Empathy, Agency and Informed Choice

Inspired by last year’s blog post by @hktans about giving her children the opportunity to lead a family holiday in Sri Lanka I was keen to see how my own children would enjoy the challenge.  During the past vacation, while visiting the UK, my nine-year old son expressed that he and his six-year old brother would like to visit Hamley’s Toy Shop and the Science Museum in London. 

I agreed that we could visit London, a 100 kilometre journey from my home town, but he would need to plan and lead the journey.

So we sat down to discuss what the first step would be.  I assumed that he would ask me to help him book the train tickets that we would need.  Instead he said we should go to Google Maps.  Curious, I asked why would we start there, he explained, “We can’t plan where we are going until we know where it is.”

This was the beginning of my own learning journey. I began see that I would need to empathetically step into my son’s shoes and consider what he might need to make informed choices that would lead to a successful trip.

After discovering where Hamley’s and the Science Museum were located, we had to decide whether to buy tickets with travel cards included, or walk between our two destinations.  My son painstakingly wrote down every street from South Kensington to Oxford Street, while we let Google figure out how far it was to walk.  After some further thought, navigating two kilometres of London’s streets was discarded for the ease and time-saving gained by returning to the tube station.

The boys put other plans in place, a flight simulator was booked at the museum, a plan for a picnic and snack organised, ingredients were selected from the supermarket and packed ready for the big day to London. 

Arriving at the station my son keyed the reservation code into the automated ticket machine and collected the tickets required for the trip. At the station we had to learn how to read the departure screen and learn that “Plat” stood for platform and that we were not looking for London but instead Kings Cross.  Next came the challenge of navigating the ticket barrier, learning how to insert the ticket face up and how to retrieve the ticket as you pass through the open barrier. (While patient and less patient travellers waited for the lesson to end!)

Attribution: Rept0n1x [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

Taking the journey to London through my son’s eyes opened my own eyes to how complex the whole experience was going to be.  Every stage of the journey presented a new challenge: What direction do you walk when you disembark a train?  How do you know which way to walk?  Where do you find the underground trains? How do you know which tube-line to follow?  How do you know to stand on the right on the escalators or walk on the left in the corridors?  What does westbound and eastbound mean? How do we know if we going east or west?  What are the protocols for using the tube?  Who stands and who sits?  How do you know which station to get off at?  And again, when you get off which way do you walk?

Attribution: Onatcer [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D

The whole day was a journey of questions and discovery for all three of us.  I had never imagined how complicated the experience would be.  I certainly didn’t consider all the steps, both metaphorical and literal, that I would need to help my boys navigate.  More importantly I hadn’t helped to coach, train or develop the skills they would need to read maps, identify street signs, understand protocols of travel, navigate automated systems and meander between the busy community of a large capital city.

Walking past a big read post box on Oxford Street summed up the day for me. My six-year old son, pulled me backwards and pointed as he exclaimed “What’s that thing!”  

Attribution: Jongleur100 [Public domain]

My boys have grown up in the suburbs of Kampala, Uganda. So like the red post box, there we many new experiences on our trip to London – all great learning opportunities. However, as I look back, I could have better prepared them for the experience, we could have tried using public transport in my home town or navigated street signs around the neighbourhood or explored map reading in a local forest. It would have made my son’s experience a little more successful and perhaps a little less daunting as he made decisions in the melee of the capital’s busiest train stations.

As we embrace the journey towards a gradual release of independence, we may need to take a few steps in our learners shoes and consider the journey we are expecting our learners to take.  

  • What unknown experiences are we asking them to embrace?
  • What skills will they need to learn and practice to be successful?
  • What social norms and character traits are we expecting them to possess to be successful?

We need to critically analyse what we are asking children to do as we honour agency and develop opportunity for self-directed learning. It is imperative that we consider what they might need for the journey. Sure, they will make mistakes and we’ll learn together as they do.  And we may not anticipate every skill and experience that are needed, but by empathetically putting ourselves in the shoes of our learners, I believe we will see far greater success as we inform and empower our learners to make those informed choices.


Listening with Empathy

As a school, we recently concluded our professional learning journeys with an exhibition of what we have discovered about ourselves as learners, about learning and maybe something about what we were hoping to learn about.  

My learning journey was inspired by Jim Knight’s Better Conversations, which was introduced to our school by Michelle Harris back in October. The rationale for choosing Better Conversations as the starting point for my learning journey was the realisation that more than 80% of my day is spent in conversation.  Sometimes even more. If most of my day is spent engaged in this activity, I felt that I should make sure I can do it well or at least try to get better at it. I had also come to appreciate more deeply that conversations are about building relationships. Michelle shared a quote from Susan Scott’s Fierce Conversations which captures this fundamental idea:

“Our work, our relationships, and our lives succeed or fail one conversation at a time.”

Susan Scott, Fierce Conversations

Knight’s book begins with six beliefs which I have now posted on my wall as a reminder.  

  • I see conversation partners as equals.
  • I want to hear what others have to say.
  • I believe people should have a lot of autonomy.
  • I don’t judge others.
  • Conversation should be back and forth.
  • Conversation should be life giving.

Knight then goes on to describe ten habits of conversation.  However, I got stuck on the first two which were demonstrating, and listening with, empathy.

In Knight’s brief screencast about empathy he discusses the importance of empathy at times of polarisation. However, I am beginning to see that it is a crucial habit for anyone who wants to build relationships, community and trust at any moment in time, and yes, perhaps more so now than ever.   

I am certainly not a master at practicing these habits and living these beliefs, but it has helped me to hear more clearly what the other person is saying. I’ll illustrate this through a couple of examples:

I had a conversation with a parent a few weeks ago who was frustrated with their perceived lack of communication from the school and they felt that they were not aware of what was going on.  During the conversation I worked hard to put myself in the parent’s shoes. I considered how I might feel in the situation, how I might feel shut out or that something is intentionally being hidden from me.  As I silenced my thoughts about their critique of the school, I came to the realisation that the issue was an opportunity to build a stronger partnership with parents. We are already using SeeSaw to build communication, but here was an opportunity to strengthen that crucial partnership with families.  His critique of the school, has become catalyst to develop more thoughtful and frequent ways to communicate and share the learning.

Another conversation, this time with a teacher, yielded similar concerns with communication and systems within the school.  Again, my approach to listen with empathy helped me to silence my thoughts, and embrace the teacher’s concerns and frustration. Instead of walking away feeling that the teacher had just vented their concerns with the school on me. I walked away determined to help the school and the teacher find better systems for communication. I could appreciate how devaluing a lack of communication can make you feel, and that if we want to ensure everyone feels valued and involved we need to improve our communication systems.

It is learning to listen to another perspective, without the noise of your own thoughts deafening the voice of the speaker.  

The nuances involved in listening with empathy reminded me of my first encounter with a self-assessment on the Learner Profile during my training as IB workshop leader.  We were asked to rate ourselves on the ten attributes at the beginning, and at the end of the workshop. At the start I rated myself as 7 on the open-minded scale, but at the end I’d rated myself as 4.  The workshop trainers were perplexed that I appeared to have move backwards. I explained that I had not regressed, but that I had come to deeper understanding of what open-mindedness is.

I think that is what listening with empathy is about.  It’s about developing a deeper understanding of others, valuing their voice, even if we disagree with their opinion.  It is learning to listen to another perspective, without the noise of your own thoughts deafening the voice of the speaker.  

As teachers, leaders, parents, spouses and just as human beings… if we learn to listen with more empathy we’ll be able build the relational trust that forms communities, while gaining deeper understandings and broader perspectives to help solve the complex problems we face each day.

Dialogue: Thinking Together

“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

~ African Proverb

For a little over a year now I have been going it alone through this blog, Choose. Act. Reflect. But going it alone leaves little room for the construction of meaning through dialogue. True dialogue pushes our thinking as we are challenged to see another perspective, another way of viewing the world. Dialogue allows us to understand that what we think are our truths are merely our theories and hypotheses formed through our own singular experiences and interactions. Dialogue provides the opportunity to see other truths, to manipulate and experiment with new theories, and experience the world through shared interactions with others. And so I would like to expand my thoughts and perspectives to include the voice of another as we explore together, through dialogue, our choices, actions and reflections in this world of learning. Together we will co-author and co-construct meaning as we challenge and change our thinking.

Choose. Act. Reflect. has always been a blog written by Daniel Todd and Ryan Hopkins-Wilcox, the difference is that I recorded our reflections in my own words and now we would like to expand that singular vision to include the voices of two as we tell the stories of our learning journeys and challenge each other to constantly Choose. Act. Reflect.

Ryan has thoughtfully articulated our musings about our learning journeys, however, as we find ourselves not working in the same learning space for the near future Ryan has invited me to continue musing in a new space.  Our roles in leading learning, learning to lead and learning to learn continue to revolve around those same concepts and the process of choosing, acting and reflecting. So I am honoured to join Ryan on this journey of reflecting together, acting in our new spaces and choosing to co-author our discoveries, wonderings and perspectives that challenge our thinking.  I hope this new perspective and voice will strengthen our shared vision of the future and that we will all be able to go farther as we go together.

Designing for Learning

We are loving the PYP enhancements especially the agency being honored for all IB educators to shape their own understandings and develop the PYP for their own contexts. We have fully embraced this idea of ownership through the ability to craft our own unit planner.

We knew we wanted to explore a new way of planning because we had been feeling “boxed in” by the old planner. We thought we could adapt all the things we loved about the PYP planning process and put into a format that fit our needs and our context.

But first we wanted to learn from others and so we called on the expertise of thoughtful educators within our PLN. Edna Sackson, Sonya terBorg and Taryn BondClegg were quick to reply and very generously shared with us their work and the thought behind the changes they made in their own contexts. The Programme Communities on My IB has samples of planners and planning processes and is a wealth of information compiled from the work of educators around the world.

To begin our process we began with our Instructional Leaders team and together we explored the question “why do we plan?” We discussed the purpose of planning and uncovered some new truths and beliefs for ourselves.

    • We design experiences and environments that provoke learning
    • We design for the learning of all learners
    • We design for learning together
    • We design for learning in response to learners
    • We design for learning to take us from knowns to unknowns
    • We design for learning that honors the individual learner
    • We design for learning that honors the agency of the learner, the learning community and learning and teaching

Guided by our beliefs we explored planners and templates created by other schools, educators and organisations; we analysed them alongside the traditional and updated PYP planners from the IB. We discussed what we loved and what we would change; we explored what excited us and what worried us; we celebrated the work of others and found connections to our own contexts and needs.

From these discussions and the lists of wants and needs that came out of these explorations I drafted a new planner for our school that we called the Design for Learning. To accompany this document I also made a Reference Page that could support the process and the dialogue that emerges from collaboratively working together to design for learning. We took these two new documents to our Common Planning Meetings and Planning Retreats (which maybe we should change the name of to something that honors our belief about designing for learning). We used them to help us in the process of designing the learning for our fourth and fifth units making adjustments and changes in response to the voice and needs of our learning community. With a final draft ready to go we had one last critique for our sixth unit. While we do not consider the Design for Learning to be a fixed document that can no longer evolve with the growth of our learning community we did want to be able to continue designing for learning without having to constantly reflect on the document and process.

You can find both our Design for Learning and Reference Page linked here and at the end of this blog. We would like to share these back freely as others so generously shared their thoughts and processes with us. We would also like to give credit to all the educators who have shared and have guided our own thoughts and reflections through this process. We did not create this we simply melded together many ideas from others into a document that fits who we are.

Our Design for Learning begins with the voice of our learners. We follow this with the choices of our educators as learning designers. These choices honor the components of the PYP, such as the TD Themes which reflect a structure to the world that allows us for connections, concepts that give meaning to a unit, knowledge that is transferable, skills that are universal, attributes that reflect who we are becoming, and lines of inquiry which shape a path of learning grounded in a central idea. While we honor the agency of our learners we also honor the agency of the curriculum and our teachers. In this way we outline a structure that includes the elements of the PYP while also considering the environment, both of time and space, that lays before us. But once we saw ourselves as designers and co-designers and not planners we realised that we cannot fully plan a unit on our own, and so, our Design for Learning ends before it begins. We stop at a skeletal overview allowing the learners to take their role as partners in the Design for Learning.

Our weekly Common Planning meetings are shifting to become opportunities to share pedagogical documentation as action researchers and designers for learning. We hope to focus on this next step in the process of designing for learning in the coming school year. We have some ideas for this that were inspired by our inquiries into Reflection and a visit from Anne van Dam; we have included below the Design for Learning documents some provocative questions that will guide our continued collaborations and reflections and inform the weekly learning.

We still need to further explore the role of the single subject teacher, the role of the wider learning community, how to better include our young learners in the conversations when collaboratively designing for learning and, as always, constantly reflect on our choices and actions as lifelong learners. We would love to hear your feedback to help us feedforward in our learning journey.

Design for Learning

Reference Page

WHY Sheets

A little while back Alfie Kohn wrote a blog post titled “The Why Axis;” he wrote about an idea he had to create what he would call, WHY Sheets. He says, “The idea was to help educators explain why they do what they do — and, equally important, why they deliberately avoid doing some things. The sheets would be made available free of charge, uncopyrighted, and accompanied by an invitation to distribute them promiscuously.” Unfortunately Alfie Kohn did not create these, but instead he challenged educators around the world to write their own WHY Sheets. He asked us to pause and reflect on our own practices and school policies, to consider why we do what we do and to share these beliefs with our communities. Kohn reminded us that our role as educators is to also help our learning community to understand why we do what we do and to build these beliefs together. When we, as a learning community, share the same beliefs and language we can truly begin to build a culture of learning.

After Alfie Kohn published his blog the “Human Restoration Project” led the movement forward by publishing their WHY Sheet on the elimination of homework, and they shared it with everyone! They have since added another WHY Sheet about gradeless learning, and again freely shared it with us all. Inspired by both Alfie Kohn’s call to reflect on our beliefs and share our WHY, as well as the Human Restoration Project’s generosity, we began thinking about our own WHYs. We now have five of our own WHY sheets, built upon the work of others, that we would like to share.

While we are sharing these, and we do want you to use them, we also want you to consider building your own WHY Sheets for your context and then sharing them for others to build upon. The power of the WHY Sheet lies not just in the content but in the process of building them as a community of learners creating a shared culture of learning. We now better understand what we do and why we do it, and as Alfie Kohn pointed out, we also know what we don’t do and why we don’t. We will be sharing these WHY Sheets with our parent community in a few weeks as we look to end this school year and offer them to our new teachers was we begin a new school year. We hope these sheets will help all of our community members feel knowledgeable and empowered to come on the journey with us as partners in learning. And in sharing them with our wider community of educators around the globe, you, we hope we can not just partner with our school community but in a community of schools internationally, who share in a similar vision and hope for the future of education. We would love your feedback and partnership as well! Please let us know your thoughts and ideas as we move forward as a community of worldwide learners.

WHY Skills1

WHY Skills2

WHY Skills

WHY play1WHY play2

WHY Play

WHY Ownership1WHY Ownership2WHY Ownership

WHY Motivation1WHY Motivation2WHY Motivation

WHY Image of the Child1WHY Image of the Child2WHY Image of the Child

WHY Agency1WHY Agency2WHY Agency

#OneWord HOPE

As the new year starts I am looking forward and looking back, reflecting on the past in order to shape the future. I started this reflective process with the hashtag #oneword2019. And I knew immediately what my word would be, it is a word given to me by my principal, the word hope.

“[Hope] rests on the expectation that our own efforts can improve our future. ‘I have a feeling tomorrow will be better’ is different from ‘I resolve to make tomorrow better.’ The hope that gritty people have has nothing to do with luck and everything to do with getting up again.” ~ Angela Duckworth

As I look back I see hope in everything we have done. Every risk we have taken together, every change we have been a part of, every innovation we have dreamed of, every moment we have shaped has been built upon hope.

In the past three years we have built an inclusive learning environment with integrated support in context, for everyone. We became co-teachers. We rethought homework. We brought in student led conferences. We introduced new technologies and a tech coach to guide the way. Our units were rewritten for deeper inquiry and we found our way from teacher centered units to student centered learning. We implemented planning retreats and guest teaching. We reimagined teacher appraisals. We redesigned professional development for personalized professional learning as personal learning journeys. We introduced choice workshops led for and by teachers. We restructured the timetable. Inspired by our home language programme we considered our additional language choices and increased the options from one (French) to six (Mandarin, Arabic, Luganda, Kiswahili, French and Spanish). We built a model of shared leadership. We wrote a whole school unit of inquiry. We hosted parent forums and lecture series. We found our why, how and what as we delved into learner agency. And through trust and purpose we have become a community of learners.

Our belief in hope has shaped our path and led to an amazing period of growth and change. This idea of hope continues to carry us forward as we persistently resolve to make tomorrow better.

“If you’re not moving forward, you’re falling back.” ~ Sam Waterston

In looking towards tomorrow we are working on ideas for embracing learner agency. We are considering how to work as one school across three programmes. We are inquiring into changing pedagogies, best practice and 21st century learning. We are building a wider learning community connected through purpose. We are opening up our personal learning journeys beyond just professional learning. We are adding new areas of expertise to our learning support team for inclusion. We are looking to embark on an action research project focusing on the ATLs (skills). We are discussing teacher appraisals and a culture of collective accountability. And we are constantly striving to learn, reflect and grow as a community of learners.

“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn.” ~ Alvin Toffler

It has been such an adventure to be a part of the changes brought on through this idea of hope. And it is so exciting to dream about what is yet to come. But it is also a bittersweet time as I will be moving at the end of this school year and leaving this dynamic team of lifelong learners and our hope for the future of education and learning at ISU. I will miss being a part of the changes yet to come, the reflections of where we have been and the dreams of tomorrow. But I believe, in fact I know, that this growth, these dreams, the continuous progress will continue. I know this because learning and growth is a part of who we are.

“Learning is never cumulative, it is a movement of knowing which has no beginning and no end.” ~ Bruce Lee

This realization of who we have become led me to understand that the most important change we have gone through has been about building a collective culture.

Culture is sharing a common language, common beliefs illustrated through common stories and common norms and values

(from “Sapiens” by Yuval Noah Harari, 2011).

Our culture is built on just these elements. We share a common language defined by our learning principles and the IB. With this common language we can freely communicate across classrooms, through grade levels and as a community. This common language gives life to our shared beliefs through the stories we tell. Stories about agency, inclusion and action identify who we are as a community. These stories also highlight what we value as a community. They reflect the importance of inquiry and learning journeys. And these stories with their beliefs, values and shared language provide us with the norms by which we act everyday. We expect each other to be creative and collaborative. They are the stories of our purpose. This is our shared culture.

Cultures provide the connections between people that allow for cooperation over time. They help dissolve the idea of ‘us’ and ‘them’ to create ‘we.’ We are a school of strong beliefs and these beliefs are not connected to any one individual but to the culture of our school.

In this realization I came to understand that hope is the word that guided us to build this culture which is what will continue to shape our tomorrow. It is this understanding of culture that will allow me to move on to my new tomorrow full of hope because I know that the culture I have been a part of at ISU is alive in all of us and will endure within the ISU community near and far helping each of us to shape our own tomorrow’s.

#oneword2019 HOPE

So… HOW do we do agency (hint: start with the WHY)

We recently had Taryn BondClegg lead us in learning through a workshop on student agency. She provoked, inspired, stimulated, modeled, questioned and connected us to our own understandings of learner agency. After she left the excitement was palpable, teachers were ready to embark on this journey of risk-taking and reflecting in order to cultivate agency. Everyone was eager to try on the new ideas and strategies they learned but Taryn had warned us about the temptation to transplant. And so we hit the pause button. Myself, my principal and our strategic leadership team sat down and reflected: so how do we do agency?

In our reflections we realised that we were jumping into the HOWs of agency. We were transplanting all these great ideas but without really having formed our own understandings of WHY. So we went back to the WHY.

We gathered everyone together for our early release Wednesday professional learning time and we reminded everyone of Simon Sinek and the power of WHY. We then journeyed together for the afternoon to find our WHY.

We looked at how purpose is a driving force for motivation and engagement is directly tied to agency.

We reflected together on the workshop, specifically how it felt to be a learner and to have our agency honored. We connected these reflections to our emerging understandings of learner agency at our school and “HOW do we do agency.”

We then decided to solidify our understanding of agency by creating our own definition. The power of this process came through the dialogue amongst the teachers, TAs and leadership team as we negotiated and formed a shared understanding.

This is the definition that will carry us forward as we continue to navigate our way through learner agency:

Agency is the capacity each of us has to take responsibility to act and advocate, make our own choices and pursue our own passions.

With our shared definition we moved on to consider why this is important for learning and for our entire learning community.

Armed with an understanding of the importance of honoring and cultivating agency we decided to tackle our purpose, to find our WHY.

We began by considering the purpose of school. To really get at the heart of our purpose we used the “5 Whys” thinking routine.

These are the powerful statements of purpose that came from this reflection:

To inspire and facilitate creative independent learners! To acquire the necessary skills to be a lifelong learner and thereby make a difference to our world To build skills that empower lifelong learning to the direction of success.
Education should be engaging and enable students to reach their own potential. The purpose of school is to provide a community for learning To learn to learn.

The survival of our species depends on us moving forward from where we stand.

The purpose of school is to learn to collaborate with and negotiate in your world. Exposure to a learning environment that empowers skill building and lifelong learning. The purpose of school is to become passionately curious and learn ways to act on your learning.
To provide exposure to opportunities to develop skills for lifelong learning, find passions and discover your purpose in shaping our world To create the conditions that allow learners to realise their potential to make the world a better place. To nurture skills and attitudes for lifelong learning and to develop good human beings.
To nurture competent, critical thinkers who influence the moral compass of their generation for good. The purpose of school is to empower, advocate for the child as they develop and discover their own personality. To provide/facilitate opportunities for learning
To discover your potential Teach students or learners to be responsible through growth mindset. Ideally, school should be a place where students thrive in their growth of who they are and who they are meant to be.
To nurture life long learners who are purposeful and passionate global citizens. The purpose of school is to guide us into a fun and purposeful space to add value to our community and our future To develop agentic individuals who are considerate of and compassionate towards others.
To inspire lifelong learning To discover yourself as a learner To learn skills to cope in life
For people to develop their minds, bodies and spirits to enable them to live life in ways that are fulfilling for them and beneficial for others To give students right environment to explore and learn new skills Developing an understanding of ourselves and the world through experiences that help us to survive/live.
To present options that will guide the direction we choose because as humans we need a sense of purpose that adds value to our existence To facilitate student learning To prepare learners for a yet uncertain future.
School allows us to find our passions and equips us with the skills to be successful in our pursuits

To bring these together into one we separated the ideas into three categories: we do what, for who, so that.

We do what:

Inspire facilitate empower engaging enable provide collaborate exposure learning environment/community, create the conditions, nurture, develop, advocate, provide/facilitate opportunities teach growth mindset, guide, fun, purposeful, give environment to explore, experiences, prepare, present options, discover, allows to find our passions, equips us with the skills, provide exposure to opportunities, develop skills

For whom:

Students community learners, agentic individuals, minds, bodies and spirits, ourselves

So that:

Independent lifelong learners acquire skills attitudes success reach/realise their own potential learn how to learn negotiate their world, passionately curious, act, competent, critical thinkers, discover their own personality, responsible, growth who they are and who they are meant to be, thrive, purposeful and passionate global citizens, cope in life, live life in ways that are fulfilling for them and beneficial for others, understanding of ourselves, live, survive, sense of purpose that adds value to our existence, be successful in our pursuits, make a difference to our world, survival of our species, move us forward, make the world a better place, good human beings, influence the moral compass of their generation for good, add value to our community and our future, considerate of and compassionate towards others, find passions and discover your purpose in shaping our world

We then tried to bring all of these voices together into one collective statement of purpose:

We inspire and empower each other as a community of lifelong learners to realise our own potential and purpose as compassionate citizens active in shaping our world.

Inspired by one of Taryn’s workshops we used provocative statements and the “tug of war” thinking routine to begin thinking about the beliefs that support our purpose.

(Tug of War: 1. Choose a position, 2. Stand your position, 3. Try to tug others toward your position.)

Again the power of this process lies in the great discussions amongst the team. It is essential there is enough time for true dialogue to take place. In this way we then sat down and wrote out our beliefs.

Purpose trumps passion

Motivation is key -autonomy-mastery -purpose

Developing Skills and Mindsets are essential

EQ (emotional intelligence)

Flow is crucial
Our role is to expose/honor We need to give opportunities for learners to practice voice All learners are unique and capable.
Believe that everyone is born with the capacity to learn, make choices that are important to them I believe that education happens intrinsically based on what experiences we are exposed to and which situations provide the right balance of challenge and positive “reward” #presentmeaningfulexperiences Students possess the capacity to navigate their journey. Schools can guide and empower individuals along the way.
Believe that learning how to learn can be learned We all want to be the best version of ourselves Students learn best when they feel safe and happy and when they have a personal connection to what is being learnt.
That all students have the capacity to be successful and to become critical and creative thinkers on the global stage. Everyone has the right to receive education. Everyone is a learner. Learning without a moral compass has the potential to make the world worse
Students are capable Students should follow their own inquiry and passions Agency is innate
All children have inherent value. Believe people have great potential and that schools can create an environment for that to flourish.

Believe that everyone has a unique learning pathway and we should make space for that.

Everyone can learn
Choices that are not informed can be counterproductive Self-efficacy is necessary to be successful. Everyone learns in different ways.
Learning should be real-world oriented. Each child is an individual who is competent, full knowledge, creativity and wonder. Education is about the development of the whole person so they have the skills to reach their full potential. …that all people have the right to a safe and empowering environment that provides them with a multitude of opportunities for learning
We all have agency Education empowers skill building. Our role as educators is being learner partners and consultants

We grouped these ideas into themes:

  • Motivation and engagement – Purpose Passion and inquiry, Motivation, flow/mastery
  • Self-efficacy (success/potential)- Skills, Become critical creative thinkers, Mindsets, Challenge, Self efficacy
  • Partnerships – Expose, guide, empower, Create environment to flourish, Pave pathways for learning, right to a safe and empowering learning environment, Education empowers, Structure
  • Agency – Honor agency, We all have agency, agency in innate/inherent
  • The right to learn – Born with Capacity to learn as a learner, Learn how to learn, Everyone learns in different ways, Learning partners, Choice, right to learn
  • Holistic education – Balance, Informed choices, Moral compass, Act on global stage, Real world, Enact change in the world, positive action for a better world
  • Unique potential – All unique and capable, All children have inherent value, Potential, All individuals, Develop whole person

Then we assembled these into beliefs:

We believe…

And so we…

Everyone is unique, valuable and full of potential
  • Welcome all members of our learning community as unique and capable individuals.
  • Seek out opportunities for everyone to realise their potential.
  • Cultivate the development of the whole person.
Everyone is a learner and has the right to learn
  • Honor the capacity of all learners to learn.
  • Learn how to learn.
  • Co-create unique learning opportunities for varied learners.
Agency is inherent in each of us
  • Respect the agency within us all.
  • Provide opportunities to speak and be heard.
  • Allow for choice.
  • Support ownership of learning through reflection.
Self-efficacy allows for growth
  • Learn the skills of critical and creative thinkers.
  • Cultivate positive mindsets for approaching challenges with resilience.
Motivation and engagement drive learning
  • Use inquiry to find our passions.
  • Make space and time for flow in order to to achieve mastery.
  • Hep each of us discover our purpose.
We are partners in shaping our education
  • Create safe and empowering learning environments.
  • Pave pathways for learning.
  • Look for boundless opportunities for learning.
  • Imagine and seek out new possibilities.
A holistic education enables positive action for a better world
  • Lead a balanced life.
  • Support each other to make informed choices and develop our own moral compass.
  • Champion each other as agents of change.
  • Interact locally and globally.
  • Provide real world experiences.
  • Enact change in our world.

At this point we have a pretty good understanding of WHY. And are beginning to craft the HOW. But before we jump too far into the HOW we first need to understand WHAT it is we want to do. So we considered WHAT we want our school to look like, sound like, feel like, become?

From this we have a great idea of WHAT we want our school to be.

Our school… Parents are… Learning environments are…
is sustainable

dreams big

has many pathways to learning

is diverse and collective

is innovative

is ethical, moral and trustworthy

is a community

has a culture of learning

is real and authentic

is a place of opportunity and choice

is reflective

is a leader in education

shapes the future of education

finds purpose in schooling

is connected

is giving

is a place of natural wonder

present, supportive and involved

partners and stakeholders in learning


open-minded, trusting and understanding

make connections

support agency at home

have buy in





workshop leaders

the child’s first and consistent teacher

forward thinking

listened to and understood

experts for learning

learning from children

adaptable, flexible, varied and ever changing

open and spacious

free of disruptions

responsive to students

supportive, accommodating learners needs


set up by children

creative and stimulating

safe and caring

not overly stimulating

sensitive to learning modalities

learning labs

R&D spaces


in nature

focused on community

forums for dialogue

Learners are…

Learning is…

Teachers are…

Teaching is…

Leaders are…

Leadership is…

everyone (parents, teachers, staff and students)

self driven, excited and engaged

open-minded, curious, thinkers


kind, mindful of those around them

passionate about learning

confident, risk takers

growth minded

vocal advocates for themselves and others






fun and engaging

adaptable and flexible

meaningful, authentic and applicable

connected to the environment, people, places and events outside of school


quality competent

kind, generous and humble


self-driven with agency

guides, models, facilitators, learning consultants, partners


good listeners

constantly growing, flexible, adaptable

risk-takers, not afraid to try new things and fail

advocates for all

resources for inspiration, connections and new opportunities

able to “let go”, share ownership



fun and engaging

open, welcoming to all, inclusive





stress free

emotionally intelligent, empathetic and kind





communicators, good listeners

future oriented designers

influential examples



in touch with what is going on


understanding, supportive and compassionate

enabling, supportive of the agency within us all


providing meaningful and constructive feedback

vision and action

When we put all of this into a word cloud this is what we got:

Our purpose, WHY we do what we do and WHAT we do is LEARNING!

So now we are ready to consider HOW. How do we do agency? How do we do school? How do we do learning?