Switchboard Operator

Late last year, I conducted professional discussions with our teachers.  We reflected on the year, shared successes and discussed how we can continue to improve our school.  As part of these discussions I asked “How do you make your classroom a magnet?”  That is how do you make your classroom a place that students feel safe, supported and challenged in.  A space where they are willing to ask questions, take risks and collaborate with others.

It was during one of the conversations that a teacher referred to himself as a switchboard operator.  He said that to be able to create a classroom that was a magnet for learners he needed to be able to tap or tune into each student’s agenda.  He needed to know them each as an individual and know how to switch the learning on and make connections.

It was during one of the conversations that a teacher referred to himself as a switchboard operator

To put an educational spin on the notion of the “switchboard operator” – it is basically the need to differentiate.  As educators we are always considering the need to differentiate in the curriculum to meet the needs of our learners.  But how often do we plan how we will differentiate for the social and emotional needs of our learners?

Our students walk through the door with varying levels of confidence, resilience, and persistence and differing capabilities of getting along with staff and peers.   It is a challenge to meet the diverse range of social and emotional needs our students bring.

But we know that for children to be successful, to live positive lives then we need to tap into these needs and provide the environment, support, lessons and the role model that will allow them:

  • To develop positive friendship skills, social values and empathy;
  • To understand feelings, develop emotional awareness and coping skills.

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.


FOMO in Teaching

Each fortnight, we have a “New Teachers Lunch”.  The group doesn’t just consist of beginning teachers but is rather made up of new teachers to our Junior School so there is a range of experience and views.  We often have a theme or topic for the lunch and the latest was teacher well-being.

We discussed the all illusive work-life balance which led us to debating the benefits of social media and teaching.  There are many benefits to utilising social media to enhance teaching e.g. sharing ideas, resources and exemplars, but I believe there can be a negative that I haven’t really seen discussed: FOMO in teaching.

Definition of FOMO courtesy of Google:

1. anxiety that an exciting or interesting event may currently be happening elsewhere, often aroused by posts seen on a social media website.
“I realized I was a lifelong sufferer of FOMO”

So how does this relate to teaching?  Teachers are more connected than ever to teachers not only in their own school and professional learning communities but across the globe.  As mentioned this means they have  access to an endless stream of resources, ideas etc.  As a result this means we are comparing and evaluating our pedagogical practice, ideas and resources against this endless stream.

This can lead us to that feeling of “FOMO”


We fear we are missing out on a great resource, our students are missing out on an excellent lesson idea or our school is missing out on an innovative program.  Leading us to make unreasonable comparisons and chase that perfect lesson – there goes that “work-life balance”, not consolidate resources and ideas we have been incorporating as we replace them with the latest one we found on Pintrest and overload our pedagogical toolkit with new ideas and strategies.

So how do we deal with FOMO in teaching?  I found a blog listing 10 ways to overcome FOMO – https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/stronger-the-broken-places/201501/10-ways-overcome-fear-missing-out

Could these be applied to teaching?  Just looking at the first two strategies , I can definitely see how they apply to teaching – slow down and practice discernment.

Have you experienced FOMO in your teaching practice?  Can we come up with a better acronym than FOMO?




It Starts With Us

I have been reading an interesting text, Fostering Resilient Learners: Strategies for Creating a Trauma-Sensitive Classroom by Kristin Souers with Pete Hall.  I opened the book expecting to discover strategies and insights into supporting students who have experienced trauma not to be challenged to develop a greater self-awareness.

What does my own self-awareness have to do with creating a stable, consistent and safe environment for our students?  I want to help students not myself.  As I read on it started to become clearer the important, if not vital, role self-awareness plays in helping our students to be more successful in school.

How often do we become so focused on our students’ needs that we neglect our own?  I see it on a daily basis – teachers being selfless.  Giving up breaks to help students, devoting energy and time to develop resources and focusing thoughts and emotions on their students.  As teachers, our main driver is to help others, so we believe if we invest time in our own self-awareness we will be unsuccessful in achieving this primary goal.

As Souers highlights:

“Self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-love seem to distract us from our calling to help others.  Yet this is actually a short-sighted view that, in the end, will hamper us in our efforts to help our students.”

If we invest in our own physical, emotional and spiritual health not only are we looking after ourselves but our students also.  This investment will ensure we are physically, emotionally and spiritually prepared to invest energy, time and emotion into creating a learning environment that is positive, stable, consistent and safe.

How do you promote self-awareness in your school or workplace?


The Power of Yes

This blog was inspired by a tweet I posted during Mark Anderson’s thought provoking keynote address at the Teach Tech Play Conference.  Mark discussed how we need to trust our students when they approach us with an idea or a question they are seeking answers to.  We need to trust them by saying YES.

Mark, shared the story of a student in Brighton, England.  Students basically had been set the task of creating an information report about their city or something close to that.  One student, Caleb Yule, asked his teacher if he could create a photographic representation of Brighton.  At this point Caleb’s teacher could provide him with one of two responses: No, that sounds like it would be too difficult or Yes, it will be challenging but give it a crack.

I’m glad his teacher said YES

This also made me reflect on highlights from Eleni Kyritsis’ Genius Hour session.  During the session Eleni shared the story of how one her students had created and programmed a robot that would “destroy” things and Dean Kuran shared how a group of boys during their Genius Hour are investigating the “breakability” of things.  Their students are engaged, motivated and thinking.  What if they had said no to their students ideas?

Kurt Challinor, Director of Centre for Deeper Learning at Parramatta Marist, shared a student’s achievement with me on a recent visit.  Students had to create an artificial hand using the 3-D printer then program the hand to move.  One student wanted to take it a step further and create a voice activated hand. Even though teachers questioned if he would be successful in his ambitious quest they provided the green light and you know the rest…a voice activated hand was created by a high school student.

These examples of educators trusting their students and saying YES made me contemplate the reasons why we say no.  Are we projecting our own limitations onto students?  Are we afraid are students may fail and we’re not sure how to manage that and what that means for us as teachers?

In Michael Thornton’s blog post Creating Space for Risk he outlines even though risk-taking is an important ingredient in  learning it is often the thing least evident in schools.

“People shy away from risks because they fear failure — but what’s so bad about failing? Some of the greatest moments of understanding happen after we’ve “failed.” Viewing failure as a typical aspect of the learning process allows a learner to appreciate the need for risks”

It is therefore key in my role as a leader that I ensure that teachers have the understanding, skills and most importantly the confidence to say YES and allow their students to take risks in their learning.  This will most likely mean I will need to say YES to teachers to take their own risks in pedagogy and programs.



This Critter isn’t scary…

Over the last three weeks I have been exploring RedCritter.  No it’s not a creature I found in the courtyard but rather an online positive behaviour reward system.  This is something I have been looking at implementing in the Junior School for quite sometime.  My wish list for an online positive behaviour reward system is:

  • Align with current Student Enhancement Program and positive behaviour initiatives
  • Be engaging and interactive for all members of school community – teachers, students and parents
  • Provide data to monitor positive behaviour, classroom management and ultimately improve student outcomes.
  • Strengthen partnerships with families
  • Easy to administer and maintain

We currently have a number of excellent positive reward systems that both teachers and students are engaging with.  So this brings me to my biggest challenge or rather biggest question – will my colleagues see the value in using RedCritter that I do?

From this question comes my challenge – getting “buy in” or developing the shared vision.  Getting teachers to share my excitement in bringing our already excellent reward system into the 21st century, getting teachers to see rather than more work this will hopefully lead to a more streamlined approach, and hopefully get them to respond with a little bit of wonderment and awe.

Over the last week I have changed the trial model a number of times as I learn more about RedCritter.  Once we have the “buy in” the aim is to trial the system with Years 3-6.  The main actions of the trial will be:

  • Identify key features that we want to focus on during trial
  • Provide initial and ongoing professional development to teaching staff
  • Use usage data to monitor weekly engagement with system at a student, teacher and parent level.
  • Midway through trial gather feedback on strengths, weaknesses and most importantly opportunities of the system.
  • Provide feedback to developers to enable any identified opportunities and/or weaknesses to be addressed.
  • At conclusion of trial provide detailed report to Senior Executive on engagement with program and feedback.

So wish me luck…I don’t need luck!

I’ll keep you posted on how we are going…

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.