The Untouchables

Sometimes the things that need to be questioned the most, are the things we feel we’re least able to question. The parts of the education system that carry the guise of being ingrained, natural, and untouchable. Things that have “always been” and things that will “always be”.


– grade levels

– curriculum

– assessment

– reporting

– timetables

– units

– classes

– classrooms

But if we really want to pursue more agency for students and shift the current paradigm of education, then maybe these are the very things that we should be critically questioning, challenging and re-imagining.

Sometimes this is difficult to do because these human-created systems have seemed to almost calcify overtime to the point where it’s hard to figure out how to remove them, or change them.

But if we ask ourselves George Couros’ famous question…

(Image source – Principal of Change Blog)

… with the intent of creating a place that respects and supports each student’s agency as a learner and a human being and supports the processes of learning as they naturally occur… would those elements and structures be part of the design?

How can we stop seeing these elements as untouchables and start having critical conversations about:

the purpose they serve, or perhaps don’t serve…

the way they support learning, or perhaps inhibit learning

the way the help students flourish, or perhaps prevent students from flourishing

the impact they have, or perhaps their unintended side-effects...

I’m not saying that they’re all bad (or that any of them are bad) I’m just saying that making an informed choice as an education community about the structures and systems we choose to have to support learners and the process of learning, is very different than passively accepting elements of the educational paradigm that have been passed down, or passed off as “untouchable”.

Which “untouchable” elements of the current education paradigm do YOU think need to be critically questioned?


Unlearning Teacher Instincts


(Sorry if this got emailed twice… I am not sure what happened but this post has ended up back in my draft folder and doesn’t seem to be on the blog anymore, so I am clicking publish again…?)

As I continue my #OneWord2018 quest of being more “open” I am having some tough thoughts today.

Unlearning “How to be a Teacher 101” is hard!

I am definitely being more open with my students and seeing amazing benefits. Sometimes, though, this still is not my first instinct.

Today’s example… I have been feeling the need for our reflection wall to progress to a digital version so they can really see their progression and export it at the end of the year as an iBook to show their grade 4 teacher, etc.

Currently, this is what our reflection wall/window looks like:


This is working fine, but we couldn’t see where we were, where we have progressed to, or where we wanted to go.

With Apple Pages new update, we are able to collaborate and also export as an ebook. Page A was made to mimic our existing reflection wall which is fine – a continuum of gradual independence for a certain skill (thank you to @OrenjiButa for the art work we have been using all year for reflecting on ATLs and gradual release of independence which we took ownership over by choosing meaningful descriptors from other classes). I had two versions of page B which I could not decide between. One very structured page (my first version) and one blank page with the title of reflections and goals where they could choose how to reflect.

Version One:

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 10.23.40

Version Two:

Screen Shot 2018-04-11 at 10.23.26

Because I am trying so hard to allow room for agency, part of me was saying to use the second version. But I wasn’t quite sure. I was asking teachers and kept thinking about it… until embarrassingly late in the game I finally thought to ask the students.

They surprised me. They want choice, they want flexibility, but their VOICE right now was telling me they wanted structure for this book. They thought it was much more clear. There was a small part of them worrying about running out of room with this option, but I told them we can deal with that when we get there. Their ownership of this is growing, and if I had chosen the more open-ended version for them like my “push for agency” self was trying to say they would have been lost (I could see the panic and confusion on their faces when they saw the second version).

For now, we chose structure for this particular activity. If we had started this at the beginning of the year I could see how it might change into the second version, but with three months left of the school year I am not sure. If we need to change, we will change. I have made pages for all ATLs and also for the areas which will appear on their report card at the end of the year, hoping their reflections will assist and align with the report card process.

My takeaway for today is to keep trying to make a habit of asking them first. I am well on my way but this could have been a big loss for us, had I not asked them. It is hard. I try things myself. I then push to collaborate but still my first instinct is still the adults of the school. Not the ones using the tool I am creating. I am growing.

How are you unlearning your teacher instincts?

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Read like a rebel

A few weekends ago, at an IB conference in Singapore, I shared my personal journey from being a robot (a compliant student/teacher) to becoming a rebel (a thinker/questioner/challenger).

And a huge part of that journey for me was what I read. So often as educators we read amazing books… but they are usually books that help us do a better job within the system. Books about doing school well, or doing school better, or some even about doing school differently… but often just a little differently.

For me, the biggest shifts in thinking that I had came from books outside the system. From de-schoolers, un-schoolers, home-schoolers and even anti-schoolers. Books that made me critically look at the nature of the institution of school and begin to question some of the things we often assume to be “natural” or “essential” or “untouchable” elements of the education system.

So here are some of the things I read that helped poke and provoke my thinking about teaching, learning, schooling and the rights of the child:

It can be books…

Turning Points

How Children Learn

Pedagogy of the Oppressed


Dumbing us Down

De-Schooling Society

It can be blogs:

Alfie Kohn blog

It can be Tweeters:

Bruce L Smith

It’s any reading material that gets you thinking, makes you question, gets you angry. The type of reading material that fires you up and gives you the confidence to look at school and say “that’s not okay”. The type of reading material that doesn’t shy away from challenging those “untouchable” elements of the school system.

The type of reading material that makes you feel unafraid to fail, be different or get in trouble.

What are your favourite “rebel reads” that I should add to the list?