Who we are…as learners

This was first published on my blog: Honor 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.


The simplest moments are often the most valuable.

play in the in between

We open up and create, fully in the moment, not excluding anything, but fully focused on the unfolding crisis we are creating on the table top. First the building, then the fire, the rescue and the rebuilding. Themes of desperation, courage, fear, and hope.  Four boys and one adult are playing with magformer blocks, wooden blocks, lego figures and paper. Spontaneous, enjoyable, sustained and engaging. Imaginative improvisation. No rules, except those that support the safe classroom environment of Kindergarten free flow, play centres.

The previous description is what came to mind when asked to reflect on a time when I experienced, “playing in the in-between” at the workshop, Exploring International Mindedness through “Playing in the In-between,” during the IB Global Conference. I learned there that the “in-between” arises when adults and children play together in the way described by Cynthia à Beckett. Praglin defines “In-between” as “a meeting-ground of potentiality and authenticity, located neither within the self nor in the world of political and economic affairs. In this space, one finds the most authentic and creative aspects of our personal and communal existence. . .”  It as a focus upon relationships that resonated with me due to my previous work with nonviolent communication (NVC.)

This group of boys from my example, often complained about each other. They could be described as, “Frenemies.” Two of the boys often attempted to dominate the others to play to their individual ideas, scripts, and outcomes. This often led to periodic conflict, and complaints, like, “Why is he the boss?” and “I don’t want to go to school.”  I would say, “Can you make it so everyone has fun?” Easier said, than done.

When I truly join in the play, like the time I reflected upon, everything changes and it, seemingly effortlessly, becomes fun for everyone.  When I implore, counsel, and plead for fair play nothing much changes, at least not quickly.   When I truly play in the In-between then everything changes. I am grateful to Dr. Cynthia à Beckett  for reframing these sometimes, seemingly insignificant play times for the wonderful connecting moments that they truly are for children and adults.

What makes these moments of “playing in the In-between” really that important?  They feel significant and they leave a trace afterwards. They matter for the relationship. They matter for individual development of many attributes of the IB learner profile. They strengthen connection, gather polarities and hold opposition lovingly. In my example the children involved asked to play the scenario out again for the next four days.  It become more and more elaborate and involved a rotating cast of participants.

When have you experienced “playing in the In-between?”  I would love to hear your stories! And what about play in education?  Play is a big topic that needs more unpacking. What do you think?


à Beckett, C. (2010). Imaginative education explored through the concept of Playing in the In-Between, in Imagination in Educational Theory and Practice, a Many-sided Vision. Nielsen, T., Fitzgerald, R. & Fettes, M. (Eds). Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing.
Praglin, L. (Fall 2006). The Nature of the “In-Between” in D.W. Winnicott’s Concept of Transitional Space and in Martin Buber’s das Zwischenmenschliche, in Universitas. V2#2


Nurture what matters: Get outside and play!

Every weekend I go to my favourite place to play. A two hour drive south of Luanda is a great beach with consistently fun surf. On this morning, I stand on the beach crunching on my apple – sweet and salty, the fruit mingling with the salt water still dripping in my mouth; a salt crust forming on my skin where the water is already evaporating in the 9 am sun. The water’s starting to get busier as it does on Sundays and a family from my school has already arrived with their two kids out in the water for their surf lessons.

I spot the older one in the water and notice an approaching wave. Under my breath, I cheer him on. “Paddle, paddle! Up! Nice!” He surfs a great wave, cruising along the face. I can see his face from where I am and it’s a picture of intense concentration mingled with joy, excitement, and maybe some disbelief. He surfs the wave for a long time adjusting his speed by shifting his weight on the board and making small changes in his position on the wave, anticipating the cresting water. As he’s falling off the wave, he throws his hands in the air with excitement, celebrating his wave. I smile to myself and give a nod of approval.

As I write this, my mind is going through all the learning that happened in that moment and how it translates to the classroom and life. In surfing, we talk about “reading a wave.” That means that you can determine where a wave will break, the force it will exert on you, how to use the force to generate speed as you surf it, when to avoid a wave, and more. In a broad sense, this might be considered water literacy with reading waves, a small piece of a much bigger puzzle. Much like literacy in other areas, it requires a lot of practice. Along with reading waves, this student is learning about ocean currents and water safety. These are skills that might help him or others stay safe around water in the future. As his mom pointed out to me, the lessons are also helping him learn Portuguese as his instructor is a Portuguese speaker and local Angolan. Finally, he is developing certain attributes that will contribute to his growth as a person and lifelong learner. From surfing, he’s learning resilience, commitment, respect for the ocean, appreciation for nature and his host country, and the joy of learning something new.

I finish my apple, take a drink of water, and pick up my board to head back out. As I’m walking out, my student walks out of the water with his board and begins walking back up the beach toward the point, joining my path. “Nice wave!” I say to him.

“Oh, hi Mr. Brodie. You saw it? That was my best wave ever! I rode it for a long time!!” He goes on to explain to me what he’s learned about the waves at this beach, how they break, and how best to surf them.

And then he says something that is music to my ears.

“You know, Mr. Brodie, we have a good surfing community now. A bunch of the other Year 7s come a lot and I come every weekend. It’s really fun! Thanks for the field trip.”

You see, for Year 7 outdoor education, I planned an overnight trip to this beach and coordinated lessons with the local surf school. The trip was a resounding success and the students had a part in organizing it. Through trips like this, students are given opportunities to step out of their comfort zone and engage in new experiences. Sometimes these are as simple as leaving the compound (here anyway) and experiencing part of your host country.

I’ve also recently started a course with about 20 of my colleagues called “Exploring What Matters: The Action for Happiness Course.” Last week we learned about the 10 keys to happier living. Reflecting on my experience with this trip and the subsequent discussions I’ve had with students and teachers involved, I’ve realized that at least five of these keys were part of the learning experience.

This helps explain why on each of the three excursions we have taken the year group on, I’ve been struck by their growth as a community and the depth of learning that happens. These hands on, real world experiences are so impactful for our students. Especially in the middle years as their world view broadens and navigating situations with their peers takes on the utmost importance. I can’t help but wonder why we don’t do this more.

How often do you take your students out? Do you play too? How would your ideal program incorporate experiential learning, excursions, and play at different ages? What examples do you have of students developing sustained passions? And, finally, where does student agency fit into this?

Would love to hear thoughts on this. Comment or tweet at me – @ChrisRBrodie