To the principals: keep having those ‘hard’ conversations

As the academic year gets under way we’re at the point where professional work plans and goals are being set for the year ahead.

This means a meeting with a professional leader where you lay out your learning for the year. Laying out your strengths and weaknesses isn’t a fun process. It often involved hearing things about your teaching practice you don’t want to or aren’t ready to hear.

Like other teachers, I found the process of writing some vague SMART target which then gets filed away didn’t really stretch my learning in any meaningful way.

I started in January with a Kath Murdoch idea of having one word goal:


The word is a reflection of my propensity to wander off the track and is both a strength and a weakness. The units I teach have a strong context for learning. However, in my quest for relevance I sometimes stray a little too far from the enduring understanding. Not every teachable moment needs to be followed down the rabbit hole.

In July, my involvement in Project Zero classroom prompted me to think more about ‘taming the wild.’ Yes, gnarly problems and authentic problems are important, but without scaffolds the ability of learners to construct meaning is limited.

What could help me focus on that deep learning?

To see the deeper picture?


My project zero study group had a number of principals and school leaders. One of the interesting parts of taking part in the development of ‘what we’re bringing home’ was the difference in agendas. While I was thinking about what I was doing to develop myself, the common thread amongst principals in the group was looking at the challenge of how to shift practice in the teachers in their school.

And then it hit me.

Those annual conversations about strengths and weaknesses weren’t hard for the teacher – they were also hard for the professional leader.

At the risk of sounding completely self-centred, I’d never really given much thought to what these conversations might be like for the person on the under end.

I had found the process of examining what was stopping me from focusing extremely challenging and I was at Project Zero voluntarily. It suddenly struck me that provoking reflective conversations might not be easy for the leader – especially if the person on the other end is entrenched in ‘their’ way of doing things.

Shifting practice isn’t easy.

Sometimes it’s far easier to get grumpy, think the assessor isn’t being fair or being too pedantic. Any excuse really, to take the sting out of the criticism, to maintain the status quo rather than do the hard work of moving on.

But at some point the niggle of that last appraisal hits.

There are experiments, re-thinks, tweaks.

A shift in understanding happens.

Until I listened to the principals at project zero, I never really thought about the effect those ‘hard conversations’ have had on my practice let alone taken the time to acknowledge the efforts of the person who provoked the thinking.

So to the principals, team leaders, professional leaders keep having the difficult conversations. The ones that get teachers a little uncomfortable, that sow that seed of doubt… because that’s where the learning happens.

5 posts that spoke the loudest in August

It’s the start of the school year so there’s been a lot of time thinking about doing things differently

Re-thinking the start of the year – what would you do differently?

Re-thinking the crafting of Essential Agreements

The Sketchbook of Impossible Things

Using time and space: visualising Singapore’s history through iPads

Weaving together connections of children and parents

On being part of the furniture…

When you someone who teaches overseas it can easy to develop a ‘grass is always greener’ mentality.  There’s always another country and there’s always another school just over the horizon.

Those who tend to be wanderers often have no fixed schedule, or timeline for how long is too long to stay in place. It’s a gut reaction. It’s hearing the roar of jets in the distance. 

Yet there are also virtues to staying put.

One of the children in my class is finding the adjustment to moving countries challenging. I know this too will pass, but when you are 8 it can be hard to see past there here and now.

As I was chatting with my colleagues about the progress one of my ex students had made from an anxious Year 5 on the first overseas experience to a confident Year 7 world citizen, it struck me that I wasn’t the person to be delivering the message for coping strategies for adjustment.

Maybe someone who made the journey from newcomer to was the best.

I happened to pass my Year 7 in the hall and my two pupils, past and present, got to know each other. I passed along contact details to the families so they could arrange time  to hang out . The best part was talking older pupil’s family about the progress the older child had made since arriving at school.  The child had now become a role model and being a mentor will be a further opportunity to learn and grow.

This sort of interaction wouldn’t have taken place if I hadn’t really known the kids. Known who would make a good pair.

These sort of interactions only come from being part of the community.

You never know who is watching…

There are certain things you can’t really learn in school.

How to act on public transport is one of them.

During our field trip this week the children travelled on Singapore’s MRT. They had to remember their transportation card, buzz through, keep to the group and also negotiate space with members of the public.

Before we got on, I talked about our journey. Just two stops and we’d be off the train, we were young and fit. Did we really need to take a seat?

No, not really. We’ll let others take the seat

As I was talking to the children, one of the members of the public came up and thanked me for talking about train etiquette. That interaction solidified the lesson on being mindful in public spaces, as you never really know who is watching.

So often in rush to get places with kids we forget that negotiating the use of public space is an important part of their education.


Links you should be reading…

Let it be Friday.

Here’s some links to be reading.

This is your brain learning. neuroscience meets education

A six year old’s advice on life – a must watch

I read it and I’m still confused – An adult’s guide to snapchat

@ariaporo22 looks beyond the tech competencies towards developing audiences – Authentic Audiences

Love this – Librarians on Bikes Are Delivering Books and WiFi to Kids in “Book Deserts”