Monthly Archives: September 2011

Planets, Penguins and Pirates…

Thanks to Mr Steve Rees and the staff of Evenlode Primary School, Penarth for co-designing, co-delivering, and ‘co-llaborating’ this week.

Could Mr Cuff’s Year 5 learners research, prepare and present essential information, about all the planets in our Solar System, to interested aliens from Devolene (yes…it’s an anagram of Evenlode…what a coincidence!)…in 50 minutes? Yes they could! They were able to delegate tasks to group members – some researching, some preparing presentation materials. They felt they owed their success to helping each other (if they were stuck or had too much to do) and didn’t waste time arguing.

Mrs Hayley Hodgkins’ Year 4 class have been finding out about the Antarctic – hence the penguins! They have just read about Ernest Shackleton‘s incredible feat of survival and the difficult decisions he had to make. However, under pressure of time, could their groups come to a consensus about which 5 items would best aid their survival, in polar conditions,..from a selection of over 20! Yes! They could! There were some fantastic discussions and reasoning (…a torch would have more uses than a mirror because…). Creative and critical thinking, decision making were all in evidence and demonstrated in an environment of respect for differing opinions. ‘We listened to each others ideas and thought about them. We didn’t always agree. Once, we got really stuck, so we used scissors/paper rock!’ 🙂


Avast! I spy Year 2 on the port side. Buckles were definitely being swashed in Foundation Phase with Miss Kirsty Mainwaring, Mrs Jo Roberts and Mrs Emma Thomas! Could Year 2 help Professor Jones* from the Museum to create  child-friendly displays about Pirates  – in an afternoon? Yes they could! And, what’s more, they used their checklists to make sure their displays were complete. One efficient group put dots against criteria to show ‘work-in-progress’, which then became a ‘tick’ when the job was done! In small groups, children demonstrated creative thinking and organisational skills.

If the purpose of school is to prepare children for a specific future that we cannot imagine, then they are going to need skills that will give them the best opportunity to lead successful lives in a world of rapid change. They will only develop these skills if they are given the opportunity to acquire and refine them in real life situations (or scenarios which reflect life). They need the opportunity to collaborate with others and experience all the ‘problems’, ‘positives’ and ‘potentials’ that interdependence brings. They need opportunity to reflect on these experiences and discuss them in a ‘safe’ environment. The earlier learners begin to experience and use tools and strategies, in order to solve problems, the more likely they will be to develop a confident approach to solving all sorts real life problems.

Children at Evenlode Primary School are well on their way to developing skills for their futures. No matter how advanced technology becomes we will still need creative and critical thinkers, decision makers, organisers and effective communicators to solve not only the everyday problems but the problems that, at the moment, we cannot imagine.

*Professor Jones was Lynne in disguise…where did Mr Rees find that mortarboard and gown?

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Filed under Coaching, Designing for Learning, Early Years, Education, Embedded CPD, Formative Assessment, Learning, Primary, Problem-Based Learning, Teaching

From The Heart: A Personal Reflection on TEDx London 2011

I have just challenged myself to give a one-word response to the event. My gut response is PASSION. Everyone who spoke or performed, did so with a genuine desire to share something they whole-heartedly believed in. Whether it was the students, the musicians, the techies, the teachers, the entrepreneurs or the organisers, each speaker talked about making education relevant, interesting and personal. The clarion call to ‘Bring on the Education Revolution’ was echoed again and again. And we – because we are that way inclined – felt a euphoria and a great sense of expectation. Twitter was going beserk…but amongst the proclamations were a few tweets that were perceived as ‘negative’. 

However, these ‘negative’ tweets merely voiced a nagging uneasiness that I was feeling beneath the euphoria. Several speakers had targeted teachers and schools for failing to inspire and develop young people and I think this is when my ‘fairness’ alarm was triggered.

Some practitioners have the fortune to work in settings or areas which encourage them to take risks, be creative, be reflective and hone their craft. It encourages them to model the very attributes it would like learners to develop. This does not mean they do not operate without rigour.  ‘Results’ are achieved but as a by-product of real learning.

However, many practitioners have to operate in a climate of fear, created by systems and structures imposed upon them by ‘powers’ who have very little understanding about ‘learning’ but require ‘test scores’. Many practitioners have to achieve required results by methods that they do not believe in because they are in a ‘survival’ mode. The mental image I have is someone who is bound and gagged being thrown into an empty swimming-pool  and whilst they are in mid-air being told to ‘Swim!’ Tests measure things that are ‘easy’ to test (and mark). They do NOT necessarily measure what is important.

I am not against monitoring the quality of learning and teaching. I am not against rigour (although that particular word conjures up jack-boots, for me!). I am against a ‘culture of testing’ being imposed by ‘powers’, whose implementation is having the effect of suffocating the very same qualities those ‘powers’ would like to see growing.

Yes, some people are lazy, some are not good at their job, some lack relevant interpersonal skills, some are boring and some are just… not very nice. Some people. And some of those people are in education. They are also in every other profession and walk of life, everywhere on the planet.

Yet, it is educators, who, time and again, are used by successive governments, as scapegoats for society’s ills. The education system is only one cog in complex socio-economic machinery but it is an easy target for politicians and policy-makers.

I do not believe that any practitioner enters the teaching profession with the intention of failing their learners or themselves. They do not enter the profession with the intent of boring their learners or destroying self-esteem. Most are passionate about learning. Some are passionate about a specific subject and wish to share that passion and ignite it in others. Some want to give learners the tools to build a positive life and a better society. Some want to emulate their own inspiring or empowering teachers. 

I believe that most practitioners are doing the best job they can, many in settings with limited resources (human and material), lack of CPD opportunity or pastoral support. They may have co-workers who have, over time, become bitter, cynical or antagonistic. They do not need the burden of more misdirected blame – like punishing the class for the behaviour of the few!

If there is ever going to be a real Education Revolution it will need to happen at grass-roots level(individual practitioners, parents, communities) AND at a strategic level (remember ‘and’ not ‘versus’ – Ken Spours).  Practitioners need to be given real support, training, time and ‘permission’ to grow. Practitioners need to be allowed to take ownership of their profession. Practitioners must be allowed to be learners and not forced to abandon new pedagogies at the first sign of ‘failure’. That is the hypocrisy that exists in many educational establishments. 

Practitioners need to feel that their passion for learning and for the development of their learners is genuinely respected. They need to feel valued as members of the community and supported by that community. I believe that will only happen when we have a ‘revolution’ in the values of our society. 

UBUNTU. That is the other word I took from the day (thank you Geoff Stead). ‘I am me because of us’. Teachers are only part of the influential ‘us’. Media which promote the values of ‘conflict’ above collaboration, ‘celebrity’ before ‘community’ and ‘image’ before ‘imagination’ are also part of that ‘us’. I suspect they are having a stronger influence…

We would like to acknowledge and salute all those practitioners in restrictive regimes, who, on a daily basis, commit small acts of ‘revolution’ and continue to make learning engaging, fun, and fair; who promote independence AND interdependence; who provide opportunities for self-esteem and self-efficacy to grow;  and, who continue to see themselves as learners in their learning communities.

More about our day at TEDx London – website page.


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Filed under Education, Learning, Passion, Primary, Secondary, Teaching, Values

Acts of Kindness…

Meet Laura Potter and her coach, Kevin Davies. Laura had just begun her first year at the Centenary College of New Jersey, when disaster hit her home town of Gilboa. (We have previously blogged about the impact of Hurricane Irene on the area and the return of the students to school.)

Hurricane Irene

Image via Wikipedia

The ‘Rebuild Gilboa’ campaign began almost immediately, co-ordinated by Pete Agostinello. Donations began to arrive. People stepped up to help in whatever way they could – monetary donations, sharing food, taking in neighbours who had lost their homes, sending messages of support, spreading the word about the campaign, helping to rebuild homes and roads.

Laura wanted to take an active role in supporting her hometown and other areas affected by the hurricane. With the help of her coach, she decided to collect supplies that could be taken directly to those who needed it most. Together they sent out a request to the parents of the students on her team, the other coaches and professors at the school to bring donations of clothing, school supplies, and other necessities. Laura had flyers made and posted them around the college. She also enlisted the help of the director of community service.

Laura’s family borrowed a van to pick up all of the donations made to Laura. Several trips were made. Laura’s mother, Karen, said she “was particularly touched by two freshmen boys who went to Walmart and bought food to send up”.

Laura didn’t stop there. She also set up a donation table in the cafeteria and, for two days, Laura collected monetary donations from the students. They donated lots of dollar bills and quarters. A group of future teachers contacted Laura and want to do something as a class. They have now contacted Karen and will be buying Teddy bears for the children affected by the storm.

We know Laura Potter and her family. We have met them during each of our visits to Gilboa. We haven’t met her coach, Kevin Davies, yet strangely there is a connection as his home town is about 20 miles away from us in South Wales, UK. Diolch, Kevin. Thank you, Laura. I am sure we say that on behalf of all the people you have supported in Gilboa.

This is one story of one student who decided to embark on an act of kindness to help others in need. There are many, many other stories.

Random acts of kindness – however big or small – can be committed by anyone…for anyone… anywhere. So what will be yours today?

(We really like this book – ‘Random Acts of Kindness – 365 ways to make the world a nicer place’ by Danny Wallace)

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Filed under Community Learning, Values

TEDx London: The Education Revolution 2011

Tomorrow, we will be leaving early to attend the TEDx London event. It has been organised in response to Sir Ken Robinson’s talk – ‘Bring on the Learning Revolution’ (see clip below from 2010). The whole day will be full of inspirational speakers and attendees talking about turning ideas into action.

We will be posting regular live updates on Twitter…

…and we have created a special TEDx page on our website to host our thoughts and live twitter feed.

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Filed under Creativity, Designing for Learning, Education, Explore, Learning, Passion, Potential, Values

First day of school for Gilboa-Conesville students…

Yesterday was the first day back at school for the students following the devastation caused by Hurricane Irene. This is really a story of a local community coming together to support each other…and a far wider community making donations through carefully organised campaigns.

We are really impressed with how everyone has risen to the challenge and supported each other during the last few weeks.

We hope to see you all soon.

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Filed under Community Learning, Education

Two Superb Days in Class…

A huge thank you to Vicky Jenkins-Delf and her class of 9-11 year olds in Miskin Primary School. They welcomed us into their learning community for the last 2 days and made us feel like we really belonged! The 2 days were full of activities from community builders, line-ups, quality question carousels, whole class problem solving to cross a minefield, singing, reflecting honestly, connecting, learning, laughing, supporting and making discoveries about yourself and others. A class with 75% boys, 25% girls – all of whom were full of ideas, enthusiasm and character! Andrew’s opening line ‘So boys, what have you done with all the girls?’ – the quick response back ‘taken over their bodies and turned them into boys like us, of course!’.

We handed the camera over to the class – there were no arguments. They distributed it fairly amongst them over the 2 days. They captured learning moments…including us (not all flattering!!) and loved the photofeedback. More photos to come showing the children in action – as soon as we receive permission slips.

The class told us that they thought the top 4 things a teacher should be like is – kind, thoughtful, responsible and reliable. And they told us that Vicky was like this…but even better because she made them laugh too! To watch a class want to continue learning when the playtime bell went…you know that something special is going on in their community. It is a class that engages with enthusiasm and is not scared to be honest in their responses. It is a real class with real kids and real learning moments – so not everything goes right all the time. But what went right is that they were willing to debrief moments honestly and everyone always came back to thinking about making thoughtful choices and being fair with everyone in the room.

The 2 days completely reinforced what we believe in about learning and community…and why we have chosen to do what we do. It was a complete pleasure to spend the last 2 days in their class…and in the words of one of the boys…this class certainly seemed to have ‘bigger, more brains’ when solving problems than some of us adults!

We loved our time with you all!

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Filed under Coaching, Community Learning, Designing for Learning, Education, Embedded CPD, Experiential Learning, Primary, Problem-Based Learning, Quality Learning, Reflective Learning, Values

Two Days of Community, Learning, Laughter and Concentration…

Thank you to all at Henllys CIW Primary School for the last two days. Moments of hilarity, many thoughtful comments, and periods of intense concentration were balanced with a welcoming atmosphere, a willingness to ‘have a go’ and an exploration of learning.


We are looking forward to returning for the twilight sessions! Hope your first day back with the children has gone well…

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Filed under Designing for Learning, Education, Primary

Foundation Phase in Wales

It is a relief to hear Leighton Andrews (Education Minister in Wales) celebrate the successful roll out of the Foundation Phase for all children aged 3-7 years in Wales. The full article can be found at .


We very much believe in the principles of the Foundation Phase and the opportunity it offers our young learners. From a personal experience, I saw the impact it had on the learners in my class – the increased motivation, engagement, confidence, learners leading the learning, independence and interdependence.

A carefully designed ‘Foundation Phase’ experience has the ability to make a positive impact on every child. Lets hope it is here to stay!

For more information on the Foundation Phase and the training we offer on the implementation of it in settings, please email

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Filed under Early Years, Education, Teaching

Rebuilding Gilboa-Conesville…

Many of you know Pete and Jane Fox. They have been good friends of ours for many years and are still very much involved in Single Steps Learning. 

They are now working tirelessly alongside other residents to help the community of Gilboa-Conesville following the devastation of Hurricane Irene.

The news clip shows some of the residents talking about their experiences, and also Pete talking about the school and arrangements to help support the students.

More information can also be found at…

If you have a way of offering support but are unsure how to contact the school/community, please email us at  and we will be able to pass on any information.

Information about making donations to the REBUILD GILBOA fund has been posted on our Single Steps Learning facebook page –


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A super start to the academic year…

We thoroughly enjoyed our day in Tondu Primary School. There was a lot of laughter, a lot of thinking, a lot of reflection and a lot of thoughtful connections being made by a dedicated staff of professionals.


Amongst the many experiences of the day, we took a look at this quote from Will Ryan’s book ‘Inspirational Teachers, Inspirational Learners’:

Community was at the heart of the day. There was a real sense of ‘playfulness’ and ‘seriousness’.


Thank you to all who took part.

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Filed under Community Learning, Designing for Learning, Education, Passion, Potential, Primary, Reflective Learning, Values