The Nature of Nurture

RSA Journal Issue 1 2016 Cover

I was recently invited to write an article for the RSA Journal on the topic of school change, innovation and creativity. The resulting article, The Nature of Nurture (RSA Journal, Issue 1, 2016) talks about the importance of bringing all stakeholders; teachers, students, parents and the broader community, into the school change process as well as present some of the concrete steps ISP is taking to move the school closer to its mission of Inspiring, Engaging and Empowering Learners for Life. 

“A key step towards meaningful school transformation is a concerted effort to educate, not only teachers, but also parents and students, about why creativity, innovation, entrepreneurship and life-worthy learning must be an integral part of a child’s education. Beyond enlightening all stakeholders about why change is necessary, schools must find ways for interested individuals to try things out without, in the process, draining human and financial resources. “

To read the entire article, click here: The Nature of Nurture

The RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce)  is a dynamic world-wide organization with a network of 27,000 fellows. Many have had their first contact with the RSA through their ubiquitous “RSA Animate,” series, “conceived as an innovative, accessible and unique way of illustrating and sharing world-changing ideas.

Established in 1754, the RSA’s mission is “to enrich society through ideas and action.”

We serve this mission by acting as a global hub, by enabling millions of people to access the most creative ideas, by nurturing networks of innovators, and through researching, testing and sharing practical interventions.

Click below to learn more about RSA’s history and the influential role it plays on bringing about innovative change.

 

 

“The Shadow Knows”… a day in the life of a student

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As Director of the International School of Prague (ISP), I like to believe that I work hard every day, but yesterday I gained a new perspective on hard work, having “shadowed” Grace, a grade 9 student at ISP, for a day.

While I often visit classrooms and observe kids learning and teachers teaching, spending a full day shadowing one student, from class to class, as well as lunch, is a very different experience and one I highly recommend, especially to other school decision makers.

I decided to shadow Grace as part of an initiative called Shadow a Student Challenge sponsored by SchoolRetool. Here’s how they describe what shadowing is: “Just like it sounds, shadowing a student is the process of following a student to gain empathy and insight into their experience. ” And that’s just what the day of shadowing gave me, some unique insights into the life of one of our students, as well as some real empathy for their experience.

Our day started at 8 am for an 80 minute block of Mathematics. The focus of this class was on factoring and I was impressed with the focused yet caring tone set by their teacher, Mr. Rops, and how physically active the class was. For the first 20 minutes, enthusiastic students worked on a variety of warm-ups and problems, standing throughout the room and writing on the various white walls, desks and even windows. There was a lot of cross discussion and kids checking and helping each other out throughout the class.

Maths in action!

Maths in action

Grace and friends problem solving

Grace and friends problem solving

After Math, things really got physical, as I participated in a PE class in the school fitness center. While I didn’t come dressed or prepared for a work-out, I decided to join in at the invitation of PE teacher, Ms. Shaw. I think I got more than I bargained for! After some strenuous warm-ups, the students were given the task of creating their own workout regimen based on exercises they have been using over the past few weeks. I buddied up with another student,  Alisa, who really took us through our paces with a regimen of plank walks, crunches, side squats, bicep curls and something I think was called the Bulgarian squat! Suffice it to say, I learned a lot through the pain, but felt kind of virtuous, if exhausted by the end of class. Again I was struck by hands on learning taking place and the willingness of our students to help each other throughout our time together.

PE Fitness class

PE Fitness class

Feeling tired and virtuous with Ms. Shaw

After fitness workout with Ms. Shaw’s PE class

After PE it was off to lunch with Grace and her friends. This was a chance to unwind, chat and laugh while enjoying some great food. I appreciated how Grace and her peers included me in the lunchtime conversation and banter.

After lunch and some welcome down time, it was back to it with social studies. This is a class in which lots of different things were happening at the same time. Students were working on their presentations, others went off to prepare for a theater production while others were involved in leading an activity with grade 3 students. Grace worked on her presentation whose topic focused on the impact of  oil on WWII.  During the class, students conferred with each other and social studies teacher, Ms. Fleming, about their individual presentations.

Grace working on her presentation

Grace working on her presentation in Social Studies

The final class of the day was grade 9 science with Mr. Morrison. We started off with an active warm-up, followed by a short lab experiment in which we explored the “specific heat capacity” of various metals. “The specific heat is the amount of heat per unit mass required to raise the temperature by one degree Celsius.” By placing a metal in boiling water, measuring the temperature with a probe and then placing the hot metal in room temperature water and recording the water temperature increase we used the data to apply the appropriate formula and compare our results for various metals.

Understanding heat capacity

Understanding heat capacity

As you can imagine, my retelling of my day of shadowing and the classes I attended only skim the surface, but I truly did come away from the experience with a deeper appreciation of what a school day is like for a grade 9 student. The life of a high school student is chock full every day and the range of learning activities required from students as they move from class to class is considerable. It’s also important to bear in mind, that while the school day schedule goes from 8 am to 3 pm, most students have after school activities and homework to contend with before their day is truly over.

What impressed me the most about our school was the overall welcoming and nurturing learning environment, how supportive our students are of each other and the way our teachers are able to develop an ethos, where students feel highly supported and safe to take risks, can work independently or collaboratively and truly have the opportunity to learn by doing.

I want to thank Grace for her willingness to share her day of learning with me, and I certainly plan on making shadowing a regular feature of my work in the future. I may have ended the school day a bit sore, but I learned a lot, and it was fun too!

Thanks Grace!

Thanks Grace!

Knowledge isn’t Power

“Knowledge isn’t power. Knowledge is something you Google” – Danny Gregory

In order to include parents in crucial conversations about how schools are changing to meet the needs of today’s student, the International School of Prague engages parents in a regular series of thought-provoking workshops called, The Edge in Education. The Edge is an opportunity to discuss current and future trends in education and to engage parents in dialogue  about how to best support their children. Previous topics addressed in Edge workshops include:

Creative thinking with Danny Gregory

Artist, author, creative director, blogger, teacher and speaker, Danny Gregory, was our guest speaker for the latest edition of Edge in Education series.

Danny also spent a week at ISP as an “artist in residence”, working with students and teachers alike, helping them  sharpen their creativity skills and teaching them how to better understand the world around them through the lens of keen observation and sketching.

Danny at ISP

Danny Gregory at ISP

As an introduction to the topic of creativity before Danny’s presentation to parents, two quotes were highlighted:

“The future belongs to a very different kind of person with a very different kind of mind – creators and empathizers, pattern recognizers and meaning makers. These people – artists, inventors, designers, storytellers, caregivers, consolers, big picture thinkers – will now reap society’s richest rewards and share its greatest joys.”                                                     Dan Pink

Creativity is as important as literacy and numeracy, and I actually think people understand that creativity is important – they just don’t understand what it is.”                   Sir Ken Robinson

Through the lens of his own fascinating and, at times, tragic personal journey, Danny Gregory eloquently presented his strong point of view about how creativity is not a frill, but an essential part of our lives. Through it all Danny revealed to us the power of creativity; how it enabled him to bring greater clarity to his own life and reconnect to the world around him.

Danny’s message is that everyone can make art; that we can all be artists with “a small ‘a’.” Like cooking, art should not be reserved only for those with a professional skill.

“Imagine if we thought that to be able to cook you have to have a four-star restaurant, to be able to cook you have to go to a culinary institute and spend years as an apprentice working for a master chef and eventually you would be able to cook and open a restaurant. We don’t though; we think of cooking as I can make a grilled cheese sandwich, I can make an omelette, I can make a burger. Why can’t we think of art… being the equivalent of heating up a can of soup?”

So Danny challenges us to think of art as  an essentially innate human trait that we all have and can bring into our lives. It’s a skill like driving or cooking which we learn and do regularly until it becomes second nature. But more than that, as Danny points out, creativity is really an essential twenty first century skill.

“We think it’s really nice to have art. It’s so great when we have art in schools or we have music in school. That’s so nice because then we’re cultured. We don’t want our kids growing up and not being cultured and just thinking about work, but the fact is creative skills, and it’s fantastic that it’s a key part of your mission here, because creative skills are what you need to proceed in life.”
If you’d like to learn more about Danny Gregory’s compelling story and artistic journey, you can view the full Edge in Education video here:

History on our doorstep

Syrian refugees on Prague-Berlin train-Radio Praha

It’s all over the news. Hundreds of thousands of people are fleeing their homelands in order to survive and risking their lives to do so. While thousands are arriving in Europe every day, they represent a tiny fraction of the refugee population, for example there are about one million Syrian refugees just in Lebanon.

Here are some of some “facts on the ground.” (Europe’s Refugee Crisis by the Numbers-Yahoo News)

  • Number of displaced people internally after Syrian conflict: More than 6 million
  • Registered refugees in other countries after Syrian conflict: More than 4 million
  • Mediterranean Sea crossings by refugees and migrants so far this year: 300,000
  • Mediterranean Sea crossings by refugees and migrants for all of 2014: 219,000
  • Expected asylum seekers in Germany this year: 800,000

The following clip portrays a moment in this tragic story. Thousands of refugees are streaming into Hungary with no provisions or food; children are lying in the street with nowhere to sleep. The words they speak and signs they carry are blunt: “My family is waiting for me” — “I am human, what about me?” We see compassionate local residents and people from other countries bringing much-needed supplies. As one concerned citizen puts it “all of these people who are fleeing from war and terror, they have a right for a safe home. I think it’s our duty to help them find a safe place.” Another says, “I was shocked when we got here. The sadness of the situation really got to me. All my prejudices disappeared. It is also so sad to see families here who had work and decent lives back home.”

At one crucial moment in the clip, an argument breaks out between some locals. In reaction to a Syrian boy waving a Hungarian flag, someone says, “People from other countries shouldn’t be waving the Hungarian flag.” Another responds, “Why shouldn’t it belong in their hands? I’m Hungarian and I allow it.” Another joins the argument saying, “Back home they are being bombed.” The response? “Take them back to your house then.” The reply?, “I will take them. I live here, I don’t like this, this is not a good thing. This isn’t about politics, this is about human beings who I see changing their kids’ nappies on the streets. These are people and we need to help them. I don’t care whether they should or shouldn’t have come here. I just can’t stand by and watch them suffer.”

Thousands of refugees, including hundreds of children, wait in limbo at Budapest Keleti train station on Thursday night. The Guardian

Thousands of refugees, including hundreds of children, wait in limbo at Budapest Keleti train station on Thursday night. The Guardian

While this is a tragedy on a global scale, it is not taking place in some far off place. This sad story is happening right on our doorstep. For international schools here in Europe, history is unfolding before our eyes and there are indeed many historical and life lessons to learn and many questions to ask.

What can international schools do?  First and foremost we can only act responsibly by understanding and educating ourselves and our community. Then, identify ways to truly support those in need, especially children, in as meaningful a way as possible. While financial contributions are helpful, making real connections, not only helps others but allows all of us to learn and grow as human beings. Isn’t that what it’s all about?

Syrian refugee camp in Jordan - NY Post

Syrian refugee camp 2013 – NY Post

What it means to be truly educated

http://www.edutopia.org/ Photo credit: Thinkstock

http://www.edutopia.org/ Photo credit: Thinkstock


This past week, we at the International School of Prague once again began the new academic year, welcoming a diverse community of learners from over 60 nationalities. It is especially as the new school year begins that educators reflect on why we do what we do and what we wish for our students. In other words, what does it mean to be truly educated?  While a response to this question has been articulated many times before in many ways, I think that the great linguist, philosopher, author of over 100 books and Professor Emeritus at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Noam Chomsky succinctly nails it in this short video. Chomsky reminds us that while knowing and understanding are important, a truly meaningful education requires that we have the ability “to know where to look, how to look, how to question, how to challenge, how to proceed independently, to deal with the challenges that the world presents…”  His words align well with the ISP Mission Statement.

Noam Chomsky – On Being Truly Educated

 

 

Designing spaces for learning: 10 questions to STOP asking and 10 questions to START asking for choice, flexibility & connection

Compelling thoughts about designing contemporary learning environments.

anne knock

Design for the Changing Educational LandscapeCurrently I am reading Design for the Changing Educational Landscape: Space, Place and the Future of Learning (Harrison & Hutton). The book was published in 2014 and cites research and white papers dating back to the early 2000s. People were having the conversations then, the same ones that we are having now. A quote in the book is from the Design Council (UK) “Learning Environments Campaign Prospectus: From the Inside Out Looking In” (2005)

The 2005 research showed low quality, standardised and institutional classroom environments and resources are not just uninspiring, they actually:

  • reduce the range of teaching and learning styles possible and affect interaction between teacher and student
  • undermine the value placed on learning
  • fail to adapt to individual needs
  • hinder creativity
  • are inefficient
  • waste time and effort
  • cost more in the long term

Too often the imperative of the urgent and the need to meet the budget stops school…

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The Joy of Learning

 

Each year at the International School of Prague, we hold a “Middle School Leavers Ceremony” to recognize this important point in the lives of students moving from middle school to high school. My message to students this year was for them to hold on to the joy of learning for life.

For the past one, two or three years, each of you have literally been in the middle. Too old for elementary school and too young for high school. Neither here nor there, you might say. In fact, middle school has been a crucial and formative time in your lives and we’re here to celebrate all that you have learned and achieved so far.

Middle school is a rite of passage. It is a time of change and development, mentally, physically and emotionally. It is a time when students begin to see beyond themselves and start to form ideas about who they want to become. During your time in middle school we hope you have had the opportunity to learn more about yourself as a person and as a learner. Of course, this journey of self exploration and discovery never ends.

My message to all of our grade 8 students is that life as you have known it does not suddenly end when moving to HS. Yes, it’s an important next step in your lives and it’s a recognition that you are ready to take on new challenges and become more independent.

I know that many of you are nervous about what high school will be like. You’ve heard that it’s a lot of work, that it’s “really hard” or that it won’t be much fun. I’m hear to tell you that while there will be new challenges, you don’t have to lose the wonder and joy of learning. Learning, by its nature is a joyful process. I want to encourage you to hold on to that wonder, and joy, and fun in learning new things, and learning about yourself. This is how I hope you approach the next important phase in your life.

I also want to encourage you to be a learner all the time, not only in school, but perhaps more importantly outside of school. There’s a famous quote often attributed to Mark Twain, which goes like this, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” While some may find this to be a criticism of how school can limit learning, I take it to mean that school is in fact a starting point, not an end point for learning. As the great progressive educator John Dewey said: “Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.”

In this day and age, the best schools, like ISP, are there to guide you through your development and self exploration, to open up new vistas; to help you find your strengths and to learn how to learn throughout your lives.

So as you go off to your summer vacations, have fun, don’t worry about next year, but do keep learning. And return to ISP ready to embrace the next exciting chapter in your lives and continue to find the joy in learning.

Once again, congratulations to the grade 8 class of 2015!