Lifelong Learning

American librarian, John Cotton Dana once said “Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”  This is one of the main things that has separated teaching from other profession’s for me – the need to be a lifelong learner if you want to be considered an expert.

“Who dares to teach must never cease to learn.”

I find learning to be exciting and challenging and the ability to transfer it into improved practice and outcomes is exhilarating.  This is also the case in school leadership.  As a school leader I believe it is even more imperative to be a lifelong learner – to embrace that being a professional  means you are continually improving.

With this in mind I sought a new learning challenge at the end of 2017.  I have toyed with the idea of completing my Masters but to be honest many of the Masters’ programs on offer didn’t entice me or I felt wouldn’t value add to what I did.  However, at the beginning of 2017 I was fortunate enough to be asked to provide feedback on a Micro Masters course for MIT – Launching Innovation in Schools and dipped my toe in University of Michigan’s Leading Ambitious Teaching and Learning course.

Late last year I saw an invite come through to undertake two of UM’s Micro Masters courses – Designing & Leading Learning Systems and Improvement Science in Education.  I have to admit I was apprehensive because in the past I have found online learning challenging.  I enjoy the social aspect of learning – conversations, discussion and feedback, however, have found that it can be missing when learning online.  It can be challenging to find the vested interest to allocate the time and energy needed to complete courses.  Anyway after some deliberation I decided to fork out some $$$ and enroll.

*I will be honest being a die-hard “Fab Five” (famous UM Basketball team) fan as a teenager did play a factor in enrolling.  Still holding out that UM might offer me a basketball scholarship…

I jumped into the first lesson of the Designing & Leading course and reached the task component that required you to form/join a team and complete a task related to the content.  It is at this point that my perception of online learning began to be transformed.  The “learning gods” must have been smiling down on me because I ended up forming a team with three educators from North America who were passionate, professional and personable.

Rather than communicate through online chats and discussion boards we organised a video hook-up through Google Meet and from our first discussion it was obvious that I had struck collaboration gold!  It was an added bonus that two members of the team were undertaking the post-graduate course and could elaborate and provide more depth on lesson topics.  We added an extra Aussie along the way and the Dream Team had been formed.

From there the collaboration, conversation and feedback flowed freely.  I knew from course outlines that the topics and content would be relevant but it was the team dialogue and collaborative development of weekly tasks that has proved invaluable.  My team has provided the motivation and inspiration to undertake the learning to ensure I make valuable contributions to the team .

At times when I am juggling work and home priorities it is the commitment to the team that pushes me to make time to complete the course work.  I have found it ironic that as I learn more about learning systems and improvement that our team has become it’s own system – an interdependent group of people and processes working together towards a common purpose.



Cultural Diversity – more important than ever!

Their laughter traveled across the water park as they chased each other in the shallows.  I watched my son from the distance encourage the other boy to continue the game.  They were about the same age, four years old, and obviously enjoyed similar games.

What was different was that each boy spoke a different language.  “H” fluent in English and this other boy who appeared to be of Middle Eastern decent spoke a different dialect.  Although the boys faced a language barrier they did not let it detract from their game.  As they continued their “super hero” game, the other boy’s mother came up to the water’s edge and watched the boys at play.  We both looked at each other and smiled.

In a World where it seems the media and politicians want to so often highlight our differences as a thing to fear, these boys could not care less.  It got me thinking – when do we start caring?  When do stereotypes start impacting us?

It got me thinking – when do we start caring? When do stereotypes start impacting us?

Leading Anti-Bias Educator, Lousie Derman Sparks, states in a lecture, to the UUA Assembly in 2012, that at around 6 years old we start exploring our self and group identity e.g. gender, cultural and racial.  At 8 years old we can identify and critically think about interpersonal dynamics of racism, sexism and classism, and how to interpret them. They understand scientific explanations for skin color and how individuals get their skin color. Understand nature and harm of stereotyping.  This understanding continues to grow and with it the impact of misinformation and stereotyping.

This impact was highlighted by recent comments from political leaders at home and abroad.  Peter Dutton, Australian Home Affairs Minister, declared that Melbourne residents were afraid to go out to restaurants because of African Gangs (Peter Dutton says Victorians scared to go out because of ‘African’ gang violence, The Guardian, Wed 3 Jan 2018).  The leader of the free World, Donald Trump, then decided to refer to African nations as “shitholes” (African Union, African UN envoys demand Trump apology, CNN Politics, Jan 13 2018).

Rather than put our hands up in the air, it should make our belief in the need for schools to combat this stereotyping and fear mongering, even stronger.  In my teaching career I have been fortunate to teach in schools where multiculturalism and diversity were celebrated.  My first permanent teaching position was in a school that at the time had students from around 82 different cultural backgrounds and over 57 different languages spoken at home.

What have these experiences taught me?  That often it is the adults that impose the stereotypical views and barriers upon young people.  Children have an amazing ability to see past differences, be it cultural, racial or socio-economical.  I have seen Vietnamese girls Greek dancing, African students singing traditional Maori songs and Caucasian kids understanding the meaning behind Aboriginal artworks.  I have seen friendships blossom oblivious to the cultural and social divides that may make it impossible to outside the school gate.  Children, families and colleagues have taught me not to tolerate cultural diversity but to embrace it.

As Thomas R. Hoerr explains in his book, The Formative Five: Fostering Grit, Empathy, and Other Success Skills, “Embracing diversity means understanding that we should recognise and appreciate the difference among us.  This attitude acknowledges our history of differences while empowering every person to succeed and enables all of us to come together in a caring, respectful, and productive way.”

“Embracing diversity means understanding that we should recognise and appreciate the difference among us.” ~ Thomas R. Hoerr

It is the easy option to use our differences to form negative stereotypes and judge others. As teachers we must challenge and support our students to not take the quick and simple option.  We understand that teaching children to embrace diversity can be challenging.  Hoerr explains why “teaching children to embrace diversity will be an uphill struggle because we are running counter to centuries of prejudice; we aren’t starting from zero.”

The struggle is worth it.  Through appreciating and embracing diversity  we are ensuring our students are tearing down the mountain that centuries of prejudice has created.

Just A Teacher Podcast: Episode 3 – Go into bat with Matt

In this episode of Just A Teacher Podcast, we are joined by Matt, a teacher with over 14 years experience, for what is an insightful and entertaining conversation.  Matt shares his experience of teaching in regional areas, the UK and metropolitian schools.  He discusses his passion for story-telling and how teaching brings out the best in him.

Teaching – The Universal Language

As part of Microsoft’s E2 Conference MIE Experts have had to take part in a team challenge.  I have learnt so much from taking part in the challenge but the biggest lesson I have learnt is that teaching is a universal language.

My team consisted of teachers from China, Japan, Canada, Argentina and Thailand.  Although we spoke different languages and came from different cultural backgrounds, something we all shared in common was a passion for teaching and learning.

A passion that allowed us to overcome the evident language and cultural barriers to collaborate and skilfully communicate to complete the challenge.  A challenge that required us to embrace a Hack Persona and then use the mindset of that persona to come up with a new addition to a Microsoft product.

Through completing the challenge I got to participate in many substantive conversations with my teammates about what they enjoyed about teaching, the challenges they faced and their visions for the future.  Conversations that confirmed  that across the globe teachers are making a difference.

My professional learning network now stretches to corners of the World that I never before envisioned.  For that I say a BIG thank you Microsoft!




Looking Through Green Coloured Glasses

Each Friday I take a group of Year 4 students and we focus on developing our persistence, resilience and confidence.  I thoroughly enjoy teaching the group as I have watched them develop a mindset that has more green thoughts than those that red.  Green thoughts mean we find the positives in the variety of situations we face and focus on them.

As an adult we can take it for granted that we can just do that – find and focus on the positives.  Two examples over the last few days have demonstrated to me that a positive mindset is something we continually have to work on.

“A positive mindset is something we continually have to work on.”


I was talking to one of our wonderful cleaners and during our conversation she mentioned how she couldn’t stop thinking about the Dream World tragedy and the unfortunate drowning of two children in a pool.  I agreed they were tragic accidents but we can’t allow our red thoughts to dominate.  I asked her what are some of the positives from the week, the green thoughts?  After a little deliberation she explained her son just got a job, her children were healthy and happy and to top it off she was getting her hair done tomorrow.  As I left for the night she exclaimed “Hey I really like the idea of green thoughts!”

We can have permission to have red thoughts but I think the issue is how long we let them dominate our thinking and ultimately our behaviour.  Recently an issue got brought to my attention and I went into full red thought mode!


My initial reaction was one of frustration and disappointment with a good dose of anger thrown in.  With the red thoughts dominating I was thinking irrationally – I’m going to send an email to address this right now (10pm at night) or pick up the phone and unload.  Actions that would probably have made me feel good in the interim but would have left me regretting my decisions in the long run.

“With the red thoughts dominating I was thinking irrationally.”

On the advice of my life coach aka wife, I decided to sleep on it.  With as good a sleep as you can have with a five month old baby, I reflected over a morning coffee on the issue and the red thoughts that were dominating my mindset.  I had taken the easy route by allowing negative thoughts to outnumber green.  When in fact, yes the issue was disappointing, but there had been many positives to come out of it.  I then realised if I continue to focus on feeding the positives and the people who have a positive impact then ultimately we will all be better off.

Looking at our world through green coloured glasses is something we continually have to work at.  Just like we work on our fitness, practice an instrument to get better, we must work on the skill of turning red thoughts into green ones.


Getting my ClassFlow on…

I was trawling through education blogs and I came across a link to a site called ClassFlow and thought that sounds interesting…

As I investigated further I thought this could be a great tool to use during my Mathematics extension classes.  A new way to deliver content for myself but also a new way of receiving content for students .  The assessment component also appealed to me.  The cherry on top was I could use my Office365 details to sign in!

Like I do with any new program I jumped straight in and started creating a lesson on the “Draw A Diagram” problem solving strategy.  One and a half hours later I had turned into the incredible tech hulk and was in a midst of tech rage.  For the sake of my laptop I walked away.  The next day I decided to watch the short video tutorials on YouTube and sign up for the ClassFlow support community and this helped me return to normal.  Why didn’t I do this at the beginning???

I finished my lesson in ClassFlow and it was now game time – implementing the lesson with my Year 3 students.  They were so eager to use the program and it was amazing to see how quickly they took to navigating the student site.  Their favourite feature of ClassFlow was completing the practice assessments I set.  They enjoyed the immediate feedback and ability to progress at their own speed.  The feature I liked most about the assessment tool was the data analysis feature.  It was easy to see who had answered the questions, correct responses and what their actual response was.

Needless to say we have been getting our ClassFlow on regularly…

Year 3 engaged in their Classflow lesson.  Make the hulk moments worth while.
Year 3 students engaged in their Classflow lesson. Makes the hulk moments worth while.