Being a PYP Teacher Part 4: Collaborate with your students



Kath Murdoch says that inquiry teachers “let kids in on the secret”, and I totally agree.

Far too often, we keep all of the planning, decision-making, assessment data, idea-generation, problem-solving and thought-processes of teaching hidden away from our students. Because of this, teaching becomes something that we do to students, not with students. As long as we are doing all of those things ourselves, behind closed doors, education will retain its traditional teacher-student power relationship and, no matter how often we use fancy words like “agency” and “empowerment”, students will continue to participate in, rather than take control of, their learning.

PYP teachers take simple steps to “let kids in on the secret”, to collaborate with their students.

They begin by showing students that their thoughts matter – they quote them, they display their words, they refer back to their thinking and they use their thinking to shape what happens next. When students become aware that this is happening, their relationship with learning instantly begins to shift.

Then, PYP teachers start thinking aloud – openly thinking about why, how and what to do in front of their students and not having a rigid, pre-determined plan or structure. This invites them into conversations about their learning, invites negotiation about how their time could be used, what their priorities might be and what their “ways of working” might be. There is a palpable shift in the culture of learning when this starts happening, from compliance to intrinsic motivation.

Finally, PYP teachers seek as many opportunities as possible to hand the thinking over to their students deliberately – not only because they have faith in them, but also because they know their students are likely to do it better than they can themselves! It’s shocking how frequently we make the assumption that students are not capable of making decisions, or need to be protected from the processes of making decisions, or that getting them to make decisions is a waste of “learning time”. As soon as we drop that assumption and, basically, take completely the opposite way of thinking… everything changes. Hand things over to them and they will blow you away! I still love this video of my old class in Bangkok figuring out the sleeping arrangements for their Camp and doing it way better and with more respect than a group of adults ever could!

So… today, tomorrow, next week… look for ways to let kids in on the secret, and let us know what happens as a result!


Keep your eye on the ball


Teaching is an incredibly challenging and fulfilling profession. It’s emotionally charged and demands and expects so much of us. As teachers we give everything we’ve got to see our students be successful and thrive.

This posting is a very personal one, with a powerful message for us all.

Leadership is challenging. And to be a good leader you need to make tough calls. While good leaders aim to be transparent and involve others in the decision making. To that end there is so much that teachers don’t see. They don’t need to see. And as leaders we need to shield teachers. While every effort goes in to creating a positive and professional culture, there are times when a decision falls the other way. As professionals we need to respect that and know that we are all trying to do the best we can to create the best conditions for learning. There are obvious ebbs and flows in our line of work. And when we begin to question ourselves (which we do) or lose confidence in why we are leading down a particular path, or not. We must keep our eye on the ball. I read a profound quote from Steve Jobs today. It said, “If you want to make people happy, don’t get into leadership, sell ice-cream.” How true is that….

We hear teachers say, ‘it is about the kids.’ This is why we are doing what we do, every single day. Yesterday, I was feeling rather deflated. It happens. More frustrated that we still have teachers who just don’t get it.

And then I received an email. Like the universe was dropping a piano on my head to snap me out of my funk. We must keep our eye on the ball. I’m listening!

Above is a photo of Kevin and I during my first overseas post in Sweden in 2006, where I was teaching a grade 3/4 composite class. Kevin’s mother emailed me saying that she was clearing out his room and came across a book with a letter I wrote to him.


Tine, Kevin’s mother, wanted a photo of me to give to Kevin as something special for his 20th birthday. She went on to say, that I was Kevin’s best teacher and had the most impact on him throughout his schooling. One of the sentences I wrote in the above letter stated the importance of following his dreams and how I would ‘love to see where he was in 10 years….’

Well, I got my answer and it could not have come at a better time. One that made me quite emotional. It hit me like a lightning bolt. No matter how tough our job gets, we must keep our eye on the ball. Our students. This is one of these times, when we say it is about the kids and mean it with a full heart. Every word! Kevin is now at Coventry University studying Motorsport Engineering. He is following his passion – formula 4 championship racing. I got goosebumps reading the email from his mother.


The other takeaway I got from this is the importance of knowing or finding out the paths our past students take later in life. We need to find a way that makes that tangible. This is where the real fulfillment comes from in our profession. To appreciate that we had a very important role in their lives. There is no better feeling when years later, our students of ‘tomorrow’ look back, reach out and say you made a difference – look where I am now! That is what this is all about for me. Moments with impact. We have so many moments with our students. Moments we don’t realize the gravity of and how that stays with our students years beyond moving on through their lives. As teachers, we must keep our eye on the ball. It is beautiful moments, stories like these that make it all worth it.

I am fine with the tough talks, making calls and challenging negativity. This is because I have my eye back on the ball today!

Being a PYP Teacher Part 3: Know your students

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Bill and Ochan Powell (rest in peace, Bill) always say, above all else, “know your students”.

The written curriculum in your school is the students’ curriculum.

Your curriculum is the students.

They are learning about all the things expressed in their curriculum (and hopefully much more!).

You are learning about them.

Understanding this will help you make the shift from “deliverer of content” to a facilitator of learning, a designer of learning experiences and a partner for each of your students as they learn and as they navigate their curriculum. Each day, you will arrive at work full of curiosity, poised and ready to:

  • get to know your students better
  • inquire about them
  • research into them
  • get a sense of who each of them is in the context of learning taking place at the time
  • discover what motivates them
  • find out what interests and inspires them
  • help them develop their own plans for learning
  • get a sense of what they can do and what skills they may develop next
  • learn about how they think
  • try a wide variety of strategies to do all of the above
  • never give up…

It is a very exciting moment when PYP Teachers realise they are inquirers who are constantly seeking, gathering and using data (in it’s most sophisticated and powerful forms) about their students.

It is this realisation that sets apart genuine PYP Teachers from those who simply work in a PYP school, for the two are vastly different.

Being a PYP Teacher Part 2: Talk less, ask (and scribble) more


I’ve borrowed the inspiration for this one from two important sources, Kath Murdoch and Inquiry Partners.

PYP Teachers need to be determined to allow their students’ voices to dominate discussions in the classroom, and to use strategies that promote the thinking that is necessary for that to happen. They use open-ended questions or problems that invite debate, differing perspectives, controversy, elaboration and uncertainty… and then they listen, they probe and they invite others to add their thoughts. Most of all, they are curious about what students may be revealing through their words and how they might be able to use that information to guide what happens next.

The traditional “whole class conversation” tends to be between the teacher, who controls the conversation, and the one student doing the thinking at the time. There may a few others listening and waiting to contribute, but there will also be some who have drifted off, who have stopped listening and who may just be waiting for it to be over.

Simple strategies like “turn and talk” or “chalk talk” set things up so everyone is doing the thinking at the same time, not just one person at a time. Asking students to record their thoughts in writing also ensures they’re all doing the thinking, and sets them all up to be able to contribute to discussions afterwards.

More complex approaches, like Philosophy for Children and Harkness, model and teach the art of conversation and invite students to participate in deep conversations in which all are equal members.

The most simple strategy though is simply to remember to talk less. Say less at the beginning of lessons. Only repeat instructions to those who need the instructions to be repeated. Even better, display instructions or processes visually so that those who are ready and able or get on with it can do just that. You’ll be amazed how much time – a precious commodity in schools – can be saved.

Some of that time, of course, is yours… and it can be used to redefine your role as a teacher. Rather than doing so much talking, you can be observing students, listening to them, taking notes, writing down quotes that come from their mouths… all of that scribbling is formative assessment, planning, affirmation and honouring the importance of things your students say. It is inevitable that the teaching that follows will be different as a result.


Being a PYP Teacher Part 1: Carry the Book


The 1st, 50th, 500th and 5000th step required in order to become a PYP Teacher – because this is a never-ending process – is to carry a copy of Making the PYP Happen with you at all times.

Don’t go to any planning meetings without a copy of Making the PYP Happen. Instead, always have it with you so that you can:

  • refer to it for guidance as you strive to make your planning purposeful
  • refer to it to remind you of the five essential elements of the PYP
  • refer to it for ways to make learning rich in possibilities
  • refer to it so that you can ensure you really are educating the “whole child”
  • refer to it so that you understand why, how and what to assess
  • refer to it to seek clarity and the eloquent description of learning in its various forms
  • refer to it so you can become familiar with how education is changing, and has been changing since 2009

Whenever I ask people where their copy of Making the PYP Happen is, in lots of schools, the responses frequently vary between:

  • “Oh, I have one somewhere”
  • “Umm… I have a digital copy, I think”
  • “Yep, it’s on my laptop. Let me just load it up”
  • “I don’t know where it is”
  • “Ha ha ha, I don’t keep one with me all the time!”

These responses are indicative of a school culture in which reference to the most important guiding document has not become a habit. This makes it a thousand times less likely that people will know what it says, and then this makes it 1000 times less likely that people will be able to make it happen.

Naturally, the reverse of this is equally true.

So, go on. Find your copy, or get one printed if you don’t have one (digital just ain’t good enough, my friend) and take it with you to all planning sessions. Having it there for reference, for inspiration and for guidance will empower you as you seek to become a better and better PYP Teacher.

I just hope that the enhanced PYP doesn’t bring with it the removal of this amazing resource. In fact, I hope it brings quite the opposite.

“Recruiting Season Stressing You Out?” by Kavita Satwalekar


Make a conscious decision about your future. Think through your long-term plan (a.k.a. 5-yr plan for some, and 10-yr plan for others) and start working towards it.

Will staying in the school move you one step closer to your long-term plan, or will leaving do that?

Step 1: Think through your long-term plan:

Picture your IDEAL situation. What do you see yourself doing at work? Where are you living? How many children do you have? What are your children doing – is that even a consideration? Who is taking care of your parents?

Your Vision:

  • If you could dare to think out loud, where do you want to be in 10 years?
  • What are all the crazy and wacky things you could do to realize your long-term plan?
  • Suppose, just for a moment, you live in a world where fear and anxiety do not exist. What could you do now?

Focus on the Outcome:

  • What is it that you really, REALLY want? Dig deep…
  • What is the PAIN of NOT achieving your plan?

Align your vision with your Values:

  • Is this plan in line with your values? (Hint: Ask yourself what’s really important to you in life – will this plan help you achieve more of that?)
  • Is this plan something YOU truly want, or is it something you think you SHOULD have? (Hint: If it is a ‘should have’, it may be someone else’s dream)
  • When you think about your plan does it give you a sense of deep contentment or ‘rightness’, happiness and excitement?

Step 2: Work towards your long-term plan:

Now break this down into achievable steps by answering the following questions:

  • What’s good about your current situation? (e. what’s the benefit of staying where you are?)
  • Can you hold on to those good aspects if you decide to make a change? Or is that something you’re willing to sacrifice?
  • Suppose you had all the information you needed, what would your next step/s be?
  • If you did nothing else this school year, what 3 things would still make the year a success for you?
  • What can you start doing, stop doing or do more of, to move towards your long-term plan? (Make a list using this “Action Brainstorming” tool)

If you still find yourself in a dilemma, please do reach out to me and I can conduct an online “Dilemma Coaching” session with you. Please note that you should have thought through all the questions I’ve listed above for that session to be effective. I can be reached via email at or through my website at




Assessment. Tests. Exams. Assignments.

Simon Birmingham is the Education Minister for Australia. He has recently announced plans to introduce “light-touch assessments’ for Grade 1 students.

Click HERE for the article in the Sydney Morning Herald (18 September 2017) for more on this, to bring you into the picture.

What are we doing to our kids?

More assessments. More data. Something has to give. What about giving our kids a chance to come into their own, in their own time. Teachers already collect copious amounts of data every moment of every day.

When are we going to stand up and say enough is enough? Schools are feeling more like laboratories in the way of factory farming, mass producing 1 dimensional teaching  – what about learning?

Our students have just been through a week of testing. One of the external assessments used here is…. Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). We are constantly testing our kids. Analyzing the data and then trying to figure out a way to make sense of it. If a student is a good test-taker, they will make it just fine.

The truth is….. in my opinion at least, where is there room for meaningful planning, best practice and valuing real learning beyond a test or book. We have more data than we know what to do with. Teachers are already on the edge, just keeping up.

I believe there is a place for this….. a very small place. We need to slow down a little, back off, and allow our teachers to be creative so they are designing the most powerful learning experiences. Not churning through pages and pages of graphs and numbers and percentages.

I’m I the only one that is feeling this frustration? What is your stance on this matter?

Let’s not allow a raw number shape and define our kids’ self-esteem and confidence at such an influential age.

We need to be pulling good people into the profession. Teaching is such a thrilling and invigorating career path. We have a privileged role in society that is incredibly fulfilling. We need to let good teachers get on with it, and trust that good learning is happening. Invest in that, not more assessments. We are heading down a road of burnt-out and stressed-out teachers. This makes me want to remain in international schools – we are very fortunate to be in our unique situation, where we carefully think about what is important and have a voice in determining our path.

I don’t actually think people know when or how we will ever usher in an ‘educational revolution.’ I’ve just felt ripples of good educators, trying to challenge the status quo, in their own way, within their control. Where to from here?