Unpacking with Parents (2/20)

I believe the partnership between home and school is critical in supporting the whole child. Each year I try to think about the best way to share information with parents and invite them into the life of the school. 

I have blogged before on the importance of leveraging parents as critical partners.
Last year, I collaborated with my Early Years team as we invited parents in to build a new unit of inquiry and strengthen our learning community.

As a PYP School, I also try to ensure parents continue to grow in their understanding of the IB mission and PYP framework. Last year, I spent time with parents understanding the PYP programme model. The parents shared this was really helpful as they often see ‘the circle’ but felt they now had a better understanding. 

This year I wanted to help parents unpack this even further. With help from the talented @colingally I was able to visually break down the model even further. This allowed me to support parents in not only exploring the form of the different elements of the model but emphasising their connection as a whole.

When planning parent workshops it is also helpful to engage the parents in learning experiences just as you would with your students. During a parent workshop on assessment, I use a tool like ‘Which one doesn’t belong’ and invite the parents to have a number talk. After documenting their ideas I am able to demonstrate the prior knowledge I have collected from them and how this can inform my next steps; assessment FOR learning.

By empowering our parents with deeper understanding and supporting parent agency, we gain critical partners in supporting our families and learning community.
How do you engage parents at your school?

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2 Decades of Teaching and Still Learning (1 of 20)

The best 5th Grade Teacher and colleague
My 5th Grade Teacher and colleague for my first 5 years of teaching.

This 2019-2020 school year marks my 20th year as an educator. My journey started in Cleveland, Ohio in the same elementary school I attended as a child. That August in 2000, I joined a wonderful team of colleagues, some of whom were my very own elementary teachers, and met my very first Grade 2 class. I will always remember that class and thank each of my students for helping me become the teacher I am today. 

After five years of teaching in Cleveland, I left the states and have since taught in international schools in Germany, Hong Kong, Singapore and currently, Finland. Each year I continued to grow and learn in my practice. Each new student, class, parent, school, colleague, country taught me something that I now carry with me. 

My goal this year is to share 20 new blog posts in honour of my 20th year of teaching as I continue to learn through sharing and engaging with other educators around the world. 

Have a great school year and keep learning!

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Non-Negotiables at School

As I shared before in a previous blog post, our school has a professional book club. Our first title this semester is, ‘Neuro Teach; Brain Science and the Future of Education’ by Glenn Whitman and Ian Kelleher.

As I started reading this summer, I immediately found my provocation for one of our first faculty meeting of the academic year.

The book offers lists (I love lists) such as, ‘The Unconscionable List; Things a teacher should never do again’ and ‘The Top Twelve Researched-Informed Strategies Every Teacher Should be Doing with Every Student. This took me back to my PTC days, where I first came across the phrase, the Non-Negotiables, those practices and beliefs that guide teaching and learning at your school.

I took only a few samples from each list to share with our teachers and asked them to discuss. As I had hoped, the room was abuzz with conversations. I had also planned for teachers to contribute an idea to each list, but we ran out of time as the discussions lasted longer than I thought, but were well worth the time spent. Two main areas that sparked a lot of discussion were the importance of structuring your lesson effectively and rethinking Gardner’s Multiple Intelligences.

As I possibly gained a few more Book Club members that day, I also thought about our own school. We have our Mission, Vision, and Values; our Guiding Statements. While these are critical, what else would be on our Non-Negotiable List? What are the practices we should no longer be doing in the classroom and what are those practices we should be doing every day to support student learning?

How would your school’s Non-Negotiable list read?

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Guided by Guiding Statements

A few years back I composed a post about schools and their Mission, Vision, and Learning Principles. I was reminded of this post last week as we enter a new academic year.

At my current school, we begin each academic year by including time for faculty and staff to engage with our school’s Guiding Statements; Mission, Vision, and Values. This year we modified a Visible Thinking Routine to help guide us; Claim Support Question.

Each small group, composed of faculty and staff members, was given a Guiding Statement to focus on.
First, each group needed to make a
claim about the Guiding Statement, explain or interpret it in their own words.
After that, members of the group brainstormed all the ways the school already supports this Guiding Statement; what do they see, hear and feel in the school. As the small groups consisted of both new and returning teachers, this was a great way to hear different perspectives on our school’s identity.
Finally, we posed a question to the group, which was they way in which we modified this Visible Thinking Routine. The question posed was, “How will we continue to deepen implementation of this Guiding Statement in our school? This allowed our staff and faculty to push their thinking further and focus on the new academic year ahead of us.

Just having a Vision, Mission, and any other Guiding Statements at your school is not enough. How are these actually guiding your school’s growth and development? How are they living in your school and not just acting as wallpaper? How do you collect evidence of their effectiveness throughout the year?

As many of us are heading back for a new academic year, what are some of the ways your schools come together to have a shared understanding of who you are as a school, where you want to go, and what you value as a school?

Posted in culture, international teaching, leadership, mission, vision | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Cultivating Your School’s Culture

As I met with our new teachers this week, I began to reflect on what I shared with them about their new school. More specifically, how we support a professional and positive school culture for all teachers and students.

I don’t think there is a school or educator out there that tries to avoid having a professional learning culture, but at the same time I believe it is sometimes easy to say “yes, we have that” without really stopping to think about it. As research shows teacher efficacy is a powerful influence on student learning, we must be clear on supporting the growth of all of our teachers. Dylan Wiliam’s clip on how every teacher can improve supports this idea clearly.   

As new teachers joining the school, I want them to understand the professional culture we have while at the same time understand their role in contributing and building the culture as well. Once we share that vision and understand our roles and responsibilities, we can then continue to share tools and ideas towards reaching that vision.

A few tools/ideas we use in our school include the following.

Google Site – Teachers contribute resources and best practice support for teachers to inform their practice and improve student learning. 


Professional Book Club – Teachers volunteer to join the book club, read the book, get together to discuss and plan how it will impact our teaching and student learning.

Encouraging participation in The Singapore/Malaysia PYP Network events offered throughout the year. This includes our Network’s hashtag #singmalaypyp and contributing to our Network’s Blog, the red dot.
I also recently shared an open doc for Networks for Educators in Singapore in order to ensure we are aware of the different opportunities for us as educators in Singapore.

As the academic year begins this week, I aim to ensure our new and returning teachers understand the professional culture we have while at the same time understand their role in contributing and building the culture as well. This allows us to focus on student learning, grow in our practice, and remain accountable to our students.

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Leveraging Parents as Critical Partners in the PYP

Screen Shot 2015-09-19 at 3.51.43 pmConducting parent workshops on the essential elements of The Primary Years Programme (PYP) is key for your school. These workshops allow parents the opportunity to engage in the same learning process their children do on a daily basis, thus providing parents the chance to construct an understanding of an inquiry based PYP classroom. This in turn then strengthens communication between school and home.

The first workshop I facilitated for our parents this year was an overview of the essential elements of the PYP through an inquiry approach. Parents, both new to PYP and those who have experience with PYP, were able to connect their prior knowledge with new information and ask questions to take their learning forward. Using the Visible Thinking Routine, ‘I Used to Think…. But Now I think….‘ helped parents reflect on the workshop.

As this first workshop was an overview, a survey followed that afternoon. The data collected is now driving the next workshop focus.

“The workshop was an eye opener, helped me understand how the teachers work together and appreciate the inquiry based learning done at ISS.” (parent feedback)

In addition to workshops there are other ways we include parents as critical partners.
-Inviting parents into the classrooms/asking for volunteers to join class trips
-Using parents’ strengths, especially when authentically linked to units of inquiry
-Encouraging parents to communicate on our class blogs
-Parents modelling and promoting the Learner Profile

How do you engage parents at your school?
How do you support their role as critical partners?



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Putting #IBMO2015 into Action

20150323_134910 The IB AP Annual Conference in Macau is over and educators around Asia Pacific are heading back to their schools. The key question we should now be asking ourselves is, ‘How is this going to help my school improve student learning?’

After hearing inspiring and thought provoking keynotes from:
Ms. Julia Gillard
Dr. Michael Anderson
Prof. Fazal Rizvi, PhD

20150321_150552 (1)

and attending Breakout Sessions:
Developing International Mindedness through the integration of technology
Arts, iPads and the Creative Process
Visualizing the future: PYP/MYP/DP Network Session
Launching the IB guide to inclusive education: a resource for whole school development
Differentiation in the PYP Classroom
The Visual Arts as a platform for the exploration of social and emotional learning
Building a Professional Learning Culture
Assessment: The glue that binds teaching and learning


The following are some of my new questions as well as some actions steps for me to take.

  • Schedule a reflection follow up with the team from my school that attended the conference as we joined different breakout sessions. How can we use our take aways to support teachers and improve student learning?
  • Find out how I will get more involved in the development of education.
  • Allow students time to notice deeply and ask ‘Why’, then ‘Really why?’
  • Explore the room for creativity in all learning experiences.
  • Engage my PYP Network to discuss how we know we are supporting teachers and helping student learning to improve? What evidence can we collect? What more can we do?
  • Share the new IB guide for Inclusive Education with my school leadership team. Discuss how we can use the guide and self review framework.
  • Continue to keep differentiation and assessment as part of the dialogue during grade level team planning and reflecting.
  • Engage in an audit of our classroom practices in relation to Assessment for Learning. 

After your time in Macau, what is in your Action Plan?

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Do you miss the classroom?


I have been asked this question a lot over the past 7 months as I have moved into my new position this year as Assistant Principal / PYP Coordinator after 15 years of teaching.


My answer…….

Yes, I miss having ‘my class’ ………. but I love being a part of every class in the elementary school!
Yes, I miss learning alongside ‘my class’ …….. but I love that students from all the classes invite me in to be a part of their inquiries, field trips, and learning!
Yes, I miss interactions with ‘my students’ families’…… but I love discussing the school with parents from all grade levels and gaining insights from their perspectives!

With my new role comes new opportunities as well.
-coaching teachers in relation to where they are in their learning journey
-supporting and planning our Programme of Inquiry with each grade level team and integrators
-promoting and encouraging a culture of professional learning

Just to name a few

As I continue to grow into my new role, I hope I never feel like I left the classroom.
I want to always remain a part of why I am in education, for the students and their learning.

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Situational Leadership II – Choose how to lead

LBAI’ve recently just finished my third PTC course, Leadership and Team Dynamics. During the week, each of us scored ourselves using the LBAII (Educator’s Leader Behavior Analysis II) in order to find out more about our perceptions on our leadership style. After completing this I was able to explore how flexible I am in my leadership style as well as the effectiveness of my leadership style.

Seeing as I am about to move into my first leadership position next month, Assistant Principal/PYP Coordinator, I found this to be very informative and useful.

A quick overview of Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership Model can be seen below. For any goal or task, the goal is to match the leadership style to the development level of the individual.   Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 3.40.41 am My takeaways:
-My results indicate that I do coach a lot, but I now see that not every individual calls for that type of leadership.
-I need to assess the developmental level of the teacher in relation to the task or goal in order to determine the most effective type of leadership…….Differentiate for the teachers!
-There is no one BEST leadership style, as it is situational based.

Do you feel your school leadership team members are flexible in their leadership styles?
If you are in a leadership position, how do you reflect on your leadership?

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Collaborative Planning, more than just working together

photo-15The PYP Programme Standards and Practices
Standard A
Practice 3.b
The school as a community of learners is committed to a collaborative approach to curriculum development.

We know collaborative planning is more than just teachers working together on a document. It is a group of thinkers, discussing ideas, asking questions, clarifying thoughts, challenging opinions, respecting others, and furthering our understandings. Collaboration allows individuals to share their knowledge, ideas, and experiences in order to actively participate with others.

At my current school, we are working on improving our collaborative planning among grade levels teams and specialists. In support of this goal, a colleague at our school shared a document on collaboration she received from Hamidah Abdul.


Single Subject Teacher ­ Stages in constructing transdisciplinary curriculum copy-3 by Skrtic

With the support and resources I have read about from my wonderful PLN and various workshops, I implemented a few new tools to help my G3 team collaboratively plan with our Mandarin department and Arts teacher for our next UoI, How We Express Ourselves. We are trying to model a Level 1 collaboration from the document above.

We first started with a graphic organizer to help get a better picture of the transdisciplinary nature of the unit. This organizer was introduced to me during my IB PYP Online Workshop, Transdisciplinary Learning.




The teachers really liked this organizer and found it easy to refer to as we discussed the unit.





I then introduced a few tools that were shared via @sherrattsam to help in the collaborative process. You can find his Scribd documents here
These included an organizer to ensure primary sources were discussed to make the inquiry more powerful.







I also included another of his tools so that we could look at this unit through the different subject lenses.









There are other helpful resources posted by @sherrattsam as well on the above Scribd link.
Back in August, 2012, the #pypchat topic was collaborative planning and there were also a lot of valuable resources referenced there as well.

What does collaboration planning look like in your school?


Posted in collaboration, integration, international teaching, PYP, teaching | Tagged , , , , , , | 6 Comments