Tagged: people

Thinking Aloud

There are some great minds out there in different circles. Leaders and teachers doing creative things to explore and examine Who we are and Who we want to become. You just have to look at the steady stream of books being published about the importance of people, relationships, community and culture development in schools, and for life in general.

It’s all great stuff!

For inquiring minds, it creates time and space for contemplation and introspection. However, this is only where the seed is planted. The real growth happens when the germination of ideas breaks through the soil to reveal one’s conscious effort and energy to put words into action. Not only to learn more about Who we are, but to understand why we are the way we are.

It all starts with the notion of ‘Working From Within.’ We need to work on ourselves before we expect our culture or community to change. The climate of our culture, environment and community is a direct reflection of who we are as individuals.

Challenge: Over the course of a week, when chatting with people about a concern or issue do an audit on whether the person you’re talking to is doing one of two things:

  1. Looking at external factors or forces to explain or make sense of how things could be better; or,
  2. Looking within to explain or make sense of how things could have been handled differently.

There are many ways you can view the above circles depending on the situation and context.

How can we increase the circle of “What I say to other people,” in the way of honest feedback or challenging negativity without placing pressure or straining the relationship?

While all these books tell us to have radical candor, give feedback, be open and honest…. it’s all great stuff, it really is. In theory. In practice, when feedback is given or there is challenge, the reality is, that after such an interaction, things shift. In the end, we are human.

How can we truly express the things we want to say or more importantly need to be said with grace and honesty, in a way where others understand and the relationship deepens?

We all know of people who are forward and have a steady stream of consciousnesses. We all know of people, who live in their heads and keep it locked there. And then there is everything in-between.

Right now, it feels like (it is like) we are always skimming the surface. We talk a big game, yet we’re constantly traversing and balancing our weight on a tight rope filtering through these circles.

Is it just in schools that it is like this? A lot of us have never left school in the way of a being a student and then coming back as a work place. I wonder what it is like in the police force, hospitals, business firms, law office, construction site……….

It’s not what we say to people, it’s how we say it. Easy to say, more difficult to do.

Developing a culture starts with you. Parts to the whole. What is one thing you’re going to do to be true to your inner thoughts?


Confusing confidence with a “big ego”



The word “ego” often comes up in conversations about teachers, and not in a positive sense.

We hear teachers being described as having a “big ego”. However, this is usually in reference to teachers who are confident. This confidence comes through by:

  • consistently putting ideas on the table
  • coming up with an approach and going for it
  • refusing to allow oneself to be bullied
  • projecting an image of confidence to students
  • looking confident
  • taking on the challenge of leading people
  • stepping up to deal with situations
  • consistently contributing to discussions in large groups

Sure, these can sometimes spill over into arrogance or an inflated ego, but usually only when people feel cornered, subject to critical scrutiny by colleagues or – inevitably – malicious gossip.

I think a teacher ego – in it’s negative sense – is much less visible than the things in the list above. I think a negative teacher ego manifests itself as:

  • believing one is much better at one’s job than one is
  • claiming good practice is obvious, yet not actually doing it
  • being a know-it-all
  • always referring to one’s own ideas, thoughts and practices and not those of other people
  • making it clear that other people’s perspectives matter less than one’s own, either consciously or subconsciously
  • consistently talking while other people are talking
  • finishing other people’s sentences
  • shutting people down
  • consistently judging other people’s practice and behaviour
  • believing other people are interested in one’s negative or critical thoughts
  • struggling to see anything from other people’s perspectives
  • consistently making everything about oneself
  • making one’s problems someone else’s problems

These behaviours are subtle, divisive and destructive… and particularly so because they are not usually the behaviours of people who are often described as “having a big ego”. Instead, they are often the behaviours of people who come across as insecure and, as a result, are quite hidden.

I should clarify that I’m not writing this posting because of anything that has happened to me recently… some, but not all, of my postings are autobiographical! I guess I’m writing this posting because I would like to see an increasingly sophisticated understanding of:

  • what confidence is and why it is important for young people to be taught by confident adults
  • how to avoid writing off confident people as having a “big ego” and preventing that initial observation from manifesting itself as malicious gossip
  • how to deal with the more subtle, egotistical behaviours that do more harm in our schools than any confident, or even over-confident, behaviours could ever do


image from https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/positive-ego-nancy-steidl-1



Conscious Classroom

Walking into the Early Years inquiry space is always a delight. I’ve noticed that I walk a bit faster and my mind starts swirling with intrigue as I make a beeline for Early Years. Why is that?

  • The Teachers: they are learners. They want to grow and challenge and experiment with ideas. Every – and I mean every – conversation is centered around students and ideas and ways to evolve and illuminate learning.
  • The Space: it is changing. The space reflects thinking.
  • The Energy: it’s electric and alive. You feel like you are under a spell when you are around the students and in their space. You can only be energized from it.
  • The Technology: Seesaw is the best thing out there. The students (3-4 year olds) know more about Seesaw than I do. How good is that! Seesaw in short is a window into the learning. Parents are able to log on and see and read what their child is up to. It is easy to use and provides a central way for all teachers to collaborate and collect evidence of learning. It also provides updates with a weekly summary and breaks down the activity per grade level.capture
  • The Curriculum: We’re making it work for and with the students. Inspired from ISHCMC, we are now looking for learning more naturally and have developed a conscious space for inquiry, curiosity and learning.

Using something that was first germinated through the EE Center at the International School of Ho Chi Minh City, we brought The Water Cycle here to VIS. We’ve blended all 4 units of inquiry as year long units of inquiry. This approach has liberated the learning, been more timely and true to the student’s genuine interest as inquiry learners.


This is our first attempt of documenting the learning and becoming more familiar and confident in making natural curriculum connections. This is our starting point.

Of course, having the Early Years teachers we have they took it a step further and are now documenting the process of learning and the inquiry that emerges naturally.


They have created their own A3 size book to document learning of each student.


Making those connections to the curriculum in it’s most simplest form. This is the best way to ‘learn’ about the PYP.


The teachers are excited about the potential in unlocking the learning. It has created a a conscious culture where everything the students do IS learning. As you can see on the top right of the above photo, each student has their own tab for the teacher to record their observations.

This is why I enjoy being around Early Years. The teachers are interested and engaged. They strive to be the best teachers they can. They are growing and constantly stretching themselves. And let me make this point again and abundantly clear – EVERY conversation is about student learning – EVERY single one!

I would love to be a kid in Early Years, or be a very happy parent if my child was with this exciting team that continues to find ways to evolve.

Growing out of defaulting to negative

Anyone who knows me would say I’m not exactly the most positive person in the world! But, I’ve been thinking about positivity and negativity a lot recently, and particularly this quote:

preview (1)

It has become increasingly obvious that there is a negative default for many people who work in schools. And, that this negative default builds up to a disproportionate sense of entitlement and readiness just to be critical of everything.

So, for example, an improvement is made to an aspect of the school – say, the playground – and then, as soon as that improvement is complete people forget what it was like before and then complain about the improvement. They pick faults in it or moan about “not being consulted”. In short, they will find something to complain about. Indeed, it is impost impossible to interact with some people without some complaining happening!

Now, of course, this negative energy is really debilitating. But, more worryingly, it reveals a lack of memory… or a lack of willingness to remember. This immediately reduces our ability to have perspective. Perspective doesn’t just come from going somewhere else and seeing things differently because of a change of location, or meeting a different person and seeing things differently through them. Perspective also comes through time, and schools’ relationship with time is often so abusive that we may well have lost our ability to achieve this.

How often do we ignore all of our success and focus purely on our failures? How often do we ignore our “Done List” because we’re so obsessed with our “To Do List”? How often do we forget to congratulate ourselves for our achievements because we’re blinded by our goals? How often do we allow someone’s negativity to infect everybody else’s positivity? How often do we focus our emotional energy on responding to negativity and leave ourselves too depleted for the positive energy?

I’d like to see a movement towards living by the quote above and away from the gravitational pull of negativity and negative people. Schools should be positive places full of positive people – I don’t mean that in a trite, naive or ignorant way – but positive in a way that still has substance. You can sense  the overriding air of positivity very strongly when positive people dominate, and great things happen as a result. You can equally sense the air of negativity very strongly when negative people dominate, and the potential for great things to happen slips down the nearest drain.

Time for the world of education to be bold

I recently gave this talk at the Learning2 Conference in Manila. What I am basically saying is that things need to change, that we need sudden and urgent change in the world and that schools – if we stop deluding ourselves – can be a powerful source of that change.

There are many things about life today that we passively continue to accept:

  • that success = money
  • that waste is OK
  • that pollution is inevitable
  • that destruction = progress
  • that new is best
  • that media = truth
  • that Hollywood represents social/cultural ideals
  • that school = work
  • that education is the key
  • that its OK for technology to lead the way
  • that we have no control over the future

I could go on… its really interesting to start a list like that! However, its more interesting, and indeed sobering, to look at education and schools through those lenses and to see just how much we perpetuate the things in the list, to see how much we transfer those ways of thinking to kids.

In my talk, I use the metaphor of moulds… and I think I can take this idea one step further by saying that moulds help us to play it safe. I think schools persistently play it safe – we go about our daily existences in fear of persecution from parents, governing bodies, governments, testing companies, universities, media companies, big business, religious groups etc… As a result, not only have we become passive, we have also become rather bland.

I challenge any school to seriously reflect on its impact on society. Has it made a positive impact? Has it made a negative impact? Has it made any impact at all? What is it doing about that?

Everybody goes through school. People’s school “careers” define their futures. So, what kind of futures are we defining? Do we know? Can we be bothered to find out? Are our alumni making a positive impact on society?

These are HUGE questions. But, surely its time to start trying to find out, trying to discover what our actual impact is as perpetuators of the status quo or as agents of change.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not happy with the status quo.

21st Century… more than just technology

Photography by Kamla, Grade 5 at ISHCMC

I just had an interesting conversation with my colleague, Alicia. We were discussing  relaxation and concentration and the difficulty many students have with them. We drifted on to the topic of “21st Century teaching and learning” and how that immediately seems to mean TECHNOLOGY.

But, why should 21st Century teaching and learning only be about technology, and how do we break away from that limiting (and pretty scary) assumption.

What other things could be the ingredients of a 21st Century education? Here are some of my thoughts, please feel free to add more!

  • Mindfulness
  • Concentration
  • Open-mindedness
  • Compassion
  • Ecological intelligence
  • Self-awareness
  • Well-being
  • Aesthetic appreciation

That’s what I came up with so far, and… if we are honest with each other… technology is actually the enemy of many of those things. In fact, we can link the over-use or mindless use of technology to the exact opposite of most of those things. For example, most of the kids who struggle to relax or concentrate are that way because they are so used to devices being given to them to keep them occupied.

Of course, technology is going be a major factor in the 21st Century. But, unless people grow to see it as a tool and that actually they are more important than the technology, we could be doomed.

People first… then everything else

I love change. And I have fallen for Africa, hard. Let me tell you why. Change offers something different and as international educators we are very fortunate to be in an occupation where the door is a revolving one, for those who don’t get stuck and you know who you are.


Moving from Thailand to Kenya was always going to be different – one of the main reasons I came here. The warmth of Africa is immediate. Being the ‘new teacher’ you always wonder who it is you are going to be working with. Who are the ones that I will mostly connect with or will form an alliance with? I have finally arrived at a school that values people. People first. The first two days were very different to what I have experienced. The whole teaching staff (Secondary and Junior School) went on an overnight trip together. Why? It’s simple to bond and connect. I know this sounds very obvious and a lot of schools do it in their own way, but this felt very different for reasons I am still trying to make sense of.


The school offered the space for us to be together. The staff made the effort and time to speak, really listen and connect. We played games, sat around the fire and sang songs, danced, told stories. We went hiking and put tents up together in the pouring rain, even more fun. Everything we did was another opportunity to meet someone different and learn about them and their story. This place got it right. We weren’t herded into a lecture theater and then broke away into our isolated teams for planning meetings. We prioritized what is more important – people.


I know that my interactions and relationships will be very different when the students officially arrive at school because I am comfortable with the people I now work with. This will only deepen and build a stronger, more personalized relationship, because I know more about who they are as people.


Already, I have supported teachers (with outside events i.e farewell, social drinks) because these people are my new family and home away from home. I am excited because now I know what it feels like when staff members are much more than that.

“People are people through other people.”

Ubuntu Philosophy

Three messages that could help me be better at my job

A Balinese tattoo artists recreation of Freddy's hands

A Balinese tattoo artist’s recreation of Freddy’s hands

Nearly five years ago, in Beijing, I held the hand of my son for four days. A twin, he was born lifeless after a series of mistakes by doctors at the most reputable and expensive hospital in the city.

As I sat with him and listened to the beeps of the life support machine, I felt that he gave me three messages about life. Tragically, he will never be able to put them into practice himself, but I will certainly try. I will also try and apply them to the way I teach and the way I work in school.

Freddy’s three messages were:

Listen to your gut instincts

Both my wife and I had a gut feeling something would go wrong with the delivery in Beijing. We both knew she should fly to Bangkok, but we ignored those thoughts and feelings for practical reasons.

Every day we are presented with situations in which our gut instincts can be felt very strongly. It is vital that we don’t lose our ability to sense them, listen to them and act upon them. As teachers, these instincts can make the difference between someone who simply does the job and someone who has a significant impact on young minds and lives.

Teaching is an art form, it is a talent, and gut instincts are a crucial factor in knowing what kids need at any given moment. You just don’t get that in your training, in the curriculum or at any PD.

Keep friends and family close

There is an increasing trend these days to move away and seek a better life somewhere else. For international school teachers like myself, this can be an unending quest. Our families are far away and our friendships often temporary. Facebook and Skype are not the right way to interact with the people who are important to you. A screen does not, and will never, replace being physically close.

As teachers, we must ensure that our students learn how to develop friendships and value their family. We must also help them to grow up as people who communicate face-to-face, who interact physically and who understand that social media is not actual life. They need to learn how to use social media the same way we used to use an address book, as a tool that brings you together in reality.

Don’t talk badly about other people

Such a difficult one. It is amazing how easy it can be to spend time talking about other people. It is also amazing how many bonds are formed by this negative habit.

Gossip and back-stabbing are an integral part of life in schools, something about them breeds it. In some schools it can become a real culture of trying to make yourself look good by making other people look bad. Of course, I am talking about the teachers not the students! However, it is an awful thing for children to be surrounded by, don’t you think?

It is much better to decide not to talk badly about other people, or at least to try not to. When you’re next sitting in the staffroom listening to people slag someone off… get up and walk away. Or, even better, tell them you’re not prepared to be part of it.

This is a massively important lesson for kids too. Helping them identify, deal with and avoid gossip could be an extremely empowering element to your teaching.

Naturally, my success at living up to these ideals varies as each year progresses. However, I do believe that I can improve my life and my ability to do my job if I can make them happen. I also believe I am not alone, which is why I’m sharing them.

Thoughts on the Abuse of Time

I have recently been doing a lot of thinking about how we use time in schools, and I have come to the sobering conclusion that we don’t use time – we abuse time.

One way that we abuse time is meetings. Many times, in my 7 years of teaching, I have attended meetings that have blatantly abused the time of everybody in the room. I believe that anyone proposing to hold a meeting should go through the following thought-process:

I am about to take time away from people.

Do I really need to take time away from people?

Are there alternative, more “time-smart” methods of doing what I hoped to do in a meeting?

If I do need to hold a meeting, how will I make sure the time I take away from people is time well-spent?

I think this simple process would help, what do you think? Do you know any schools that are trying to do something along these lines?

Image from http://www.cartoonstock.com/directory/w/waste_of_time_gifts.asp