Collaboration for Growth in Action at ISM

Our team felt that the opportunity to visit classrooms while at NIST was a valuable experience and prompted great professional conversations.  We decided to make our CfG plan a reality here in the elementary school at ISM.  I am sharing because of the impact it has had on the overall collaborative culture here.  It is not to say we have not collaborated in the past, but doing it vertically and with a clear focus has been very positive.  Opening classroom doors and receiving timely feedback with mediative questions has had an impact on student learning.

On our return from Bangkok, we decided to provide time and structure for our teams to do walk-throughs in a bid to consciously build a culture of openness and collaboration.

In this blog post, I will briefly outline the process that we undertook. I will also share the benefits that we have experienced from taking the time to visit other classrooms and in turn, opening our doors to teacher visits.

Process in a nutshell:

  • use scheduled grade level planning time for visits (30 min walk through, 15 min debrief)

  • inform partner grade level or levels of our scheduled time and focus

  • brief our team on the importance of looking for positive examples of pedagogy

  • upon return from 30 min. walk-through (15 minute debrief), share examples of what we saw-engage in a focused discussion

  • insure timely positive feedback and a mediative question to the team visited.  The question provides an opportunity for further growth and professional conversation among the teachers/teams observed.


  • We found ourselves entering rooms we had never been in before. We met teachers we had never connected with and witnessed good pedagogy throughout. Professional conversations in the hallways between teachers who had never connected before has become common.

  • An example of the mediative question my team received- Grade four asked us, We saw language rich classrooms across the grade level.  What are some of the other strategies you use to help students access Tier 3 vocabulary?’  This question spurred a 45 minute intensive conversation in our grade 2 team planning meeting on vocabulary strategies that we use in order for our students to access the major concepts in our units….amazing!

  • Teachers are more excited to share what they are doing than ever before.  More transparency in terms of curriculum and the way people use their rooms as learning spaces.

  • Team meetings are more focused on how we can improve our pedagogy.  Mediative questions encouraging teachers to think deeper about what they are doing in their classrooms.

  • Less anxiety connected to other teachers or administrators visiting classrooms.

All of these examples and many more play a direct role in improved teaching at ISM which ultimately benefits student learning in a profound way.  Since writing this, many more (if not all) ES teams have participated in walk-throughs and it is evident that this collaborative process will continue!

Creativity – 5 Factors which lead to the open mode

This is a great clip to watch and connects to many of the discussions we enjoyed in Bangkok around play and the need for us to set aside time and make space for thinking. It also connects with the structure of CfG Symposium and the fact that in designing the programme Kate and Justine didn’t fill the days with activities with a predetermined outcome.

The video makes me reflect on how schools have become so frenetic and the fact that every moment in the day is accounted for.

Above and beyond

Are we open to letting our students interpret the learning experiences differently? Or are we locked into giving our students the same task with the same expectations and expecting the same responses? This cartoon challenges us to see our students for who they are as learners and actively tune in to them so that they can go above and beyond. Enjoy


Kindergarten Inquiry

I have included a blog post from Tasha Cowdy, who was a Kindergarten teacher at YIS last year. In her post she documents the process she and the children went through in their unit of inquiry ~ How We Express Ourselves. Our Early Years team has been inspired by the philosophy and practice of Reggio Emilia for many years years and endeavor to incorporate it into their classrooms as much as possible. I think Tasha’s documentation of the process is a great example of inquiry learning.

Credit to Tasha Cowdy

ISM Preschool: A Peek into the Art Room


Inquiry based learning in preschool is one of my truest passions as I believe it is the platform to learning. Some have misconceptions about preschool play and view it as a mindless activity. Preschoolers are natural inquirers. Their curiosity drives their interests and their play. This innate desire to discover does not eliminate the need for careful planning and facilitation. The following is an example of how I used our preschool artists’ interests, curiosities and enthusiasm to plan a lesson that created the environment they needed to go deeper with their thinking.

The investigation shown in the video came about after a previous lesson experimenting with color mixing and watercolors. In the previous lesson, artists began adding a splash of one color to another, and they quickly realized with great curiosity that new colors were produced. Their interest, thrill and excitement was tangible and I listened. I heard children question the magic of color mixing but I also observed that the diverse selection of colors and the watery medium was limiting their ability to process the colors as they mixed.

In the following lesson, students were presented with tempera paint, a more solid paint, that allowed for students to slowly explore and further investigate their questions. This lesson afforded our preschoolers opportunities to practice so many of their developing inquiry skills – they observed (using senses and simple tools); they described (verbally or through pictorial representations); they compared (noting similarities and differences); they predicted (noting expected outcomes); they reflected (integrating new info into one’s knowledge base); and they cooperated (working together and sharing findings).

The children took the learning in their own direction. They chose to mix the paint and circle the table! The uninhibited nature of this play led our inquirers down a path to discover:
What does paint stick to?
Why do things stick?
How do we clean it?
Is it permanent? Not permanent?

The process of inquiring begins in the early years; information gathered through our senses. The transformation of learning experiences and practical knowledge sets the foundation for true, enduring understandings.

Enjoy the play!

Children ‘talking out’ their theories

Over the years I have had the pleasure of observing some remarkable teachers setting the conditions for authentic learner-centred inquiry. Most of these teachers made this somewhat challenging task look quite easy. A common element in their approach was the use of ‘talk’ in their lessons and, more importantly, the way they facilitated this. These teachers often used particular structures or frameworks to support the facilitation of these conversations. For example, adopting an inquiry stance (Kimberly Lasher-Mitchell), Philosophy for Children, Science Talks (Karen Gallas) and democratic class meetings. What all of these approaches had in common was the teacher honoured the learner’s theories, they facilitated rather than owned the conversation and they joined the inquiry to co-construct meaning with their students.

Recently, Sara and Kate (both participating in CfG) did a fantastic job of modelling these behaviours during their workshops on our ISE Day. This reminded me of a teacher I worked with in a previous school, Anna, who masterfully applied the theory developed by Karen Gallas around ‘Science Talks’. Below is short section of Gallas’ book on the importance of talk in science. Below this article is a rare glimpse of children’s thinking at the start of a unit on sound. It is worth pointing out that this thinking was in a Grade 2 class during the first provocation for the unit. In the first document you will observe the students’ initial theories around how sound travels. These theories were collected as the students completed some simple experiments. The second document is a transcript of the incredible Science Talk which followed.