A Moment of Gratitude

The Covid 19 pandemic has turned the world upside down and it is a challenge to see the positives, in such devastating and uncertain times. Yet, this is what I am seeking to do, so I may stay present and show my gratitude, because I do have a lot to be grateful for.

As an educator, the transition to distance learning was filled with anxiety and was a challenge, yet it was necessary to push through for the learners. Once I got over the sleepless nights and the dramatic increase in my workload, I began to see some some positive glimmers, like these crocus flowers poking through the snow.

Crocus in the snow…

Here are some of the beautiful moments that I want to continue to nurture as I move forward as an educator.

First, I want to honor our learners who demonstrated such resilience, empathy and a desire to learn. They might not have learnt everything on our curriculum, but the learning certainly continued.

Secondly, I am grateful for the partnerships that were strengthened between educators and families. During our end of year conferences between our learners, their parents and myself, so many families expressed a better understanding of their children and the desire to continue to working alongside teachers in the next academic year. In my books, this can only be a good thing.

Next, I want to recognize the educators I work with. Our journey to come together as a cohesive team has been long and bumpy, as we worked to understand each other and mesh different perspectives and ways of working. Though physically, there was more distance between us, in the last few months we are now closer and our collective teacher efficacy is so much stronger.

I would also like to recognize all the educators that have stepped up to support each other. So many educators are sharing resources, answering questions creating tutorials, PDs and more. The one group I would like to highlight the most, is The Bitmoji Craze for Educators group on Facebook. Through this group I have learnt so much, it has honestly really helped me to up my tech skills to be a better educator. Not only that, it has been amazing to be a part of such a supportive group of educators, so if you need a bit of sunshine in your life, check them out.

Crocus in the spring

Shifts in Reading Instruction

As we approach the holiday, we have been inviting learners to showcase their learning within our community. Last Friday 20 primary school learners, many from our grade 1 learning hub, were risk-takers and communicators as they shared their learning (tweet curtesy of @makingoodhumans.) I had many conversations with our young learners that day about how nervous they were prior to the showcase and how excited and exhilarated they felt after.

As a primary school staff, we were also going to have the opportunity to share our learning, but sadly we have reverted to online learning for our last week of term, and this opportunity has been postponed. Both these events got me thinking about how little I have shared over the last year via this blog, though I have shared a bit on other social media platforms. I think the introvert in me feels nervous like our Grade 1 learners, and like them I need to be both vulnerable and brave again. So, I am going to recommit to sharing my learning in the hopes that it helps other educators.

This time last year, I knee deep in my action research project for my Masters. As I thought about my Grade 2 class at time, I felt I needed to do what I could to help them become better readers. I, like many others, did not get a solid foundation in how to teach reading. In fact, I think I mostly learned on the job, and I will be honest and say that most PD I received just didn’t fit right with my experiences and my intuition about what learners needed. However, intuition was not enough at this point, I had to demystify the teaching of reading. This led me to find the scientific research and evidence about how we learn to read, or the Science of Reading.

Looking at all the research that spans decades was daunting, however I found Reading Simplified, a sound based decoding approach to teaching reading systematically and explicitly. This approach, by Dr. Marnie Ginsberg, truly did take the mystery out of teaching reading through a streamlined approach. In a time when we were facing reduced instructional time and teaching virtually, I could not have asked for anything more. In the 10 weeks of my action research, every learner made at least 1 level’s progress in the leveling system our school uses. Some made as much as 4 levels progress, or 1 years worth of growth in 10 weeks.

The following are some key shifts I made to reading instruction, based on the Reading Simplified approach. First, I moved from using leveled texts to decodable texts, giving learners the opportunities to apply the phonics skills we were working on. Rather than learning about phonics in isolation, it was embedded into reading instruction through 2 main activities: word chaining or Switch It and word sorts.

We used the Google tool Jamboard to play Switch It. As learners were switching graphemes, I was able to see what each learners was doing and provide immediate feedback.

Switch It is an activity that works on developing so many skills at one time. Learners are developing their phonemic awareness as they manipulate sounds. Doing this not just orally, but with letters helps to the develop their grapheme phoneme correspondence. Additionally, learners are asked to both segment and blend the words they make, and I should also mention that its fun!

Once we were exploring the advanced phonemic code, for example, all the graphemes that can be used to represent the long /ay/ phoneme, we began to use word sorting activities to learn more about spelling patterns.

Here we used the tool Padlet to sort /er/ words by the spelling patterns in the key sentence. Once we generated our lists, we were able to discuss if the words fit the patterns we were looking for or not, and were able to engage in interesting conversations about the form and structure of words.
In this example, we used Jamboard to play the digital version of the game steal it. Each time learners pulled a card, they had to read it and then sort it by spelling patterns. Each time they were able to steal a list, they had to read all the words in the list – sorting and rereading can be fun!

Secondly, we dedicated time to rereading texts, so that rather than just focusing on decoding, they could work towards fluency and then free up some energy or brain power to work on comprehension. Third, we worked on comprehension and vocabulary development through our units of inquiry more intentionally than I would have done in the past.

This post has just been a brief glimpse into my journey to become a better reading teacher, so that I can honor all our learners, by helping them master an essential skill for future learning. If the ideas I have shared here resonate with you, then I encourage you to dig deeper. Whilst I am not an expert, I can say with confidence, that there is expertise and knowledge waiting for you when you are read. So much of my learning was done through educational groups on social media and and simple online searches. I invite you to take your steps to find out what science says about how we learn to read.

Looking for rainbows

It has been a while since my last blog post… many ideas have drifted through my brain and before I get to it, they drifted away, mainly because I doubted myself and wondered if they were worth sharing. I retreated into my shell as a mechanism to hide a bit, but also to reflect and understand. I think, it might be time to poke my head out again, be vulnerable and interact with the world.

This academic year has been a change for me. After 5 years in Kindergarten, I have moved to grade 2 and am back with the age group I was with when I started my teaching career. For most of this year I have been in the learning pit. This isn’t a bad thing. It means I am being challenged as I make sense of what it is to be a grade 2 teacher and strive to bring what I have learnt about early years practice to support learners in grade 2.

Whilst being in the learning pit is a challenge, this week I have felt like it has rained and my pit is flooding. I have felt like I am drowning. I began to flounder and as a result became less productive because I just did not know where to begin. Then, I remember a recent TV show I watched where a man drowning in a wheat silo was instructed by firefighters to stay as still as possible to prevent air pockets from forming and pulling him under. I realized I needed to do the same. I needed to be still and just notice the world around me.

Image by João Hoyler Correia from Pixabay

Now the last few times I have practiced mindfulness, I noticed how out of sorts I was feeling. My shoulders were tense and my breathing was tight. Instead of listening to my body, I pushed it down and soldiered on. This time I listened. Instead of chasing my tail to try and get something crossed off on my mental to-do list, I stopped. I baked brownies with my daughter, read a book, picked up my son from his golfing trip and then got takeout for dinner. This morning, I slept in, did the weekly shop and rather than jumping into work as I often do on a Sunday, I decided to to share my experiences.

Whilst I know that self-care is important for teachers, I also know that self-care alone isn’t magically going to make things better. But I do hope, that my sharing my story, another teacher out there who is also drowning, will know that they are not alone.

So what is my plan to stop drowning… well, the learners are going to be my firefighters and for that I am grateful. By remembering my purpose and by meeting my learners where they are, I will notice the positives, see the learning and growth that shines through them. Here are a few examples:

  • “Ms. Raana, I think I like writing now! I published a book!”
  • The pride in both the parents’ and learners’ eyes during a recent learning celebration.
  • The joy and excitement a learner had when sharing his reading with his family via Seesaw.
  • “At the beginning of the year I did not know what a number line was and now I can use it to jump in bigger numbers, not just by ones.”
  • Learners being risk-takers and willing to share their thinking during a number talk and learning from their mistakes.
  • Their enthusiasm, knowledge and curiosity when meeting aeronautical engineers and conservationists through our school’s community connections.
  • The leadership skills and confidence shown by former kindergartners in their fourth grade learning celebration.

Whilst my to-do list has not shrunk, I am in a better place to be the teacher our learners deserve. One, that is focused on them and I will continue to look for those rainbows, those moments of light, even when I feel like the light has disappeared.

Push Stop and Reflect

In my last post, I described our plans for a more flexible learning day through the use of Choose, Act, Reflect time (C.A.R. time) to give learners more voice, choice and ownership over their learning. We wanted to engage learners in co-constructing our learning experiences and choice over how they structured their learning, so they could develop an understanding of who they are as a learner. We wanted the learning to be a motivating factor for writing, to give writing an authentic purpose within our learning environment. We were moving from a fairly structured learning environment to more time for free flow and choice. Since then, our KG hub has been a whirlwind of activity. We have reflected and adjusted, but not really had a moment to push stop.

“We need to push stop and reflect,” is a favorite saying of my colleague Zoe Roles (@RolesZoe ) as she reminds us of the need to reflect to move forward. So, this post is my reflection on changes we implemented in our Kindergarten learning hub.

So I baked cookies with my daughter to get me into a reflection mindset.

During the first week, I tried to take the time to step back and observe. We noticed engagement in the first learning experience that learners chose, but very little documentation unless it was adult directed. we also noticed that after a while, learners lost focus and would revert to their comfort zone (the want to do experiences), rather than explore new learning experiences.

Based on these reflections, we decided to model learning experiences, model using writing as a documentation tool and introduced one session of interactive writing per week in small groups. One of the benefits of teaching and learning in a hub is that we can have several groups with an adult mentor.

I also began to focus our planning of guided reading to meet the needs of each small group. To support us, I took the Teaching Every Reader course led by Anna Geiger, M.Ed. and Becky Spence, M.Ed. Through the course and discussions with colleagues, I discovered Jan Richardson‘s “The Next Step Forward in Guided Reading.”

Each guided reading session is planned to review and teach new sight words, develop fluency, phonemic awareness, decoding skills, comprehension skills, vocabulary and provide opportunities for writing. I strongly feel like investing the time to plan and establish the routines for guided reading has been a driving force in helping our learners develop the skills they need as readers and writers. The small group sizes mean that I can personalize learning and give feedback in the moment and we are seeing progress. Learners are beginning to see the importance of decoding strategies and learning sight words.

Having said this, the time it takes to run these guided reading sessions during C.A.R. time means that we have had less time to observe and interact with learners engaged in other learning experiences. Personally, I felt like we made the change so we could have more time to interact with our learners, and found that we had less.

In response to this observation we decided that it was time support our learners with making choices to support their learning. We created advisory groups so learners could meet in smaller groups. We shared the learning options and learners could stick icons to a planning graphic organizer. At the end of C.A.R time we met back in our groups to reflect.

Our C.A.R. Time planning organizer

We asked our learners how they felt about C.A.R. time and discovered that they liked having the planning discussions, but it was challenging to keep track of their plan. Over the next few days we continued our conversations and discovered that our learners missed writing together as a class and would like to so for some days in the week. They also suggested that they could plan their day without trackers if we took more time to model each learning experience. We also discussed simplifying the ‘must do’ experiences to number and word/letters learning. Finally, we decided to wait to begin ‘want to do’ experiences until most learners had opportunities to engage in the ‘must do’ experiences.

Not everything we have tried has worked for us, but each experience has been a learning opportunity. Through listening to our learners and own intuition, we feel like we have balanced our schedule to support our learners develop the skills they need to push their learning forward. Through engaging in a #riskandreflect process we are defining how we learn together in our kindergarten learning hub.

Unlearning, relearning, and growing

Over my teaching career, there have been many things I have changed over time. I have moved from an environment of direct teaching to an environment where inquiry and learner agency is expected. Some practices have fallen away, some are revisited and others are evolved over time.

One such practice is the Must dO,Should do, Could dO,Want to, or MOSCOW method.  A few years ago, a friend suggested I try Must, Should and Could do centers as a way to manage learning centers. I tried and failed. I felt that learners were not accountable for learning, I had not mastered the art of documentation ( a skill I am still working on…) and it was just not working for me. Moving from teaching in older grades in an environment that relied on direct teaching to a play based PYP inquiry model was quite a challenge for me. Upon reflection, I can say that I had been pushed way out of my comfort zone; I was not in control. As Sascha Heckmann (@sascha_heckmann) recently pointed out to me, I had not made the shift to understand that learning happens within the learner. I can provide an environment to promote learning and thinking, but I cannot control the learning.

Recently, I was inspired by Taryn BondClegg (@makingoodhumans) and another member of my PLN, David Gostelow (@davidgostelow1) to try again. In his post titled From Learners to Leaders,  David shared how he was using this method in his early years class. 

“Students learn best and work harder when they are excited by what they are working on. And when they design their own work, they understand why they are doing what they are doing and engage much more deeply with their learning.”

David Gostelow

I shared the idea with my colleagues and we had several decisions to make. We decided to keep our language teaching as stand alone. Though our program is quite structured, we have seen the amazing progress our learners are making. Furthermore, we know that our learners love writing because any day we have deviated from our structure, we have had complaints about not writing! So, we decided to start with changing our Explore time to  Choose, Act, Reflect, or C.A.R. time. 

We began by running 3 workshops in rotations to tune into learners’ understanding of the concept of form. These included exploring the form of a story, the form of circles and the form of a computer as they identified computer parts.

Exploring the form of the story ‘We’re Going on a Bear Hunt,’ by Michael Rosen.
Exploring the form of circles. What is it like? What is it not like?

Then we asked our learners what they would like to learn, and to consider whether each experience would be a must do, should do, could do or want to do center. If we could not accommodate an idea in the following week, we added it to the parking lot, to revisit in the future. We also considered if some learning experiences were better as workshops.

Our CAR time choice board.

Workshop about drawing a Wild Thing inspired by a learner’s question- ‘How do they put pictures in books?’
A workshop to develop and share our understanding of the early number sense relationship: part, part, whole.

Using this information, I matched learning experiences to our learning outcomes. I decided to use a template that had been shared by Taryn in her post titled Getting Parents Onboard, to map both learning and our conceptual understanding.  Following Taryn’s example, I shared this with families via Seesaw because I have learnt that by keeping parents informed, they stay involved in our learning community.

As we are trying to promote a free flow environment with lots of choices, we wanted to ensure learners took accountability for the centers they had decided to be must do centers. To support this, we have a printout with every learner’s name to highlight as they complete their learning. 

Now that we had the choose and act elements of CAR time, the next step was to add the reflection. This again was inspired by a tweet sharing an idea from Sonia Wright (@MsSoniaWright31.)

The original idea post asked learners to share:

  • What did you do?
  • What did you learn?

Making this change to our day has given us the opportunity to be more present with our learners. We are learning more about our learners through observation and our interactions. As a result, we are now ready to take a risk that we were not ready for before. We are moving from a structured language program to giving learners more choice and ownership over their learning.

Our day will start and finish by coming together for our morning meeting and our closing circle, when we will interact with stories and songs. Math talks and phonics will be done in smaller groups at the same time allowing us to differentiate as needed. Guided reading will continue with small groups, but our timings will be more flexible. Writing will be promoted through our continuous provision, inquiry and as a tool to document learning. We can also engage in modeled, shared and interactive writing during our morning meeting, phonics, guided reading and through play. We will also continue to offer workshops when we feel they are appropriate. As we plan for the following week with learners, we will select games and learning experiences that develop literacy and numeracy skills. Another change we are planning is to have our reflection time in smaller groups utilizing all the staff in our learning hub. This will reduce group sizes, allow us to check in with learners to and support them with their accountability. It will also enable us to honor learners who would prefer to reflect in Portuguese.

I strongly feel that this model will give us more flexibility, and allow learners to make authentic connections as learning will not be broken down by subject area. It will also give us the time to observe and interact, without feeling like we have to stop to move onto the next thing in our timetable.

time tableTeaching and learning in a collaborative hub continues to be a journey with many bumps along the way. Each of those bumps is a learning experience and an opportunity to #risk&reflect, and grow. I am grateful for both my #PLN and colleagues for their support, ideas and for continuing to challenge me as I unlearn, relearn and grow.

Reflection, goal setting and TIM

We have been working towards helping our Kindergarten learners develop an understanding of who they are as learners.  A key element in supporting our learners to take ownership of their learning are the skills of reflection and goal setting.

As part of our writing workshop, we conference with our learners during and after writing.  We encourage them to identify their sunshine, things they did well, and their areas for growth, what they still need to learn. Initially, this required lots of modelling, and now most learners confidently engage in these reflections.

We decided to use the same model of sunshine and growth for our three way conferences. As teachers, we created a Seesaw activity (link) and decided the criteria. However, after being challenged to consider what choices we as teachers were making for our learners that they could make for themselves, our plans changed. I asked my collaborative team if I could lead a lesson that would result in the learners making the decision about the criteria.

With their support, I planned a three part lesson using the Torrance Incubation Method (TIM) and I incorporated some elements of Creative Problem Solving (CPS.) The TIM model is based around incorporating a creativity skill, or approach to creativity as I prefer to call them, into each part of your lesson: heightening anticipation, deepening expectations, and extending the learning. I found the following this resource useful when trying to understand the model myself.

The approach to creativity I chose to integrate into this lesson was ‘putting it into context.’ As we heightened anticipation, we explained the why behind the conference and asked learners for help to decide what learning they wanted to share. As we deepened expectations, we used the creativity tool ‘stick ’em up brainstorming’ to generate ideas of what learning we could share. Finally, in the extending learning, we converged our ideas because we had to take into consideration the length of each conference. We supported learners, by grouping ideas or creating clusters. Then we voted on some or rephrased a few more. We found that the criteria developed and selected by learners was very similar to that of the teachers. The difference was, that they seemed to expect more from themselves!

As a reflection of the conferences, I found that they were the most productive conferences I had been a part of. Most learners were honest with themselves and everyone had goals to work towards. As a teacher, we just need to ensure that we revisit these goals and use them to guide our learning.

To take this further, I decided to plan a series of TIM lessons to focus around goal setting in writing. I decided to work with a group of emergent + writers, who are demonstrating readiness by applying initial sounds and more to their writing.  using a variation of the the gradual increase of independence. The tool was introduced to us by Taryn BondClegg (@makingoodhumans) and designed by Suzzane Kitto (@OrenjiButa) who has shared her resources here.

My variation to the gradual increase of independence was to make it more visual for younger learners and link it to our sunshine and growth model.

KG gradual increase of independence

I chose to turn the success criteria for writing that our learners have been generating into visual, movable cards. I was also able to personalize the process by the number and content of the cards.

You can get a copy here.

KG gradual increase of independence (1)

The learning outcome for the lesson was for learners to self assess themselves as writers. The creativity goal was to ’embrace the challenge.’  We heightened anticipation with a word hunt that we then had to puzzle together as a sentence. In the deepening expectation phase, I we explored the metaphor of seeds needing lots of help and sunshine being something that helps seeds grow. I then challenged learners to self assess their learning. The final part of the lesson, extending the learning, was the challenge to find evidence of the criteria in their writing books. This led to interesting discussions about what we were really doing well and things we needed to work on to improve our writing.

For the subsequent lesson, I decided to help learners narrow their focus, by choosing one goal to work on at a time. The creativity goal I chose to integrate was ‘making it swing, make it ring.’ First, I integrated a lot of kinesthetic whole body movement into our phonics lesson prior to writing. We also played a hand mirroring game to heighten anticipation. To deepen expectations, we referred back to our gradual increase of independence and took our discussions from the previous lesson further. Learners began to realize that they could keep doing the things they did well, and spend more attention on what they thought were shared or guided goals. I suggested working on one of those goals at a time might be more productive. Finally, to extend the learning, we came up with actions for each of the criteria we had chosen. The great thing was that each learner had ownership over the goal they chose.

I have begun to see that some learners are really supported by focusing on one goal at a time and are keen to prove it to me during our conferencing.  As I conference with learners, I ask if they want to share their goals with their family. As learners share their goals, they are adding an element of accountability to their learning.  Some have felt ready to do this, and I have embedded the creativity skill of ‘highlighting the essence,’ as I support learners to share both the process and their goals with their families. With permission, here is a link, to one learners’ goal sharing.

Through this series of lessons, I have been embedding approaches to creativity using TIM and I have been applying my own learning to promote learner agency. I found that identifying and embedding the creativity skills or approaches to learning, made lessons more engaging. My next step is to make these approaches to creativity more explicit in our teaching and learning.

I have moved from co-constructed success criteria with learners to learners have interactions with their success criteria and developing a much deeper understanding of how the success criteria supports learning. Learners have made choices and have begun to take action. For those who have not taken action yet, they are beginning to see the need to take ownership for their learning as we reflect and conference, and I am confident they will when they are ready. In addition to engaging in goal setting, learners have been learning about goal setting. With lots of opportunities to choose act and reflect upon goals, it is my hope that our young kindergarten learners will have the skills they need to make informed choices, take risks and continue to grow and learn.

As a final reflection about learner agency, I do not want to say that I am releasing control of the learning, as that is not something I ever had. I would say that am making a conscious effort to support learners to have ownership and accountability of their learning.

A thank you

Today is Sunday and I was working on a completely different blog post, that might or might not get done today. I stopped because I needed to cook dinner. A few minutes after I started, my tween-aged son came out of his room and declared that he was bored.  I remember stating the same thing to my Dad when I was his age, and he took me into the library, and I was lost in a world of fantasy forevermore (yes, I am known to spend an entire weekend reading…)

I did not suggest my son read, or learn to code, or dare say that boredom was a great stimulus for creativity. I simply suggested that he could help with dinner if he wanted. He disappeared towards his room, and I assumed I was cooking on my own. A few minutes later, he surprised me with clean hands asking what he should do.

We started with peeling potatoes. I let him choose which peeler he wanted and we quietly got on with it after a few anxious questions. The first was “Can I cut myself doing this?” stemmed from an intense fear of the sight of blood, and the second was “Am I doing this right?” stemmed from that desire to please. My response to this was “I’m left-handed and have learnt to do whatever works!” I then suggested that he could peel two carrots when he was done as I got on with other jobs.

Then, he surprised me further by asking if he could cut the carrots. He said that he had learnt to cut carrots at a community connections day at school. He had been involved in making soup for the homeless. This experience had a positive impact on my son. He learnt some life skills and more importantly, he learnt about empathy and making connections.

After that, he chose to add broccoli to our meal stating “and yes mum, I will eat some…” Next, he learnt how to cut broccoli, dice an onion, and asked if we could make Yorkshire Puddings, so we did. There was flour everywhere, broken eggs and spilt milk. I was thrilled to have a messy kitchen because he was learning from the experience and we were having a conversation.

So today, I find myself thankful for this one-on-one interaction with my son that led to some authentic learning. I am also thankful for his teachers. Thank you to all his teachers who support my son as he learns though every new experience. Sometimes as teachers we don’t know the true impact we have, so I wanted to take a few minutes to reach out and say thank you.



Who we are…as learners

We started our year with our IB PYP unit of inquiry, Who we are. The big idea behind the unit was to support our Kindergarteners to begin to understand who they are as learners to provide a strong foundation for them to take ownership of their learning.

Our provocation was based on the Pixar short film, Piper. You can read more about this in my previous post here. Next, we read Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andrae. As learners made connections between Gerald and Piper, they began to discover what good learners do and as a result, our learners began to understand how having a growth mindset supports learning.

As I observe and interact in the playground, I hear our kindergarten learners talk about how they are challenging themselves to climb to the highest point, or get across the monkey bars. I see them failing and trying again. I see them encouraging each other. I see them learning.

The next part of our unit was less successful. The plan was to learn about our learners’ passions and use this knowledge to inform guided inquiries. I think this fell apart for many reasons. First, we were (and still are) trying to figure out how we function together in our learning hub. We were trying to establish routines and we should have taken more time to do this with learner input, rather than making decisions for them.

Secondly, I think we were either too structured and should have had a more organic approach, or that we were not structured enough and we were trying to run before we could walk. To add to that, I think we were trying to cover too many concepts and skills, thus highlighting the need to develop our understanding of concept based inquiry.

Going forward, my role is not to control every aspect of learning. My role is to support learners as they lead their own learning. I can do this by helping them to develop an understanding of the process of learning as we learn, and I feel like documentation and making learning visible is going to be a key part of this process.

We have had many successes in our Kindergarten learning space, and while it is great to celebrate the great moments, I feel it is also important to share the challenges and fail forward, because this is where our own learning happens.  I shall continue to ‘risk and reflect’ to honor our learners.

Learner agency through Teacher Agency

Student agency has been a buzzword with educators for the last few years. As I look through definitions of the term I have found some commonalities:

  • giving students voice
  • giving students choice 
  • making learning relevant
  • students having an active role in learning
  • student have ownership

When I look at that last term of ownership, my focus shifts to learning. Therefore, I make a conscious effort to use the terms learner, not student and learning not student work.

Over the past two days I have had the amazing opportunity to learn about learner agency with Taryn BondClegg (@makingoodhumans), and have had many opportunities to reflect on my practice as an educator.  She structured our workshop learn about agency, by giving us agency. She has also ensured that she gives us the opportunity to unpick the why? how? and what? Taryn began by giving us time to connect and then self assess our understanding. We also generated our own success criteria for the session, because as long as we understood the why, the choice of how and what we learnt was ours.  As we were generating our success criteria for the two day, we were asked to share them as we were reminded that:

Learners should have accountability to themselves and their learning community.

After we developed our success criteria, we unpicked the why, how and what of documentation. Again, as long as we were clear on the purpose of documentation, the how and what we documented was our choice.


Before we chose our learning for the day we were asked to consider the following questions:

What do you need to learn about?

How best do you learn?

How much time do you need?

When do you need to take breaks?

How can you learn from one another?

This process supported us to reflect upon ourselves as learners, so that we could control and direct our own learning using the CAR model – choose, act, and reflect. Taryn has blogged about this process and you can find this post here.

Over the two days, I was reminded what it was like to be a learner. This was not a PD session where the vibe was ‘do as I say, not as I model.’ I felt engaged and energized throughout the learning. There were some issues I grappled with, and the conclusions I came to were my own, not answers given to me. I had to push myself outside of my comfort zone and my new learning was earned. I will say that as energized as I was, it was also intense and was very grateful that we did not have homework at the end of the day!

So, what were my big takeaways from learning about learner agency through agency?

The first idea isn’t new, it was just a great reminder. We can support our learners by building positive relationships with our families within our learning community by keeping them informed!

Agency will look different in each circumstance. We need to do what works for us in our situation. Learner agency builds up over time, so be wary of transplanting what works at another school. By all means, learn from others, share ideas and adapt them to make them workable for you.

The foundation for learner agency is learners developing self awareness of who they are as learners. Therefore, taking time to connect each morning and reflect at the end of each day is vital to supporting learners to move from one place to the next on their continuum of learning.

We can give learners agency through a cycle of risk and reflect. We should continually ask ourselves what we can do to give our learners voice, choice and ownership of their learning.

And finally, it is okay to start small, and so I did.

The next day was International Day at our school. We were exploring the theme of peace  and our team had planned to have learners do the same learning activity. Our plans changed. We began by exploring why we need peace. Then we generated ideas of how we could be peaceful. Finally, we developed a list of ideas to show what we could do to show our understanding of peace.  Some learners chose to play with peaceful intentions, other chose to build collaboratively.

Some chose to paint.

Others chose to write.

And some chose to use the app Draw and Tell to explain their thinking.

Before I finish today, I would like to thank Taryn, our administration and all the experts who took their time to share with us.

Finally, I ask you, what will you do to honor your learners to give them voice, choice and ownership over their learning?

Teach Like a Pirate – My Interpretation

Teach Like a Pirate – Increase Student Engagement, Boost Your Creativity, and Transform Your Life as an Educator by Dave Burgess (@daveburgess) is not a new book, yet it is still a relevant and engaging read for educators today. When first published, I remember the hype, but I was not in a place to join the pirate crew. I was about to embark on my own journey to rediscover my passion as an educator that led me back to Africa as an international teacher. Earlier this year, I found the book again as I delved into Twitter and its amazing network for educators. I committed to the decision to find out what it means to ‘teach like a pirate.’ #tlap

My first question was, ‘Why Pirates?’ The answer is twofold. First, it is a mnemonic for the pirate system and philosophy. Second, Burgess defines a pirate as follows:

“Pirates are daring, adventurous, and willing to set forth into unchartered territories with no guarantee of success.”

With this definition in mind, it is easy to see why many educators are joining the pirate crew as we look to shake up education to support our learners to thrive in an ever changing world.

Part I of the book is dedicated to explaining the pirate system and philosophy.

Burgess defines three types of passion. Incorporating passions into our teaching can be a source of motivation for both educators and learners.

Content Passion stems from the areas of curriculum that you are passionate about. When I think back to the subject areas I enjoyed in high school, I would say economics and history. Now my husband would laugh to hear this because I never remember any historical information, nor am particularly financially minded. However, in high school the content passion of my teachers rubbed off on me.

Professional Passion is the reason we become educators. As Burgess wisely surmised, we don’t always have content passion. At these times, we should focus on our professional passions.

Personal Passion doesn’t require a definition. Bringing our passions into our learning spaces means that we are teaching from our strengths and demonstrating to learners how following our passions can lead to learning.

“Your ability to completely give yourself up to the moment and fully ‘be’ with your students is an awesome and unmistakably powerful technique.”

Personally, I have always felt it important to model expectations for learners. If we want them to be fully engaged, then we need to be fully present. Burgess also notes that learners know when we are not truly present. He adds that through immersion, we don’t miss the ‘teachable moments’ because we are right there with them. He goes on to state that this is the ideal way to support struggling learners.

We all want to create an environment where our learners feel safe and valued, an environment where learners are willing to take risks and fail forward. It is paramount to know our learners and build those relationships; learners need to trust us and each other.

I too feel that this connection with our learners is integral to learning, and this is why I value our morning meetings. Following the Responsive Classroom (@responsiveclass) morning meeting structure helps us build our learning community and gives us an opportunity to start our day with a bit of fun through a variety of greetings, sharing, activities and morning messages.

This section of the pirate system and philosophy deals with creativity.

“Creativity is not the possession of some special class of artistic individuals, but is rather something that can be nurtured and developed in all of us – including your students!”

Burgess makes clear that creativity is developed through engaging in the creative process. “It is the process of consistently asking the right questions.” He goes on to add the importance of actively seeking answers. “Your brain won’t be happy until it has provided the answers.”

This reminded me of the process of diffused thinking. This is when you think of a problem and then relax and drift off. When you awaken, your brain has incubated ideas for focused thinking. This is explained better by Barbara Oakley (@barbaraoakley) in this video.

To take it further, I see Creative Problem Solving (CPS, #CreativeProblemSolving) as a way to transform learning experiences to both engage and empower learners. CPS approaches problems or challenges by developing new ideas following a process. The process begins with clarifying a problem to ask the right questions. Divergent thinking is used to generate ideas, and convergent thinking to evaluate and develop ideas. This leads to action or implementation. I look forward to sharing how I find ways to use CPS in education in future posts.

Transformation is about making learning irresistible to learners. To do this we need to know our learners and position and personalize learning to make it relevant. I think this ties in beautifully with learner agency, giving learners voice, choice and ownership of their learning.

Burgess suggests that if you only have one takeaway from this system, it is to ramp up the enthusiasm in your learning space. If you ‘act as if’ you are enthusiastic, you will begin to feel it. If that is not enough, “Make a conscious decision to focus on what empowers you.”

Bringing together passion and enthusiasm will make learning memorable. Last year, I has the opportunity to visit with my year 1 class from 2012. As they shared their memories with me, I was amazed by what they had retained. One asked me if I remembered what a cephalothorax was and others sang a dinosaur song I had forgotten. Neither spiders and dinosaurs are subject areas I am particularly passionate about, but I brought my professional passion, creativity and enthusiasm to our learning space, and made learning memorable.

Part II: Crafting Engaging Lessons

After outlining the pirate system and philosophy, Burgess moves onto the ‘How.’ He suggests working collaboratively to engage in the creative process to enhance the presentation of learning experiences. He shares a toolbox of strategies to energize lessons. He calls these hooks. They are questions designed to help you consider elements in your lessons. Burgess groups his hooks to incorporate different elements such as movement, art, music, drama and dance, STEM, props, suspense, etc.

“How can I harness the power of connecting my content to what students are already interested in?”

“Can they create something ‘real’ that will be more than a classroom project, but also allow them to interact with the world in an authentic way?”

“What types of essential questions can I ask that allow students the opportunity for personal reflection and growth?”

Again, I see the potential for using CPS tools in conjunction with Burgess’ hooks to promote engaging learning. To take it further, I would like to co-construct with learners to empower them.

Part III : Building a Better Pirate

In this final section, Burgess begins by asking:

“Do you want to be great?”

He suggests that great educators benefit learners and mediocrity fails to motivate learners. He then considers what holds us back:

  • The fear of failure
  • The belief that we need to have it all figured out before we begin
  • Paralyzing perfectionism
  • Lack of focus, or focusing on the insignificant
  • Fear of criticism or ridicule
  • Burgess makes three recommendations to overcome these barriers.
  • First, take action and overcome the inertia. Once you get started, the ball starts rolling.
  • Second, find a crew. Burgess advices you to grow your Professional Learning Network (#PLN.) Seek multiple perspectives, read widely, seek professional development, collaborate and reach out on social media.
  • Finally, share treasures. Reach out and share your experiences. #tlap
  • My Final Thoughts
  • As an educator who has lost and found my passion, faced criticism and struggled on my journey, there have been many takeaways from this book. Some of my own practice reflects the pirate system and I can see myself integrating more, especially as I look to give learners more autonomy. I am excited to join the pirate crew and strive for excellence.
  • “Striving for excellence and full engagement is about getting better. It’s about adapting, adjusting, and trying to tweak and improve everything you do.”

  • Lastly, I leave you with a visual hook. It’s unlikely to be an original idea as I’m sure others have created iMovie trailers, but after all this writing, I needed to play!

Images used in the video sourced from Pixabay.

Should you wish to see Dave Burgess in action, click on the photo below.


Burgess, D. (2012). Teach like a pirate: Increase student engagement, boost your creativity, and transform your life as an educator. San Diego, CA: Dave Burgess Consulting.