You can’t force collaboration 

One of the joys for me as a primary teacher working in an international school is that I have access to the specialist knowledge and resources from having a secondary school on site.

When preparing for the current unit of inquiry into forces shaping the planet, I sent an email asking one of the physics teacher for help.  I had several responses from across the science department and the prospect of timing a similar unit together with a  secondary class for collaboration between children next year.

However collaboration is not all one way.

As a primary teacher I also can give help. The Year 12s in my school are studying the novel the Whale Rider.  As someone from New Zealand I was able to answer questions from the Year 12s that were beyond the scope of the English teachers from different nationalities.


What was even more brilliant was my Year 4s were able to contribute to the learning too. The children performed a waiata they had learned to perform for a previous unit of inquiry. The children were able to talk about the importance of singing and the purpose of the song for the Year 12s. The children were nervous performing for teenagers, but they grew in confidence after the event.


This interaction didn’t happen in a committee or because someone told us to, they were conversations between teachers.

You can’t force true collaboration.

Just give time and space for it to occur.

Who watches the people watching teachers?

A few years ago I was in the room with a very senior member of the teaching profession who joked they used so little modern technology they didn’t even have an ATM card.

That comment bothered me for a long time. How can you be a senior member of a profession devoted to learning but be proud that you aren’t learning?

Teaching is full of checks and balances.

Professional and regulatory bodies are often in schools checking to see that our institutions have policy processes in place to ensure high quality education for the children. It’s a vital part of educational systems both local and international. The people appointed to such roles are high quality and respected members of the profession but there is one small problem.

Often they people who oversee teachers have been outside the classroom for a number of years.

And a lot has happened in education in the last few years.

The iPad has just celebrated it’s fifth birthday this month.

YouTube turned ten a few months ago.

How do the people who are checking in schools stay current? How do they know that digital tools are being used effectively for learning?

Or are they looking at student books silently tut-tutting while missing ample online evidence of learning?

Demanding vast reams of paper documents are printed out to peruse?

Who watches the people watching the teachers?

Passion changes everything

Image by author

If you were to give people three qualities to describe their ideal teacher,  I’m not sure passion would rate very highly on most people’s lists.

While passionate people have oodles of drive and enthusiasm they can also be tough to work alongside.

They have little tolerance for activities that take them away from doing what they love.

Moreover setbacks are never minor.

Passionate people can be euphoric one minute and plunged into the depths of despair the next.

Yet the best teachers I know are always passionate about their subject, learning of for life.

I’d also wager a bet that many adult passions have their roots from formative experiences in childhood. Sketching, model airplanes, building stuff out of cardboard. I’d love to know how many childhood obsessions end up evolving into what we love doing as adults.

The uncle obsessed with taking apart engines.

The aunt with 100 cookie cutters in her baking equipment.

The eccentric music teacher who hums on their way to class and accepts nothing but the best. Every. Single. Time.

How many of those obsessions start as a result of an interaction of passionate adult in a child’s life?

Because can’t expect kids to grow up to be interesting adults if those charged with teaching them don’t have at least a touch of the crazy.

Working after hours #stephaniescott

Image by Naoya Fujii used under creative commons licence a Virtual tribute.

Teaching is a job where you never really get everything on your to-do list done. Like most teachers I work on weekends and well into the night. I often venture into school on a weekend or look out of the windows in my classroom and realise it was well after dark.

Working in an international School in Singapore, it’s pretty safe to do such things. The country is safe, there’s always after school fixtures on and we have security on site. However most public schools back home can not afford such luxuries. They will have alarm systems, security monitoring and locks to the doors.

That’s about it.

When the children leave, schools quickly become very eerie places.

Classrooms are often spread out over large areas and the lighting after dark isn’t always the best. Even when I really need to be there, I always feel a small sense of relief knowing that there are other teachers working in the buildings as well.

Because there are often visitors roaming schools during holidays and after hours. Mostly the visitors are friendly. School grounds are used as places to ride bikes, walk dogs and play. However if you hang around for long enough, you’ll find strange and sometimes outright scary characters walking through campus.

It is sad fact of life that schools are often targets of low-level crime. Even with devices locked away in cabinets and cupboards, they are unattended for long periods of time. Graffiti, break ins and burglaries are a fact of life. I always felt a strong sense of anger when crime hits a school. Even a big of tagging is taking away money and human resources away from their job of educating kids.

There’s something really awful about targeting resources for kids.

And also any crime that targets a teacher.

Stephanie Scott, the Australian teacher who was last seen alive preparing lesson plans for her relief teacher ahead of her honeymoon.

We share more than a first name.

Like  Stephanie, I’ve come into school to work on weekends, prepared lesson plans in advance for relief teachers. I’ve worked alone in my classroom and walked along empty corridors.

I wish we lived in a society free from violence against women.

A society where Stephanie Scott would be enjoying her honeymoon and Lois Dear was alive too. 

But I am also sad that people aren’t thinking more about Stephanie was at school in the first place, to prepare lessons for a relief teacher to cover. She was one of hundreds of teachers that weekend toiling alone in their quiet classrooms and empty school buildings. It’s invisible work that only those who are related to teachers know about. They will be the ones asking the teachers in their lives to stay safe and hopefully nudging them to talk more about after-hours security with their principals.

I wish more non-teachers would think about that too.

Instead of reminding teachers to lock doors, carry whistles and issuing panic buttons,  I hope there will be a few principals in Australia and New Zealand out there pondering whether in this age of cloud computing it’s time to make classrooms a no-go zone for teachers when it is time for the central alarms to be set. Aside from physical safety, it might good for teachers to be at home enjoying time with their families.

Those wall displays and extra bits of photocopying can wait.

Links you should be reading…

Things that have been capturing my attention from the interwebs this week.

Income inequality, as seen from space Take to time to study the pictures comparing affluent neighbourhoods to non-affluent neighbourhoods before reading the blurb.The pictures would be a great visual provocation for sharing the planet.

In a world where the representation of girls is so often associated with saccharine sweetness – a refreshing photographic story – Strong is the new pretty.

You’ll need some tissues for this one – Teenagers Face Early Death, on Their Terms

Gamification is a hot topic in education right now. In Make a Game Out of Learning takes a closer look at the trend arguing that “Games that “make math fun” typically don’t require players to use math in any real sense”

Singapore’s transmogrification is highlighted in this article the Singapore slider – which compares various locations around the city with modern photos.

I love Amy Poehler. A great story on How Amy Poehler became a mentor to the teen Internet.

Believe it or not “learning styles” do not exist. – key quote ‘most of what you learn in school is not kinaesthetic, auditory or visual. It’s meaning based.’

Secondary school assessment. @claireamosnz, one of my favourite people on the interwebs (and in real life) ponders lower level secondary assessment Why are you still doing NCEA level 1? while in Canada final exams are also losing favour.

Their moment @stumpteacher really grasps what school is about.

On imperfect memory “Remembrance of Things Lost” What makes memories precious, even certain “bad” ones, is forgetting, of course.

Finally Are we training our students to be robots? via @sonjanz has my mind ticking over around the purposeful use of technology in the classroom.

Consistency – I don’t think that word means what you think it means

Consistency – Does it mean what you think it means?

Language is a powerful tool in education.

It can be used to open new ideas and concepts but it can also be used to shut people out of conversations.

One of the words that I often find myself hearing in conversation is consistency.

We want the children in our schools to exercise consistent behaviour and receive consistent standard of education.

“Students need to have the same experience otherwise parents will compare.”

I often have trouble reconciling the frequent usage of this term in schools while at the same time striving to ensure all the children have powerful and meaningful learning experiences in class.

From my perspective consistency means a lack of change and of deviation. Creating a personalised learning environment for my students requires a great deal of responsiveness and flexibility.

After setting the last Unit of Inquiry’s central idea ‘Cultures express themselves through the arts’ and key concepts, my team went off in entirely different directions using different disciplines to explore the same concept. Instead of each class doing the same thing, each teacher played to their strength.

We will finish up our unit with a festival arts where the children have an opportunity to learn how different classes have approached the same idea.

It’s an inconsistent approach yet one full of powerful and meaningful learning for the children in my year group.


Perhaps that word does not mean what you think it means.