Category Archives: Coaching

Die Hard…Or Not At All

Die Hard…Or Not At All

We have both lived in our small home town for 12  years. There is one route through the centre. After the first 3 years, the local council changed the road markings at a junction. You no longer had to make a right turn in order to exit the town, you just had to continue. You still drove on exactly the same roads but there was no longer a need to signal.

However, despite the fact that this change was made 9 years ago, both of us automatically signal a right turn as we approach the former junction...unless we make a conscious effort not to do so. We are not the only ones. I frequently follow drivers who signal needlessly at this junction and a knowing smile of empathy appears on my face. Old habits die hard…or, in this case, not at all.

The original pattern of neural pathways that must be triggered when approaching this junction seems deeply and irreversibly ingrained.  The flow of neural information needs to be consciously re-routed each time. This got me thinking about pedagogy, (sad but true), particularly ‘effective questioning’. Read on…

Image 1 - Version 2There is a place for ‘lower-order’ recall questions but I have been in many classrooms and settings where they are the only type of question posed to learners. Sometimes, it is just a straightforward ‘Who was Henry VIII’s second wife?’.

Sometimes, it’s the ‘finish my sentence’ variety, ‘…and the day after Tuesday is…is….hands up…anyone?’’

Then there is the ‘guess what’s in my head’ question – a recall disguised as a higher-order question – ‘How can we use Pythagoras’s Theorem in real life?…C’mon…you should know the answer…I told you last week!

Encouraging learners to engage in higher-order thinking, beyond recall, requires ‘thoughtful’ questioning from the practitioner. Of course, many of you reading this may have attended courses on ‘Effective Questioning’, ‘Higher-Order Thinking Skills’, ‘Bloom’s Taxonomy’ and ‘Revised Bloom’s Taxonomy’! You may have walked away with handouts of ‘levels’, ‘question starters’, etc. etc. You may even have walked away with inspiration and good intentions!

Despite the best efforts of your course presenter/trainer, it is unlikely that you walked away with a new, deeply-ingrained pattern of neural connections – unless, of course, your trainer was Derren Brown! Your automatic, habitual style of questioning is probably deeply and irreversibly(?) engrained. Effective questioning, one of the pillars of formative assessment, may not come naturally to you. Eek! What to do?

Speaking personally, I was educated and ‘trained’ in the traditional recall style. This was the pattern that I heard from my teachers and to which I responded. It is no effort for me to emulate them and think of recall questions. However, when I started to think about how I could engage my learners with ‘better’ questions, I found myself quite challenged. It was not as easy as simply following a ‘starter’ pattern listed on a handout. But, like most skills, the more I practised and experimented with formulating ‘thinking’ questions, the more comfortable I became with the process…and the results.

However, I can still slip into the habit of closed answer or recall questions, especially in a potentially stressful situation. The old neural patterns kick in and I have to consciously over-ride them.

Many moons ago, after attending a ‘thinking skills’ course, I scoffed at the idea of preparing questions in advance of a lesson, believing that any educator worth their salt would be able to create questions as needed. Since then, I’ve reassessed that view. I have always invested time and effort into preparing physical resources. Effective questions are a powerful resource. It seems strange to me now that I baulked at the idea of preparing questions to deeply engage learners with their learning. I can forgive myself because it was not part of my original training as an educator and thankfully, experience has been a wise and challenging mentor.

The good news is that by putting in the effort to design effective questions we are engaging and exercising our own grey matter in higher-order thinking activities…and I like it when educators actually model the skills they want to develop in their learners, instead of blindly following a commercially produced script. They call it integrity…I think. 🙂

OK. So, old habits die hard (…or not at all) because we may be up against forces at a molecular biology level – myelination and the like! That is forgivable. Knowlingly condemning learners to day after day of ‘Guess what’s in my head?’ is not. I echo this sentiment for every aspect of education where educators resist developing their own pedagogy because they believe they are ‘too set in their ways’. If we are are in the business of learning we need to be model learners…and sometimes we need to unlearn…and sometimes that can be tough…but in the words of John McLane “Yippee-ki-yay [ inset plural noun of your choice ]..!

For those of you who like/need to know this stuff…

*The image used  is a portion Sylvester (The 7th Doctor) McCoy’s costume from The ‘Dr Who Experience’, Cardiff.

** ‘Yippee-ki-yay + expletive’ is the character John McLane’s catchphrase, in the ‘Die Hard’ movies…when he leaps into action and violently destroys the bad guys/gals.

 

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‘Village’ People…

(…or Consciously Creating Community)

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I grew up in a city in the 1960s. A network of terraced houses built in the 1800s to accommodate the local docks’ workers. Grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins lived a few streets or a short bus ride away. Front doors were frequently left unlocked. There was a butcher’s at the end of the street, a bakery on the corner of the next. My great aunt and uncle owned the local grocery (one of the few family members who were self-employed). We had a Post Office, a pharmacy (‘chemist’s’), a fish’n’chip shop, a cafe, a newsagent’s, a sweet shop and one of those small shops that defies categorisation, selling an odd assortment of bric-a-brac, toys, ironmongery, and textiles. If it had been 19th century USA it would probably have been labelled the ‘General Store’. There was even a small ‘dairy’ – no cows, just a distribution point for the local milkman to collect full milk bottles and deposit the ‘empties’.  All this within five minutes walk of my house. It was a ‘village’ within a city. Half a mile away there was another ‘village’ replicating the variety of shops.

As a toddler, shopping with my mother or grandmother could be interminable. Progress from shop to shop could be slow, as neighbours, acquaintances, and family members randomly met and exchanged news and gossip. Shopping for a neighbour or family member was not unusual. If it rained while you were out shopping, a neighbour would take your washing off the line and put it inside your back door.

Many of my grandparents’ generation lacked formal education, having left school at 14 in order to assist or solely support their families. They valued education and its potential rewards, encouraging their children to aspire to careers beyond the skilled or unskilled manual labour of the docks.

Consequently, family members of my parents’ generation gained a few academic or specialised qualifications. Changing their ‘collar’ colour from blue to white. With greater earning capacity and a wider choice of job opportunities, they left the ‘village’ and began to populate suburbia or more distant population centres. Some emigrated to new continents.

The family homes which had seemed like a busy network of bee-hives, with their constant to-ing and fro-ing between them, became quiet except for ‘celebration’ days or holidays. The telephone became the substitute for face-to-face interaction.

I am a child of the ‘diaspora’. My first cousins are scattered around the globe. The nearest member of my family lives 25 miles away.

The ‘village’ had its negatives as well as its positives. Those that didn’t conform could be shunned, bullied and belittled. They were not necessarily undermining the community, they were often expressing their individuality. You could be gossiped about for wearing clothes that were ‘too loud’ or having ‘ideas above your station’. For some, leaving the ‘village’ was  a liberating experience, essential for their personal growth and well-being. Be assured, I am not idealising. The ‘village’ had its fair share of ‘ne’er-do-wells’, rogues and a criminal element. In addition, maintaining a degree of privacy could be viewed as suspiciously secretive or exclusive.

What’s my point? Where am I going with this?

OK. In the ‘village’, the process of building and maintaining community required a minimum of effort. You could avoid it if you really tried but otherwise it just ‘happened’. The historical/geographical context governed the degree of interaction. Families and neighbours facing similar ‘struggles’ could and would empathise with each other. They would offer support, share resources and seek solutions. If you destroyed trust, the repercussions could last a lifetime (or two)!

In the strive for individualism and independence, have we lost that real sense of interdependence and kinship? How much would you really sacrifice for a suburban neighbour or co-worker who may be there one moment and gone the next? As we have become more ‘mobile’, both work and personal relationships may have a greater sense of ‘impermanence’. Also, if someone destroys trust, they may not have to live with the consequences for too long.

Building classroom communities requires deliberate and sustained effort. The values, attitudes, skills and knowledge to build a healthy community have to be internalised by learners who may not have had the experience of growing up in a ‘village’. The ethos and climate of classrooms cannot be solely dependent on the charisma, mood swings or dictats of the teacher/educator. At the other extreme, empowering learners does not mean allowing ‘jungle law’ to develop.

In a world seemingly driven by mobility and material acquisition, there is an even greater need to acquire ‘values’ which value people and embrace diversity; which value skills needed to develop emotional intelligence and collaboration;  and values which build and maintain community.

While I abhor the abuse of social network media, from a personal point of view, the recent advances in this type of technology has enabled my family ‘diaspora’ to begin a process of reconnection and the rekindling of a sense of kinship. A virtual ‘village’.

We are social animals. We are interdependent. And, while we pursue political or educational policies which promote hierarchy and the selfish individualism of a dog-eat-dog society, we merely serve to widen divisions and ignore our collective responsibility for the well-being of all.

Getting the balance right means that we not only provide opportunity for and tolerance of a diversity of individual aspirations and beliefs but also a sense of responsibility for and contribution to the community, which is dynamic and ever-changing. This is real lifelong learning. And, when individuals feel secure and valued, they develop greater motivation and confidence to take risks and explore their potential.

 

For more thoughts on building and maintaining community see  our previous post ‘All hours, all weathers.’

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‘Quality’ time…?

It has really hit home this weekend how important it is to stop, reflect, recharge the batteries and be kind to oneself. Even if it seems inwardly selfish. A sense of self-survival and self-nuturing is necessary. All too often we get caught up in life, in work, in school, in pressures…and all too often we forget to give ourselves the basics that will ensure we can keep aiming for quality.

Life has been busy for the last 3 months. Work has been busy. We haven’t forced blogs. We didn’t want to force ourselves into writing when we were tired. We didn’t want to ‘find something’ to write about – a ‘forced subject’. We didn’t want to take our focus away from the people we were working with to fit in time to ‘blog’. That would not have resonated with our souls.

We are currently doing lots of thinking about the world of ‘online’ connectivity. The potential 24/7. The potential of a tool for learning and connecting. The potential of it adding quality. The potential of it destroying quality. And striking that balance.

Quality is going to be the focus of the next few blogs. This blog begins with a recognition that we all need to give ourselves time to reflect and recharge our batteries in order to be able to aim for quality. We found a place to do that this weekend. And we valued it.

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Cap’n’s Blog. Aaarrr-date 30.01.12

Ahoy there shipmates! . I have pledged Cap’n Williams to make this entry in the blog ‘fore the sun sets…otherwise I have to forego my ration of grog! No Blog, No Grog!

‘Twas a blustery afternoon when we weighed anchor in Bernadette Brandsma’s Primary 2/3 Class in St Mary’s RC Primary School, Bannockburn.

We were a wee bit late (as we had become becalmed at Sprinkerse Industrial Estate), so we slipped into the back of the classroom quick smart, as the children were reviewing their previous learning, which, by now you will have guessed was about….Pilates! Oops…sorry…that should be Pirates…how could I forget the ‘arrrrrrrrr’!

Well learning-lubbers, what a collaborative crew, to be sure! The children worked in teams on a carousel of activities – identifying and labelling parts of a pirate ship; a pirate code of conduct; and job descriptions for the crew members.

As we we wandered around the deck, we witnessed brainstorming and recording of ideas, discussion and decision-making. We chatted with the crew, who were all thoroughly engaged with their ‘dooties’ but politely and knowledgeably enlightened us. They all knew their roles and one young bosun even gave me a quick tour of the cabin…er…classroom.

Then, just as we had gained out ‘sea-legs’ it was time to put into port. But wait…what’s this…the crew mutinied and wouldn’t disembark. They wanted to show us their treasure!!!

Quality Learning

The children had made their own treasure chests filled with ‘valuables’. They wanted to explain the personal significance of the precious contents – pictures, small toys etc. It was very touching and we felt privileged to experience such enthusiasm and engagement.

Thank you to Bernadette and the whole ‘crew’ of St Mary’s for a wonderful afternoon…but particularly the amnesty from a flogging for our tardiness!

But that’s not the end of our yarn…with course charted (sat-nav) and a fair wind in our sails we headed for Linlithgow and the company of our good friend Maria, who had just celebrated her ??th birthday and is now a fully qualified instructor of Pirates…oops….sorry, I meant Pilates. Congratulations Maria. Avast! Yo,ho,ho and a bottle of rum…or in Lynne’s case, Pinot Grigio!

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Sign Language

During our recent travels, I have noticed that the large, black, motorway information boards appear to display messages in a ‘tone’ which is specific to the area of Great Britain in which we are travelling.

Scottish signs ask searching questions: ‘Have you checked your tyre pressures?’ ‘Do your child seats meet safety standards?’ 

English signs tend to be factual and informative ‘No fuel at next services’ ‘J18 – J20 Congestion.’ ‘J4a…20 min’

Welsh signs. Hmmm. The nicest way I can put this (and I speak as someone who was born in and continues to live in the ‘Principality’) – Welsh signs tend to state the obvious (in two languages) and are no help whatsoever. For instance, as you push through a bank of fog, the sign emerges with its illuminated letters spelling the words ‘Beware Fog’. Or, during torrential rain you will be informed ‘Surface Water On Road’ – to which my immediate response is usually the worst kind of sarcasm. 

On Saturday, after driving 380 miles through snow, slush, sleet and flood – I paid my £6 Wales entrance fee, at the Severn Crossing toll-booth, and continued West along the M4. It was dark, raining, the air temperature outside was 1 degree Celsius.  The first sign displayed the message – ‘Bad Driving Conditions’. I could feel the Basil Fawlty in me beginning to awaken…

So, as practitioners, who are trying to guide and empower learners, the language we use is very important. Do we ask genuinely effective questions in which the learner becomes an active participant in their own learning? Do we only inform, making the learner a passive recipient? Or, do we frustrate the learner by telling them something which they already understand and is no help whatsoever?

At this point, I wish to make it very clear that I am in no way inferring that the motorway signs are representative of a ‘national teaching style’. 

However, we only have one motorway in Wales – the Welsh bit of the M4. So c’mon boys! Get some ‘tidy’ messages up there…or are you just ‘’avin a larff,like’!

PS Finally…my favourite. 

Twilight…the M4…England, between Swindon and Reading. The message reads…‘SIGN NOT IN USE’. Oh, the delicious irony.

PPS Would have been even better if it had read ‘Do not read this sign’.


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GoodbiWeb

Here we are in the Apple store, Cardiff…wondering who is going to host our website after the demise of MobileMe in July 2012. We are furrowing our brows as we hear that iWeb is going to be discontinued. We have invested a lot of time into getting the site ‘just how we like it’ and Lynne has developed new ‘designer skills’. Time to take a few more steps…

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Embedded CPD in Evenlode Primary

Headteacher, Steve Rees, couldn’t wait to model the glasses made by the Year 1 children in Evenlode Primary. The children were quick to remind everyone that the glasses were made for the Giant in ‘Jack and the Beanstalk’, so, unfortunately for Steve, he was not allowed to keep them!

 

During the past year, we have supported CPD in the school in a variety of ways: designing and delivering training, co-planning, co-teaching and co-learning alongside the staff and children. We have always received a warm welcome, along with an enthusiasm to discuss learning and explore methods of implementation. (On this visit, a Year 1 child asked why I had a visitor’s badge, commenting ‘You are not really a visitor anymore, are you?’).

 

Last week, it was ‘embedded CPD’ in the Year 1 classes. Picture the scene…friday, rain, Christmas concerts looming…yet all the children and staff were ‘up’ for planning and leading a collaborative, problem-based learning session! Emma and Andrea, the Year 1 teachers, had already enlisted the support of family members and produced a DVD that would arrive in school for the children. It contained an ‘Oscar’-winning performance of the Giant’s wife (from Jack and the Beanstalk) insisting that Jack and his friends (the children in the class) design and make a new pair of glasses for the Giant. The reason for this – Jack had stolen the GOLDEN HEN and now the giants were too poor to go and get his glasses repaired! And we all know what a grumpy giant is like!

 

The children rose to the challenge and worked in groups of 3, each taking on team roles and responsibility for completing the product within the allocated time frame. A ‘quality checklist’ supplied by the giant helped to ensure the product met the requirements. Although one reflective thought from a child was, ‘Next time, maybe we will look at what we have to do and choose which will take the longest and do that first…rather than leave it ‘til last and run out of time…especially if it is an important bit!’. I think many adults can also learn from this reflection too!

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Whilst the children tackled the task independently and interdependently, the staff had an opportunity to engage in authentic AfL – what did the learning actually look like and sound like? Digital cameras and Flipcams were used. Notes were taken, ready to feedback to the children in order to move the learning process forward through shared reflection and negotiation.

 

And the final ‘wow’…the staff also agreed to ‘walk the talk’ and operate an ‘indivisibility of principles’ approach. Observational notes were taken on the whole learning process – with no judgements made. Just what was seen and heard within that learning environment (both from the adults and children). It formed a basis to open up a reflective dialogue about learning and teaching. Embedded CPD supported by peer coaching and mentoring.

 

(And, if we are thinking about curriculum and standards, mapping this back into the curriculum caused some problems as it ‘hit’ so many of the requirements in so many areas! A well-designed task can not only be a vehicle for curriculum requirements, it can also be fun, engaging, motivating and offer those moments of true inspiration and entrepreneurial thinking!)

 

A big thank you to all the staff and children at Evenlode Primary.

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Embedded CPD in Aberbargoed Primary

Coping with Change (Part 1)    

As you drive down School Street in Aberbargoed, the sign on the fencing next to the gate reads ‘For Sale’. No. Headteacher, Mr David Lewis, is not selling off bits of the school to make ends meet! However, David and his staff are doing a fantastic job of providing a sense of normality for their learners, while new classrooms are being built across the road from the old Victorian building.

The old school was the venue for two days training, Step 3 in the Designing for Learning journey. We explored the concept and use of rubrics as formative assessment tools and once again made reflections and connections on ways to empower learners.

But it didn’t end there! We had the privilege of spending the next three days, teaching and observing in every class throughout the school.

In Foundation Phase, Sarah Driscoll’s Nursery children made and tested waterproof footwear for gingerbread men; Teresa Hamling’s Reception class designed and constructed vehicles to transport a giant turnip; and Ly-Anne Pyle’s Year 1 and 2 produced crowns for the royal wedding of Prince Charming and Rapunzel.

In his cross-phase (Year 2/3) class Teifion Lewis. guided his learners through the process of designing more appealing dental hygiene packaging.

At Key Stage 2, the Year 3/4 learners in Jayne Harris’s class explored sieves and designed and tested their own. In order to demonstrate their understanding of the human body, Marilyn Phillips’s learners made 3-D body maps. And last, but not least, Jacqueline John led her Year 6 through discussion and debate about the rich and poor in Tudor times.

A wide variety of curriculum knowledge and skills! However, all learners explored their specific curriculum area(s) in collaborative groups. It’s been a year since many of the learners and practitioners were introduced to the tools and processes of collaborative learning. This has now become embedded in the classroom culture with learners showing a high level of engagement and the development of skills and attitudes to support independent and interdependent learning.

In addition to those above, we would like to mention the other staff who work in Aberbargoed Primary and attended the training  – John, Karen, Sian, Gill, Wendy, Michelle, Katrina, Cheryl, Kelly, Nicole, Leanne and Kelly. Thank you all for making us so welcome.

A final thanks to David for inviting us back to assist in the continuing professional development of staff in Aberbargoed.

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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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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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