Hold Me Close, Young Tony Danza…


I love FRIENDS.  Especially Phoebe.  And particularly her rendition of Tiny Dancer.  This is now always the first thing that comes to mind when I see/hear of Tony Danza.  No exception today when I came across an article on Good explaining that during the 2009-2010 school year the actor ditched Hollywood for a gig teaching tenth grade English at Northeast High School in Philadelphia. Now Danza’s written a book,I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had, about the experience.

It’s an article worth reading and it comes with three quotes worth sharing:

 “teachers have no problem being held accountable by parents. In fact, they crave parent involvement.”


“(parents need to) persuade their sons and daughters to take part in their own education.”


“kids have to understand that it’s their responsibility to do well—no matter who their teacher is or the quality of their school.”


While it might sound like teachers just have to sit back and wait for the parents and the kids to get with the program, I don’t think this is it at all – which is emphasized in the concluding paragraph that states only when all three (parents, kids and teachers) work together will things turn around for the better.

During the summer, I had the opportunity to interview Suzy Greenslade from Discovery1 school in Christchurch, New Zealand.  Her school works because she (and her fellow teachers) work hard to build a relationship with the kids and with the parents. The school is clear on what they believe in, what their core values are and families sign up for Discovery1 knowing these and knowing that part of what makes this school work is their involvement.

I think the key factor here is in being clear about your purpose, about defining who you are.  If you want your kids to be passionate – be a passionate teacher and then expect the same of your students.  If you want parental involvement – invite parents to partner with you in a way that acknowledges and values their strengths, and supports the learning in your room.  If you want kids to take responsibility, give them something to be responsible for.  And don’t deviate.

Think about the words used to describe your classroom or school on a daily basis or when a potential new family comes around. Then take a closer look when no one is watching.  Do your beliefs match your behavior?

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):


Discovery 1 – Make School Different So That “We Will Fly”

Last week, my sister emailed me asking if I knew about a school in Christchurch, New Zealand (where we are from) that she was in the process of checking out for her son.  She said that the school “sounded just like me” and my ‘dream school’ from Imagine a School.

Intrigued, I began to investigate and I think I have fallen in love!  Talk about make school different!

The physical space that the school is located in has been badly damaged by the recent earthquakes so the school has relocated to a different part of the city for the time being. Prior to the relocation, the site was designed by Imagine – an architectural firm focusing on  inspirational school design. From there, it just gets better!

The name of the school is Discovery 1.  It is a state-funded , public school that operates under the auspices of having a ‘special character’ and as such, the way in which they approach learning (the what, how and why of what they do) looks different to more traditional schools.   The ‘special character’ is defined by the following points:

  • that students direct and manage their own learning based on their passions, interests and needs

  • that we ask students first what they need in order to learn

  • that we create and uphold a community where families are an integral part of the learning process, sharing responsibility for learning with students and staff

  • that we are involved in learning wherever it naturally occurs in the community without the restrictions of curriculum, place, time, style or subject

  • that students come together in a learning community without barriers, learning at their own level

  • that we create and uphold a community where everyone is a learner and everyone is a teacher

Discovery 1 goes on to define the role of the stakeholders:

Students are expected to:

….take advantage of the opportunities available to them and commit to the learning intentions they have co-created. Learners at Discovery will be successful if they strive to be self motivated, self directed and self managing.

Parents/Caregivers are expected to:

…commit to the special character of the school and work in partnership with staff and students to set appropriate learning intentions for their child and support them through the challenges of achieving these intentions. Work alongside staff and students both within school hours and outside hours.

Learning Advisors are committed to:

…make Discovery 1 a place of learning that students enjoy, where their learning and personal development will flourish, provide challenge and new and varied learning opportunities.

The core values of Discovery 1 are:








Amongst their documentation, is a ‘glossary of terms’ that explains some of the terminology you will hear being used at Discovery 1:

There is so much here that I just really connected with!

  • students grouped across grade levels
  • the use of the local community
  • the role of the ‘teacher’ as learner and advisor
  • the commitment required of the parents to particpate in the education of the child
  • the inquiry based stance
  • the idea that the learning does not have to occur in the classroom
  • the option for students to learn from home
  • the option for group or individual inquires

And this is free (a donation to the school of less than NZ$150 is asked for by the school as a school fee – a practice in place by most New Zealand public schools).

Ultimately, this begs the question “If this is my ‘dream school’, what can I do now, where I am at, to make school different?”

I think this goes a long way in answering that question:

A lot of this reminds me of how our class operated during our recent PYP Exhibition.  You can read more about that here. We worked really hard on developing an environment based on passion and inquiry, incorporating collaborative and group work, requiring the showcasing of well-established skills and the development of new skills, interactions with the community, and the idea of connecting to the community and taking action.

At the end of the process, we surveyed our parents and then collated, reflected upon and shared their combined feedback, indicating how we would use their insights to shape the program next year. That document is available here: PYP Exhibition Feedback.  When I look this over, with the Discovery1 lens permeating everything I see, I am both pleased with how we did and able to see loads of places for improvement.  I am also pondering the question:

“Why only the last unit, the last 8 weeks of the year, in the last grade before Middle School?”.

As much as I love the graphic above and am so inspired by the work of its creator, I think I would tweak this poster to more accurately represent the ethos of my classroom next year, all year, as inspired by Discovery1: