

  • Is it age appropriate?
  • Is your child on ‘auto-pilot’ while using?
  • Is your child challenged but not frustrated? 

This made me think about apps we load on iPads. Do they pass this test? Are we paying as much time and attention to the apps our kids use as we do the books they read? Are we as discerning? Are we seeking out the same quality? Are we playing the games with our kids the same way we might read with them (or read the same book as them before they read it?). 

Or, as Marina Gijzen put it: 

Is it intentional or out of control? 

Great question. I would argue that we have good intentions but our reality does not always match up. We are inconsistent. We are human. We want to allow for student choice – except when they make “poor” choices. In the case of technology, I would argue a need for a family/home/school/class agreement. I would also advocate for teachers to be mindful of when they are asking kids to use their tech and when it could be tech free. Sure there are great brainstorming apps, but there are markers and paper and they work well too. What percentage of your lesson are you expecting or allowing kids to be on a device? Now multiply that by the number of classes your child has in a day. 

What is your school doing to address tech use in your school beyond the ‘creation/consumption’ mandate? How are we helping our kids to self-regulate their behavior?

In terms of my own parent community, I enjoyed listening to our parents at the coffee morning. It made me think that there is still somewhat of a “them and us” divide with regard to kids and tech when really we all want the same thing: happy, healthy kids. Now to keep the conversations moving forward on how best we might achieve this in a way that is respectful, meaningful, and mindful.  Wish us luck! 


Secret Agency

unsplash-logoryan skjervem

Recently on Twitter, I posted a tweet in a moment of frustration but also deep questioning, hoping against all hope, that the ‘sunshine and jellybean’ type posts which Twitter EDU is somewhat known for, might step to the side for a moment so that my unperfect question could be posed. To my surprise, I quickly found I was not alone in my wondering, and, I got a massive amount of comments that were thoughtful, inspired, and most of all, really helpful.

Here are some of the responses that really got me thinking: 

Finding the Sweet Spot

This image from Maggie has definitely been a huge help when talking with students about their work.

It actually reminded me of some posts on questions that I have used with students in the past when trying to create their own inquiries. Ask Great Questions speaks to the depth and quality of questions we can ask with students.  And Questioning Conceptually which drives home the idea of developing questions worth inquiring into via a number of thinking routines – in particular, the Visible Thinking routine Question Sorts   This routine is used by our grade 4 CNU teachers to help students choose ideas worth inquiring into and would transfer to any aged audience – especially middle school. 


Autonomy. Mastery. Purpose. These things are somewhat out of whack for me and my kids (I think). Most of all purpose. “Why do you want to do this?” or “How might you share your learning” are really difficult questions for some kids to answer. What I am finding though, is “Show it on the TV screens around the school” is becoming a really popular response. They want their peers to see their work – simple. They want that feedback. Other kids are looking to go further. Just this morning I got this email from one of my 8th Graders: 

How cool is this kid? I love stuff like this! Motivated by other students to rally his advisory group to action. I can’t wait to support him on this. Celebrating those who ARE motivated  and keeping trying with those who are not as per this suggestion:

Making Time

Time is a massive factor. Fortunately, we have a lot of teachers all working together and we are each allocated students to mentor. This tweet stood out to me:

Thinking about this I put together the following spreadsheet of questions. I am able to check in with 2 or 3 students during the X-block hour that I am working with my group. I have modeled these questions from this Kath Murdoch blog post: Getting Personal

Having students respond to the question, “How do you know what success will look like? is proving to also be helpful. It puts the ownership of the project back in the hands of the students and reinforces that they are not doing this for me or for a rubric or even for a grade, but for a purpose of their own choosing. Which is challenging but also empowering for some. Working hand in hand with TIME, is it’s friend…


Today on Twitter, Tania Mansfield posted the following:

The word TRUST kept jumping out at me as this is something we talked about earlier in the year as being vital in building a cohesive team as per the Lencioni Trust Pyramid (in which an absence of trust is a leading cause of dysfunction within a team). 

Lencioni Trust Pyramid

So I responded to Tania’s tweet:

To which Tania replied to the original thread on student agency in MYP:

This made me think of what happened when I did just what Tania suggests we do in her tweet:

Do I think there is a ‘secret’ to Agency? Probably. The secret is going to be different for different kids though – and that is the secret within itself. My tweet is not indicative of ALL students – just the one or two I worked with on that day. Their purpose is becoming more clear, we are spending more time with each other, I am showing them I can be trusted to support them should they choose to take greater risks in the challenges they set themselves. It is an ever changing game or dance between the two of us. Learning about each other and what we are capable of, who we are, what we can do or can’t do….yet.  

I don’t have all the answers but thanks to this one Tweet, I do have a lot more than I began with. What’s up your sleeve when it comes to growing a culture of student agency in the Middle School? Another educator, Mary Wade has recently posted in light of my tweet: Strategies to trust students to own their learning when they seem uninterested. It is full of great ideas and is definitely worth reading to further your thinking on this topic.  Mary concludes her post with an Alfie Kohn quote that I love: 

“Working with people to help them do a job better, learn more effectively, or acquire good values takes time, thought, effort, and courage.”

Alfie Kohn

I am grateful to those educators who engaged with my tweet. Your time, thought, effort, and courage was very much appreciated.