Inspiration, PYP

Choose To Be Passionate

I saw a post on a blog about being passionate, and it really resonated with me.  Check it out yourself, but in a nutshell it proposes the idea that instead of waiting to be filled with passion (putting you in the passive role), you actively pursue passion.  Approach your work, your “art” with great passion and enthusiasm and ‘bring it’ – you ARE passion.

I keep rolling this idea around in my head. There are lots of ways to think about this and I think the reason it resonates so loudly with me is because I have continually come up against (but not in a really negative way) students (or parents) who declare that they “don’t have a passion” or “aren’t passionate about anything” and those statements really put up road-blocks when you are embarking on a Passion Project!

For those embarking on Passion Projects, Genius Hour, or the PYP Exhibition, I say to you, keep pushing on! I believe that we all have in us the passion to live a fulfilling life and I think that starts with 1. Loving what you are doing. 2. Doing it wholeheartedly. 3. Helping others realize their passion too. So you might not know what you are passionate about but you can work with passion. I have been posting a lot about starting with questions built from concepts, but maybe some of our students just need to start by helping others who are already on track with their passion? Perhaps passion is born from inspiration, from the sharing of ideas, from seeing the fires other people have lit?

In my dream world, such projects look like this:

Be Inspired!


A never-ending process of giving and receiving inspiration from each other – the ‘other’ being those in the room, down the hall, in the school, in the community, or out in the connected, internet-world! Show up. Be passionate. Learn from each other. Repeat. Like love, passion shouldn’t be a chore, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t involve work.

If you haven’t seen this gem, take 2 minutes.  If the message doesn’t inspire you, the gorgeous lettering surely will!

Inspired to Inspire from Nathan Yoder on Vimeo.


And if you are still looking for inspiration to get you really passionate take a look at this blog post.  Pennies of Time is a blog dedicated to ‘teaching kids to serve’ and has a post highlighting other blogs with a similar message.  Mostly on the topic of random acts of kindness and ways to be giving, these are all very child focused ideas that could provide a springboard for inspiration and the development of passion. Click on the image below for more:

BloggersInspires Collage


RIP Nelson Mandela

I had just finished uploading some photos of my six month old baby girl to Facebook when a beautiful picture of and an inspiring quote from Nelson Mandela filled my newsfeed.  And another.  And another. As someone who can’t hear his name without remembering the Free Nelson Mandela concerts, I feel like he is someone who I imagined would always be around.  How could he not?  The world needs his overwhelming goodness, kindness, humility, humanity, courage, and hope. And then I saw another picture and another quote:

Mandela 1


And I am reminded that whilst we no longer have Nelson Mandela with us on earth, we have this message which I truly believe resides within everyone who chooses to teach.  It’s why we do what we do.  And even though some days it feels so far, far removed from what we do, student by student, we are powerfully changing the world.

For the past two years, I have led The Passion Project with my fifth graders for their PYP Exhibition Unit.  This year, new school, new grade, things look a little different but the Passion Project will be remixed into a two week intensive unit (think a mashup of Passion Project and Genius Hour) in the new year.  I would like to dedicate this time to the memory and inspirational life of Nelson Mandela:



Thank you to all those teachers dedicating their lives to changing the world.

Thank you to all those people who play big, who pick themselves, who live lives that are full and passionate.

Thank you, Mr. Mandela.


A Successful School Leader…

How would you complete that sentence?

What qualities are needed to be a successful school leader?

This is something that is important to me.  I have worked in a number of different schools in the 17 years that I have been teaching and it is becoming so much more important to me that I work for and with a principal and Head of School that possess the qualities of a great leader.  But what are these qualities?

For me, the qualities of a great leader are defined as:

  • Fearlessness: Not operating from a place of fear. Embracing the unknown.
  • Passion: Loving what you do and excelling at it.
  • Vision: Looking ahead, looking forward, embracing the unknown.
  • Action: Acting on one’s vision
  • Kindness: The world needs more of this.  Be kinder than necessary.

What would make your list?

Author, Jeremy Sutcliffe wondered the same thing: “What are the qualities needed to make a successful school leader?”  He asked this question and then published his results in a book (unimaginatively) called  8 Qualities of Successful School Leaders: the desert island challenge, published by Bloomsbury.

Here are his top eight:


  1. Vision
  2. Courage
  3. Passion
  4. Emotional Intelligence
  5. Judgement
  6. Resilience
  7. Persuasion
  8. Curiosity

In this article from the Guardian, the ideas behind the words are explained in a little more detail and make for interesting reading.

What kind of leader do you need?  What kind of leader are you?




Three Fantastic Videos

What is Water?

I had previously heard the analogy of the fish and the water but I had not connected it to this speech.  This animated version of the graduation address is a piece of art in itself, in addition to the message it conveys.

There is real freedom in education, in deciding how you will think, in choosing to look at things from a different perspective from that which you are used to.


Obvious To You.  Amazing To Others.

I think this is something that our kids think of a lot.  Are you holding back something that seems too obvious to share? This animated short may be that thing that someone needs to watch to give them that push to go further, dig deeper, or share more often.


Opal School Children on Play and Learning

This is an AWESOME video from the mouths of students of the Opal School in Portland, Oregon.  They are asked to speak on ‘the wonder of learning’ and what comes through is the profound connection between play and learning and how, when we get it right, it should be hard to tell the two apart.

Inspiration, Reflection

What Do You Want In A School?

I have taught in New Zealand, Laos, the United States, Germany, Thailand, Japan, back to the US, and now back to Germany.  Each year I spend time wondering what sort of year I am going to have and each year I keep refining what is important to me in a school.

My list of criteria is long and verbose. I have ideas about leadership, personalization, community, inquiry, passion, and action – to name a few. As I was thinking of how to include these ideas in one succinct statement, I heard from a friend who shared her daughter’s summation of her summer camp experience.

Imagine arriving at a school with the following sign – and then knowing that every person in the school believed this with all their heart:

Vv Wisdom

How will you make sure this rings true in your school this year? My suggestion: start small:

  • Be kinder than necessary.
  • Smile.
  • Read more books.
  • Be a person you would want to hang out with all day.
  • Ask for help.
  • Offer to help.
  • Start every day with good intentions.
  • Get enough sleep.

The following quotes were shared during one of our orientation meetings yesterday.  Do you know how much of an impact you have in your school?

“I’ve come to a frightening conclusion that I am the decisive element in the classroom. It’s my personal approach that creates the climate. It’s my daily mood that makes the weather. As a teacher, I possess a tremendous power to make a child’s life miserable or joyous. I can be a tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration. I can humiliate or heal. In all situations, it is my response that decides whether a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated and a child humanized or dehumanized.”
If we treat people as they are, we make them worse. If we treat people as they ought to be, we help them become what they are capable of becoming.”

Haim G. Ginott, Teacher and Child: A Book for Parents and Teachers


Starting small…

This morning I was up early(ish) and saw this cartoon from GapingVoid:


I haven’t posted here in quite a while.  In my defense, I have been a little busy having a baby, moving countries, and preparing to start a new job.  All a little time consuming to say the least. 

When I read Hugh’s cartoon, I was reminded that we all have to start somewhere and often, instead of trying to re-write the book, we just need to find one little thing to start with – one thing that can make a big impact.  For me, that means just getting started and brushing the cobwebs off this blog.  But it is also a philosophy I want to employ in the coming school year. 

What can we do as teachers to make the biggest impact?  Where is our time best spent in the classroom?  What tools can I use that will save me time but also help me know my kids better and meet their needs in a more timely fashion?

In terms of math: Khan Academy

In terms of reading: The Book Whisperer

In terms of everything else, it is a matter of two things: finding the way to connect a student to their passion and finding a way to always choose to be kinder than necessary.  In the interest of “starting with the end in mind”, read the following graduation speech (thanks Marty!) to inspire you as you begin a new school year in which you will make a difference. 


PYP, Reflection

A Joint Effort


One thing we learned last year during the Exhibition is that it really does help for the parents to be ‘in the know’ and supportive of their child.  It also helps when those unwritten expectations of fifth grade  (being timely, organzied, thoughful, perserverant) are made explicit to students and parents so that we are all on the same page.

Over the next couple of weeks, I will be working on the following prep sheets with my class and their families.

Click on each image to enlarge.  Click to download a PDF copy. 

We will do the student portion at school and the sheet will go home to be shared with families and for parents to offer their input.  My main goal?  To create conversation. To get students and parents and their teachers talking and sharing and supporting one another.

We say it is a team effort – now let’s work like we really mean it.

Creativity, Innovation

Spark an Idea, Follow an Interest, Cultivate a Passion

There was an article on Fast Co. recently that caught my eye. The title of the article? Do Like Steve Jobs Did: Don’t Follow Your Passion.

The article references Job’s now famous Stanford commencement speech and then goes on to detail how he lived and how his passion was not always technology. There was a lot of commentary following this article, including comments from the author of the book from which this article excerpt was taken, Cal Newport.

Newport puts his own twist on the “Passion Hypothesis” : The key to occupational happiness is to first figure out what you’re passionate about and then find a job that matches this passion. His take on this:

“Don’t follow your passion, let passion follow you in your quest to do something valuable.” -Cal Newport

One reader suggested the catchphrase “following an interest—finding a passion”. Cal suggested a slight semantic change to “following an interest—cultivating a passion”.

Passion is what drives me to teach, to share about what I learn though teaching, to find out more and better ways to do what I love to do. The more I pursue my interest in teaching, learning and education, the more passionate I become. There are things that could make one despondent with regard to education but for me, I am “intoxicated by the possibility” (thanks, Hugh!).


So how to we help our kids “follow an interest, cultivate a passion”?

One way might be to implement “Spark Files”. Coined by author, Stephen Johnson, the Spark File is a process/tool that he uses to collect “half baked ideas” with no regard to organization, hierarchy or taxonomy. For eight years, Johnson has collected ideas, notes, articles, thoughts and documented these in what he calls his “Spark File”.

Once a month, he goes through the file in its entirety. He looks for patterns, connections, revisits old ideas and looks to connect with newer ideas.

As I read this, I thought of my Instapaper account = the quick, simple, “read later” button that I hit on a regular basis whilst rolling through my Twitter feed or perusing the internet. I am always intrigued by what happens when I review this file. This post is a culmination of two “read later” posts. Some things get deleted, some get me thinking of past experiences, some get to feature in blog posts having gotten me thinking.

The same could work for our kids, using free Instapaper accounts or using the web-clipper tool in Evernote. As I look toward the end of the year, where my kids will be undertaking “The Passion Project” as their fifth grade PYP Exhibition unit, this could be another way for them to collect ideas to inspire them.

For more ideas, take a look at this less than five minute animation of Johnson’s TED talk on “Where Good Ideas Come From”

21st Century, Innovation, Inspiration

Embrace Your Inner Trouble Maker

I am working on a project at the moment.  It is a website that details everything we did for our Passion Project – the PYP Exhibition at Riverstone International School.  It is a lot of work, but I hope will be a useful springboard not only for our school as we move forward in our understanding of the Exhibition and of embracing passion to power learning in all grades, all the time, but also for other schools who wish to do the same, only tweaked for their own community of learners.

I am pulling information from different places and coming to grips with a new blogging interface (www.wix.comSIDE NOTE: Such an awesome website creator – love it! 

It is a lot of work.  I was beginning to wonder if it was worth my time. After all, I am on vacation and we all know teachers are supposed to sit around and sit margaritas all summer, right? I heard a little ‘ping’ which signalled a welcome chance to stop work on my website and see who had posted what and what a treat was in store for me! Watch this video. If that doesn’t motivate you to keep trying, try something new, push the envelope of possibilities, nothing will. Sharing it here, now and adding it to my Passion Project website, with thanks to Samaritan Blog for her as ever, timely and uplifting post!


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: