Thursday 29 February 2024

My 100th blogpost in 10 years.

Today is a significant milestone as I celebrate my 100th blog post! Looking back to where it all began a decade ago, with the encouragement of my friend Matt Esterman, fills me with gratitude. I started this journey with a flurry of content, but during my doctoral years, the frequency took a hit – except when Prof Sahlberg nudged my cohort to pen Op-Eds located in April May 2019. (shoutout to Pasi for the push!). Today, I've decided to take a stroll down memory lane by revisiting my previous blog posts, including a reflective piece from 2020. For me, this blog serves as more than just words on a screen; it captures snapshots of my evolving thoughts, beliefs, and experiences, akin to entries in a personal diary. I analysed my writing in search of recurring themes and common threads and discovered change, connection, continuous learning, collaboration, and coaching.

Reflecting on my journey, I remember my first entry about not feeling smart enough for university and the apprehension I felt before hitting the publish button. The level of vulnerability required felt overwhelming, as I lacked the confidence to share my thoughts without seeking approval from others. But over time, I've grown in confidence, addressing complex educational issues such as I'll ride with youMore than Thanks, and teacher retention, naturally intertwining my personal experiences with my teaching identity.

Identity isn't static; it's a complex tapestry woven from personal and professional experiences, qualifications, personality traits, and values. Context and role responsibilities also play a significant role in shaping who we are. As I've navigated through different experiences and contexts over the years, I've watched my identity shift and evolve like a chameleon adapting to its surroundings. Change is inevitable, and it's only natural that our identities evolve along with us.

Connecting with others has always been a cornerstone of education. The post titled "So, what's in it for you?" struck a chord with many, and for good reason. Back then, Twitter was the driving force behind the growth of TeachMeets, fostering learning and forging connections among schools, leaders, and educators. As a moderator of Twitter Chats, such as #SatchOC, I witnessed firsthand the power of these digital platforms in facilitating meaningful exchanges and professional growth. Building relationships and cultivating a professional learning network (PLN) became more than just buzzwords—they were essential elements of thriving in the educational landscape. Whether it was connecting with academics or fellow educators, whether it involved climbing a bridge or venturing to professional learning opportunities overseas, the quest for knowledge and camaraderie knows no bounds. 

Collaboration and connection have always been recurring themes in my blog posts, evident in numerous entries over the last decade. Whether venturing to schools in Canberra or Brisbane, or Southern NSW or more locally, the spirit of learning through collaboration thrived. One area where collaboration truly shone was in coaching and continuous learning. It's no surprise that coaching made frequent appearances throughout my posts. In a world where the mantra "out with the old and in with the new" often reigns supreme, I challenged this notion. Self-determination and recognizing the expertise within the classroom have also been recurring themes. Being observed in the classroom wasn't just a professional expectation; it served as a pivotal moment for engaging in meaningful coaching conversations. It was through these observations and subsequent discussions that true growth and evolution were nurtured.

From highlighting the invaluable guidance of coaches in my life to reflecting on classroom observations, the journey of growth and development was a constant thread. One of the highlights of this journey was my Fellowship to the US, which I documented in eight captivating blog posts under the hashtag #EdVentures, back in June and July of 2015. These posts and others chronicle my professional growth and showcase how I seamlessly blended work with play, blurring the lines between the two.

Throughout my blogging journey, the theme of leadership and women in leadership remained prominent, from celebrating women role models and raising me up, to supporting and advocating for gender equalityPeter Holmes so aptly said, "We need gender mix in leadership. We're all stronger & wiser for it." Rennaisance Women Leaders' Network featured strongly as we celebrated the collective and those who inspire. I explored this topic with passion. 

My doctoral journey has been filled with unexpected challenges and pleasant surprises, yet it has been a defining chapter in my life characterised by resilience, perseverance, and ultimately, achievementWhat's truly remarkable is how my blog posts have evolved into a visual representation of this professional growth journey, aligning closely with the topics and themes explored in my thesis. It's fascinating to observe how the concepts I pondered in my early blog entries, such as coachingself-determinationproving or improving and the delicate balance of confidence and humility, resonate deeply with the findings of my academic research. This alignment is particularly noteworthy considering it predates the publication of Adam Grant's "Think Again" and his discourse on confident humility. What initially may have appeared as simple musings have now transformed into tangible reflections of my evolving beliefs and values. 

Despite time, the foundational principles that guided my early writings have remained steadfast, illuminating my path through academic and professional pursuits.  Among the myriad posts, one stands out as a catalyst for change: it ignited the creation of #ConnectTheDocs, a movement I regard as the epitome of networking, education, and achievement melded seamlessly. This initiative serves as a testament to the profound impact of collaboration and community in empowering individuals striving to enact positive change in the educational landscape of tomorrow.

Thanks for reading,

Tuesday 20 February 2024

Loosening the Shackles: Empowering Growth and Innovation

After the demanding requirements of finishing my doctoral thesis, the mere thought of delving into another scholarly endeavour feels draining. Instead, I find myself drawn back to the realm of blogging. A genre exemplifying simplicity and freedom of expression, characterised by authenticity and spontaneity. Here, I can unleash my thoughts without the shackles of formal academia, explore my wonderings, and share insights. The spark for this post ignited from conversations with close friends deeply entrenched in the world of education. We delved into the pressing issue of teacher shortages and how they are casting a long shadow over teacher learning and wellbeing, which in turn, impacts student learning and wellbeing. It's evident that education, post-COVID and amidst the rise of artificial intelligence, is undergoing significant transformation. In addition, there appear to be additional influences seeping in from various sources. As we adapt to the ever-changing demands of the modern classroom, the need for contextualised support and personalised growth opportunities has never been more pressing. 

Before X, Twitter provided me with a glimpse into schools, offering snapshots of innovation in action. Despite their brevity, these insights fueled my curiosity, leading me to visit schools during the holidays. Twitter may have offered only brief glimpses, but it started a journey of discovery that resulted in tangible evidence of innovation. This is one element of Twitter I miss, as I feel I no longer have my finger on the pulse of innovative schools. As a teacher and coach, I gained an insider's perspective. However, transitioning to consultancy work and with the decline of Twitter, I now rely on personal connections and professional relationships to understand the current challenges being faced in schools. 

As I reflect on the landscape of education today, one question comes to mind: do school leaders have the autonomy, time, and support necessary to reimagine school-embedded professional learning? It's a question that strikes at the heart of educational innovation and the ongoing quest for effectiveness in teaching and learning. Professional learning (PL) lies at the core of a thriving school community. It sustains the growth and development of educators, empowering them to adapt to the ever-evolving needs of students and society. Yet, in many cases, the traditional model of PL falls short of meeting these lofty aspirations. The constraints of time and resources often hinder school leaders in their efforts to revolutionise PL. Caught in the whirlwind of administrative duties and measures of compliance and accountability, they may find themselves with limited capacity to dedicate to the task of reimagining PL experiences for their staff. In an era of top-down mandates, school leaders may feel shackled by a lack of freedom to chart their own path when it comes to PL The cookie-cutter approach to professional development stifles creativity and innovation, which may become a box-ticking exercise rather than a catalyst for meaningful growth and change.

While it's crucial for initiatives to be grounded in research, merely relying on established findings can lead to stagnation. True innovation requires more than just regurgitating what's already known; it demands a creative synthesis of existing knowledge with fresh perspectives and novel approaches. In essence, while research serves as a guiding light, it's the willingness to push boundaries, challenge assumptions, and explore uncharted territory that truly drives progress in education. Tom Guskey’s recent article reminded me of a proposal I wrote years ago for a school-embedded PL program/institute that included a researcher in residence, who supported the development of teacher capacity through action research, coaching, and data analysis. The growing recognition of the need for personalised, job-embedded PL is paving the way for a new era, although Katherine Hoekman stated that this practice has migrated to various schools. As educators and policymakers alike begin to embrace the principles of autonomy, collaboration, and continuous improvement, we have an opportunity to redefine what PL looks like in practice in all schools.

School leaders must be empowered to take the reins and drive meaningful change in the realm of PL. They need the autonomy to design PL experiences that are tailored to the unique needs and context of their school community. This may involve fostering a culture of collaboration, leveraging technology to facilitate ongoing learning, or creating opportunities for job-embedded coaching and mentorship. Furthermore, school leaders require the support and resources necessary to bring their vision for PL to life. This may entail investing in PL opportunities for staff, providing time and space for collaborative enquiry and reflection, or partnering with external organisations to access expertise and resources. The success of any educational initiative hinges on the commitment and vision of its leaders. By empowering school leaders and leadership teams with the autonomy, time, and support needed to reimagine school-embedded PL, we can unlock the full potential of our educators.

Always curious,


Monday 6 November 2023

Embracing Identity, Growth, and Learning

In today's fast-paced world, it's easy to become entangled in the rush of life, frequently defining ourselves by our actions, professions, and external accomplishments. However, your true identity isn't solely based on what you do, but rather, it's all about who you are as a person. This concept lies at the heart of a profound saying: "Your identity is not what you do, but who you are."
    Defining my true identity goes beyond my achievements; it encompasses my values, beliefs, passions, and character. My values guide my decisions and actions, reflecting my moral compass. My passion for coaching in education provides a sense of purpose and contributes to a well-rounded identity. My character strengths, determined by VIA, include qualities such as honesty, kindness, curiosity, and humility, which I've come to realise are often more profound aspects of identity than any job title.
    Your identity isn't fixed; it's a dynamic and ever-evolving part of your life. I've come to understand that embracing personal growth and self-improvement is a fundamental part of my identity journey. Every experience, whether it's a triumph or a challenge, has been a lesson that I've used to shape a more genuine and improved version of myself.
As I approach the final stages of my doctoral journey, I can't help but reflect on the five-year process that has brought me to this point of offering consultancy services. I wish I could tell you that it has been a smooth and confidence-building process, but the reality has been quite different. My research journey has been filled with multiple challenges, personal wins, and countless opportunities for personal and professional growth.
     Curiosity has been the driving force behind my research journey. It's the spark that ignites the process, urging me to explore uncharted territories of knowledge. But as I've delved deeper, I've learned that it's not just about finding answers; it's about the art of refining questions to uncover the essence of the matter at hand. The process has been a fascinating exploration of not just what we know, but how we come to know it. Knowledge and skills I will apply when implementing Contextual Coaching.

I've come to realise that research, much like life, is far from a straightforward, linear path. It's more like a winding trail with unexpected twists and turns. Along the way, I've encountered various obstacles, faced setbacks, and had processes that didn't quite go as planned. These moments have been invaluable teachers, highlighting the significance of resilience, adaptability, and the ability to be patient and remain optimistic. I've become adept at critical thinking and problem-solving and learned how to analyse data, assess information critically, and develop creative solutions to complex problems. Research is a dynamic process that often yields valuable insights, but the true value lies in effective communication. Presenting my research at AARE and ICSEI aims to amplify the impact of my research and extend its reach. It's important that my research transcends the confines of a written thesis and extends to teachers, researchers, and policymakers. Ethical considerations in data collection and the dissemination of results heightened my ethical consciousness that influences my decision-making in my consultancy business and other aspects of my life.
    In my personal journey, I've come to understand that the dynamic world of knowledge and research demands ongoing adaptation, reading, and the embrace of fresh ideas. The commitment to lifelong learning is an asset and treasure. For me, being able to pose critical questions, navigate through setbacks, and convey complex ideas has equipped me with the tools to make meaningful contributions to my community and society. The valuable lessons and knowledge learned as a research student will contribute to and enrich my consultancy business. Please contact me if you're interested in coaching in education.
Always learning, 

Friday 30 September 2022

"Let Them Leave Well"

Years ago, a friend shared that as a teenager, others would talk about moving out of home and living together. She thought that was something that individuals did after they reached a certain age. However, this was not the view of her parents. She was advised if you leave home, you were not welcomed back. Simple as that. At the time, she accepted it because no one had ever moved out, only for marriage. It was a family expectation, and she didn't feel secure enough to push the boundary or take the risk. As a parent, I am reminded of that story more today. I view my child moving out as a symbol of independence. They broaden their perspectives by living with others, acquire new skills such as bill paying and budgeting, and gain new experiences by living with peers. Yes, I would miss them but it's about them, not me. Although living in Sydney does not provide affordable housing for young single adults, and the likelihood of my children moving out is low, I would not view it negatively. My colleague's parents may have perceived that a child leaving home reflects unhappiness or discontentment in the family. However, in my situation, I would view it as a strength of my child and not as something lacking in the home. I suppose it’s about perspective. 
        I recently attended an ACEL presentation, “A synthesized model of teacher turnover” by Dr Hugh Gundlach. He and Gavin Slemp spent four years working on a meta-analysis on teacher turnover. This was of particular interest given our current situation in New South Wales and my research regarding supporting early career teachers. I'd like to highlight one of Hugh's points from his presentation: "Let them leave well." This was unpacked and explained. Do school leaders provide teachers with a positive experience when departing a school? The data presented indicated that teachers join the profession because of their passion for learning, working with young people, contributing to society and salary but given our current situation, I am curious to learn if the contribution to society and salary have changed as motivational factors. In my experience, individuals quit teaching or a particular school for several reasons such as the lack of stable employment, a partner's job transfer, or the need to care for ageing parents. One may also leave to learn, grow, and gain experience in other contexts or fields. It was suggested to me that there are instances when you need to move to improve or go to grow. 
        I recognise that an effective teacher leaving a school is detrimental to the students and the school community, while also increasing the principal's recruiting responsibility. This is especially true given the current teacher shortage. I am drawn back to the number one reason teachers leave or stay in the profession, which is job satisfaction. From the data findings, Hugh’s shared some of the questions principals could ask. 
  1. Was the teacher’s departure voluntary?
  2. Is the teacher’s departure a loss for the school?
  3. Could the school have done anything to prevent the departure? 

        Now, before anyone questions why the school or principal is responsible, it is crucial to accept what is within one’s control. Responses are pivotal but what struck me most was the statement, “Let them leave well”. Stories were shared about supporting colleagues to gain a unique experience and to learn in another environment. We heard from a participant how one school could not provide the opportunity but said that the teacher was always welcome to return, which eventually happened. Teacher retention is of the utmost importance, and while some think that new government initiatives assist, I fear that they will backfire. Teachers need an increase in salary and a decrease in workload, but most of all they need to be respected as professionals.
        Regarding the absence of support, I believe that schools and leaders will be forced to develop long-term strategies. For example, there may not be a current opportunity but by ensuring a “leave well” situation, they may just return with new knowledge and experiences to share. As the findings suggest, there is less research on moving schools than leaving the profession and less research on social approval, career structure and wellbeing. The persistent lack of professional respect may result because of government actions or inactions, society's lack of understanding, negative media coverage, and unfavourable working conditions, all of which must be addressed. Unfortunately, principals and leaders have limited options, but one thing they can do is guarantee that the classroom door remains ajar by ensuring effective teachers "leave well." Leaving is not necessarily a reflection of the family or school environment; sometimes it is a result of certain circumstances or the need for independence, wellbeing, or personal growth. If they leave on a positive note, they may be enticed to return to the classroom or the school in the future. 

Always curious,

A few Reforms & Initiatives- 

Thursday 12 May 2022

More Time, More Support, More Respect...More than Thanks!

The transition from kindergarten to Grade 1 was traumatic. I was a popular child in kindergarten with both teachers and students but that all changed. Unlike my sister, whom the teacher had previously taught, I was an inquisitive extrovert, and we did not connect. I recall her using a metre-long ruler to assist my exit from the family car. I remember I often cried so hard that I threw up. I think back to the doctor's visit for my hair loss, which resulted in an 'unloved' short haircut. I recollect hearing my parents talk about how the school nurse recommended glasses. I thought, short hair and glasses and remember, this was long before Harry Potter made glasses cool. I'd hoped the need for glasses would explain why I was a ‘poor’ reader. And yet, I was the clever child who worked out where to position myself in the circle to read the least number of words aloud. Speaking and reading in front of a large group of people had always been a source of anxiety for me. At times, the memories of my five-year-old self-return, along with the strongly associated emotions. So, when asked who influenced me to become a teacher, I responded that it was my Grade 1 teacher but not for the typical reason.

Journeying forward to my final supervised practicum in Seattle, Washington, it was 2005. One of the first external students from the University of New England (Australia), I completed three practicums at various schools. The final supervisor had taught my son, but I didn’t know him well. What made this supervisor different was the time he spent getting to know me. When asked to read to the students, he noticed I was anxious. He made the effort and took the time to learn about me. His curiosity was reflected in his questions and from our conversations, he understood me better. With his support, in those four weeks, I transitioned from being an awkward anxious student teacher to a teacher who relished reading aloud to the students. 

These two stories demonstrate the significance of taking the time to get to know the learner. Journeying forward to today; time is the greatest barrier to learning, and schools currently struggle to find sufficient time for learning. Administrative tasks, compliance demands, and unnecessary red tape consume time. If Australia wants to encourage more teachers into the field, then more support is vital. Provide coaching to those transitioning from university to the classroom. Extend this to provide coaching for at least the first two years. Expand this to provide the ‘option’ of coaching to all teachers. Coaching provides the time, place, and structure for learning and reflection. Learning starts by getting to know the learner, whether it be students, teachers, or undergraduates. Learning about the curriculum, teaching strategies and context is important, but we’ve forgotten that teaching and learning are humanistic in nature. 

Both feelings and knowledge are important to the learning process, and if we want to encourage self-determination in teachers, we need to take the time to get to know them personally. We need to provide choices and time to reflect on their practice. If we want to attract, retain, and develop our teachers, support through coaching conversations provides the space to talk about themselves as learners and teachers of their students. This week I shared an article from Education Week that stated, “Altruism and vocation is not enough anymore to attract teachers into the profession”. It is time for politicians and society to return the profession back to the teachers. Teachers need more than thanks! 

My friend, Matt Esterman shared this article about the Zone of Proximal Development, and it resonated with me. We want to stretch all teachers, yet teachers can fall into the panic zone without support and time to be learners. All learners must feel appreciated, supported, cared for, and empowered but I do not see any of this for our teachers today.

Always curious,

p.s. I chat with my Seattle practicum supervisor to this day. 

Friday 9 April 2021

The Doctoral Journey

I recently read an article that instigated a call to my Scottish friend who works in Hong Kong. A long time Twitter buddy, I finally met Paul at an ICSEI conference in Marrakesh. While virtual conferences are the norm during COVID times, the face to face conferences provide the opportunity to really connect with edufriends. Paul is Primary School Leader and like me, a Doctoral Candidate. He is at the University of Glasgow,  and I’m at University of New South Wales and while he is edging towards the finish line, I’m meandering through the messy middle. 

Generating this chat was this AARE article, ‘I found my PhD journey extremely stressful and mentally exhausting’, by Pretorius and Macaulay. Those who have trekked this path share how isolating and grinding it is, yet numerous emphasise it as a rewarding learning experience. Often curious questions arise at the most inopportune time. Fortunately, friends like Paul, provide space for dialogue. I shared some findings from the research and expressed my wonderings. Paul provided reassurance when he told me he had asked himself the exact same question. Others validating your curiosity builds your confidence.

Gordon Training International 
(employee Burch, N., 1970s) 
In the article, the notion that you don’t know what you don’t know was highlighted. This creates a feeling of unease and at times, you wonder what you’re missing. I positioned this statement within the Conscious Competence stages. As a learner, I often reflect on my current level, which depends mainly on my previous experience of the topic and the availability of support or scaffolds.

In unconscious incompetence, the learner isn’t aware that a skill or knowledge gap exists. When you commenced your doctorate, did you really know what was involved? In conscious incompetence, the learner is aware of a skill or knowledge gap and understands the importance of acquiring the new skill. I often find myself here and spend hours searching for knowledge and reading. Learning begins in this stage. 

In conscious competence, the learner knows how to use the skill or perform the task, but doing so requires conscious thought, practise, and hard work. It is at this point that I chat with my supervisor, who provides a good balance of autonomy with structure and support. As a learner in the research context, I venture from being self-determined to self-directed, depending on the need and circumstance. 

In unconscious competence, the individual has enough experience with the skill that performing is easy and completed unconsciously. However, at this level, you may falsely assume that it is ‘easy’ for all to achieve. This level of unconscious competence reminds me of the video clip Peer instruction and why assessment is a killer of learning. Eric Mazur, a Harvard professor, shares what his colleague, Steven Pinker calls, The Curse of Knowledge. The false idea that “the more of an expert you are, the better positioned you are to teach it’. Mazur claims that the better you know something, the more likely it is that you’ve forgotten what the struggles are of a beginner learner.

Pretorius and Macaulay believe that by listening to stories of doctoral students, we can better understand their journeys and consequently, ‘improved educational experiences’ can be designed. Similar to a painting, your dissertation is distinctive. While the basic components of a painting are colour, tone, line, shape, space, and texture, each artwork is personally created by a solo artist. Comparable to the artist, a researcher is influenced by others, but it is your journey. How can this doctoral process be so frustrating and liberating at the same time?

“There are so many different aspects to learn about and it’s difficult to know what you don’t know. This leaves you always wondering whether you are missing something. There are also many different perspectives offered by others – everyone’s experience is so different that it’s hard to work out what advice applies to you and what does not.”

Reflecting on Mazur’s peer instruction, Pretorius and Macaulay's article and the Stages of Competence, I wonder how to further support candidates during the doctoral journey? Could doctoral candidates support each other as peers, along with their supervisors? I intend to reach out to those who influence me and hopefully influence others on their research journey. I'll keep you posted...

Thank you! #ConnectTheDocs


Saturday 20 March 2021

"The Power of Voice"

I recently listened to a conversation between Jim Knight and Russ Quaglia. I have known Jim for quite a few years, as he was a guest on a Twitter chat I moderated (#SatChatOC). It was 2015 and Jim had become part of my Community of Collaborative Coaches. When I organised a CoachMeet in Sydney, in 2016, Jim shared information on a book that he was writing at the time, The Impact Cycle. It is interesting to know that Jim sought feedback from us. He is still as open today and continues to support me.

One of the benefits of being on Twitter and being connected is that your connections and friends advise you of others you can learn from. Years ago, I attended the ACEL national conferences. I sat in the front row, knowing that I had to make an early exit to introduce the next workshop. Russ Quaglia walked in and sat beside me. I introduced myself and mentioned by friend, Peter DeWitt. After a selfie and a brief chat, he signed my copy of his book. After reading his book, Teacher Voice: Amplifying success, I recommended the school purchase copies for our professional learning library. As a teacher and coach, Teacher Voice resonated, and I often recommend Russ's books to other coaches, teachers and leaders. I've blogged before maintaining that without teacher wellbeing, how can there be student wellbeing? Again, without teacher voice, how can there be student voice? All go hand in hand.

Listening to Russ and Jim converse, I am reminded of various strategies I implemented in my classroom that link to student voice. I am passionate about promoting student voice and choice, so years ago, I  researched Socratic Seminar/Method/Circle. Initially, I adapted and introduced Socratic Circle to my Year 3 class, but knew it would require some adjusting to provide more voice and choice to my Year 5 students. This strategy integrated reading, writing and critical thinking. As I found it to be an effective strategy, I elected to have the members of my teaching triad observe my lesson on Socratic Circles.

In this 'improvement process', I was placed in a triad with two other teachers. They observed your lesson and provided feedback. As I reflect back on this time, I think of how much I have learnt about lesson observations, providing feedback and the importance of teacher and student choice and voice. It was interesting to see how one teacher saw merit in the process, while another shared that I appeared to do little 'teaching'. Being seen as someone who sat on the side, simply 'watching' was an interesting observation. The other teacher was curious about how the students learnt to piggy-back on their peers' comments, how they argued their point using facts or quotes from the text, and how they were so respectful to the speaker at any point in time. What these teachers were witnessing had taken six weeks to achieve. I had prepared the students to own the process. As a class, we had selected the texts. I sought their vocabulary, as we modified the observer's rubric to become a checklist. They found the rubric was no longer needed, and a simplified checklist was adequate. The observer monitors the words and actions of their peers, while sitting on the outer circle. Observers are unobtrusive and silent, which is difficult for some students.
As a class, we decided that after students read the text independently, they could then read to their partner. From this, they decided they could provide feedback that focuses on their fluency, accuracy and expression when reading aloud. Comprehension of the text was written and shared orally within the circle. This assisted students to develop their oral skills. To support this entire process, I structured mini-lessons on strategies such as, using post-it notes to capture thinking, supporting your argument with evidence, asking open questions, demonstrating respect for others' opinions, providing specific feedback, and acknowledging others' contributions.

As I wanted to share Socratic Circles with others, I decided to present at the next TeachMeet. While I could share my resources and the process with other teachers, my students needed their voices shared too. I asked them to contribute by answering two questions.

  1. How would you describe Socratic Circle (written responses were later collated for the presentation)
  2. What are the benefits of this strategy? (orally shared and capture on an anchor chart)

I had differentiated the activity by using Jacob's Ladder. I had learnt about this resource while studying a postgraduate certificate in Gifted Education. The first group answered the first section of the comprehension tasks, and those more able also answered the more complex questions. However, these groups were fluid. Jacob's Ladder includes fables and myths, and poetry by students and well-known poets. Science, Mathematics and History are included in the nonfiction section. Students could stay in the centre circle if they had attempted the more complex questions. This enabled all students to listen to the questions and hear the responses. Some call Socratic Method/Circle/Seminar the Fishbowl activity, This strategy affords others who are unable to answer, to listen to those who are able. Broadened perspectives emerge from listening to others.

I introduced the staff to Socratic Circle, when I facilitated a workshop using a palindrome poem. This provided an opportunity for the teaching staff to experience the activity. The library staff were particularly interested in this strategy. I've included some resources at the end of this blog. As I listened to Russ talk about giving students a voice in the professional learning of teachers, I believe I had achieved this. In his research, Jim ascertained seven Partnership Principles in coaching: Equality, Choice, Voice, Dialogue, Reflection, Praxis, and Reciprocity. Through dialogue, we empower voice.

"Voice is sharing thoughts and ideas in an environment underpinned by trust and respect, offering realistic suggestions for the good of the whole, and accepting responsibility for not only what is said but also what needs to be done." ~ Quaglia

To lead change in our schools, we need to be having conversations where everyone has a voice and actively listens - the students, teachers and leaders. How well are we listening and who currently has the most influential voice?

Staying curious, always learning...



What is Socratic Circle: A collaborative intellectual dialogue facilitated with open-ended questions about a text.
Socratic Method: Students sit in circles with an inside and an outside. Inside share their responses to questions and the outside students monitor using a checklist.
Checklist: Questioning: How well did they ask questions? Speaking: How well did they articulate? Listening: How well did they listen to responses? Respect: Did they respect each speaker? Feedback: Did they provide positive and critical feedback? Participation: How well did they participate? 

Examples of socratic questions for palindrome poem:

Opening the discussion 

What word or phrase is most important? 

What is the most surprising statement in the text? 

What is the most striking image or metaphor? 

What would be another good title for this piece? 

Continuing the discussion 

What do the authors mean when they say ________________________? 

How would the original audience have interpreted this statement? 

What is the relationship between __________ and ______________ ? 

Concluding the discussion 

What additional points should be included in this text? 

How would our daily lives be different without this concept or idea? 

In your opinion, is it morally right to take the action described in this text? 

Based on this story, do you think people’s actions are determined by fate or by choice? 

Which character are you most like? When have you behaved like the other character? 

Palindrome Poems:


Lost Generation 

Socratic Seminar Handout

Wednesday 30 December 2020

A Work In Progress

In 2013, I began posting my blogs and initially, two close friends reviewed the first few before I hit publish. While not concerned with number of views, I simply wrote to unload my thoughts. Recently I was asked to reflect upon a prior event and provide a response to suggested questions. Memories were triggered and I found myself reviewing previous blogposts. The benefits of having this collection of my thoughts was highlighted. Like diaries or journals, these posts captured moments in time that reflected my professional direction, portrayed my headspace and documented my current thinking. Events, thoughts, experiences all detailed with words, diagrams, gifs, and photographs. While appreciative of any comments, I simply wrote for me. It was at this recent review of my blogposts that I noticed I haven’t posted in 12 months. I was astounded to learn that I have written 92 blogposts that have been viewed 141,115 times. 

Capturing my momentary thoughts, each entry evolved from an article, a book, an event, or even a simple tweet. Sometimes, I write to get things off my chest, in the hope of letting go. Recently, I read Phosphorescence (Julia Baird) and Emotional Agility (Susan David), which has generated many wonderings. I wonder how to work on self-care without becoming self-obsessed; becoming confident while staying humble; staying curious while having an opinion. Should we focus more on others than ourselves? Do we become paralysed when we overanalyse? If action is a reaction to the thought, how do we alter our thoughts to change our actions? Are we thinking too much or not enough? This entry selects and reflects on 4 quotes from each book that generated deeper thought. 

Part of validating your own story is finding your voice and claiming your authority, especially for the women & introverts. And a crucial part of all of this is the need to accept your imperfections ... (p.86).     
Finding your voice is important, as Russ Quaglia states in his book, Teacher voice: amplifying success (2017), when teachers have a voice, they are three times more likely to value setting and reaching goals through hard work. As a research student, I’m in the process of finding my voice in a new context. Your voice may waiver or even quiver at times depending on the context. When it comes to voice, strong does not equate to loud; less is sometimes more; being pretentious does not denote confidence. Baird includes claiming authority, which is often defined as a person or organisation having political or administrative power and control. As an educator, I struggle with the term authority. To me, authority aligns more with a power from outside, in which I have no control. From my teaching perspective, I prefer agency and autonomy, which are viewed as power from within, facilitated in a supportive environment. However, since writing this piece, I learnt about Palmer's definition. Rather than following a scripted role, authority is afforded to those who are perceived as authoring their own words, their own actions, their own lives (1998, p.33). Evidently, the meaning of a word is influenced by contexts and lived experiences but can be broadened with new learning.  

Sharing your lived experiences and the importance of telling your own story isn’t lost on me. Preferring to organise public events and presentations than to be a public presenter, a few years ago, Briony Scott enlightened me. "No one knows your story better than you. It’s a safe space and a great place to start and build your confidence." I accepted my imperfections, stepped out of the shadows and became braver by telling my story. I realise not everyone gets a stage, but everyone has a story. I remember one person who had known me for a few years, expressed that she never knew anything about me. It’s essential to accept that if you want to build a genuine relationship, investing in knowing someone’s story is essential. As a coach, questioning helps reveal coachee’s story. As a primary teacher, writing uncovers a student’s story. As an educator/coach, I tell my story through blogging. As a friend, do we make the time and effort to listen and learn, so others can tell their story? 

 “I meet people and they become chapters in my stories.” ― Avijeet Das

Meeting wonderful people is luck; keeping them in your life takes thought, care, forgiveness & devotion. Friendship is an art & a gift, and some people are brilliant at it (p. 154).

So true! One element I would add is effort. The year of 2020 has provided the opportunity to strengthen wonderful friendships, ignite those just forming, and develop new ones. Whether through a brief text, a phone call, a Bitmoji message, or a parcel sent overseas, friendship requires effort. Baird suggests to be purposeful regarding friendships. Acquaintances becomes friends with consistent effort and care. Value your friendships, irrespective of the effort being reciprocated. Meeting, conversing and connecting with people, simply fills my bucket. An introvert, I am not.

Beauty is warmth, conversation, intelligence and a certain grace or magnetism too. Our social media imprints have narrowed the definition of beauty to what can be photographed, filtered & posted (p.117).  

Regarding social media, I never warmed to Instagram. I don’t use filters but admit to selecting and posting my most flattering photos. Beauty, according to Baird, is a mixture of personal traits, not simply intelligence or charisma. I have heard and viewed polished presenters and read well written journal articles or books, only to be somewhat disappointed when I met in person. To extend the concept of magnetism, I searched for a word/s that refers to when one makes others feel positive in their presence. When they actively listen to you and you leave the conversation feeling better and brighter. Do you have people in your circle who make you feel good just by being in their presence? Positive affective presence appears to embody this quality. Recently, I told Ellie Drago-Severson that every time we chat, or I receive an email from her, my mood is uplifted. Drawing on Maya Angelou's famous quote, "People don't forget how you made them feel". For me, beauty includes having a positive affective presence.

So much of what is broadly called wellness now involves an expensive kind of burrowing into our selves, wobbling on the plank between self-care and self-obsession (p. 276).

I remember going to a presentation where I was advised to focus on me and put myself first. Wonderful in theory but waking 2 hours earlier or going to the gym before work as suggested was not practical nor possible. If we aren’t careful, sometimes self-care can create more anxiety or stress. Currently, teacher wellbeing isn't a focus, although Karen Edge and I recently made it the focus of our #CuriousConvos chat. I worry how teacher wellbeing will be implemented to ‘help’ teachers. I’m reminded of the concept of a growth mindset and mindfulness, which became the new shiny thing to implement into your classroom. Another top-down initiative that became a buzzword and lost its power and effectiveness. Unfortunately, this happens a lot in education. David explains that mindfulness became ‘overdone’ and that… 

…mindfulness is about more than knowing “I’m hearing something,” or being aware “I’m seeing something,” or even noticing “I’m having a feeling.” It’s about doing all this with balance and equanimity, openness and curiosity, and without judgment. It also allows us to create new, fluid categories. As a result, the mental state of mindfulness lets us see the world through multiple perspectives and go forward with higher levels of self-acceptance, tolerance, and self-kindness (p. 100). 

One outcome of coaching is developing awareness and through coaching, one may develop a broader perspective. The intercept between coaching and mindfulness is apparent. The concept of noticing resonates with me (see van Nieuwerburgh, 2020). As a coach, I work hard at noticing what I’m thinking, doing, saying, feeling and projecting, both verbally and non-verbally. I am cognisant that words need to be chosen thoughtfully and carefully. Noticing my coachee’s response through words and nonverbal cues is essential. Tone, expression and even silence speaks volumes. While in other contexts, silence may represent a lack of interest, in coaching it often reflects deep thinking. Coaching requires effort and skills like noticing, while staying curious and without judgement.

When we make quick judgments, we often overvalue the information that is readily available and undervalue subtleties that might take a while to dig out (p. 31). In general, experts—or people who are highly regarded in any field—are often hooked on their own self-importance (p. 34). 

Noticing and valuing subtleties can reflect and unlock one’s thoughts. Spending time building a trusting relationship’s by digging into one’s story or thinking is the foundation of coaching and strong friendships. However, when your expertise or your advice is drawn upon too early, you diminish their potential, instead of unlocking it (Bungay-Stanier, 2020). Generally, teachers around the world are not highly regarded as professionals. They have to continually prove and defend themselves as education professionals. Teachers are required to demonstrate their expertise and make decisions based on their judgment. Often leaders and coaches are selected due to their expertise. Teachers can also be members of the feel-good rescue team. After judging the situation, the rescuer appears, often because the situation is viewed as needing control or time is limited. Have you heard yourself say, it's just quicker if I do it! Please don't interpret this to mean that you must withhold your expertise, not at all. But withhold judgement and stay curious longer. Identifying when and actually ‘letting go’ of your expertise, the judgy advice monster or the feel-good rescuer is the quandary.

Letting go is difficult. I have reflected on situations where my emotions and thoughts took over. I’m sure most have experienced situations such as, receiving feedback that landed harshly or the offhanded comment that shattered you. Trying to stay present while being curious about my emotions, I continue to work on avoiding the bottling or brooding of my emotions. David states it succinctly, “Thoughts and emotions contain information, not directions" (p. 105).  One chooses how to react to the information and the direction you take depends on your emotional agility. Developing my emotional agility is yet another work in progress.

So I wondered about the balance of self-care with self-obsession, confidence with humility, curiosity with opinion, amongst other personal traits. These nuanced concepts that are contextually influenced, are simply more than antonyms. It is not one over the other; it is not black or white. It is grey, balanced and ever-changing and as a consequence, a continuous work in progress. Through blogging, I create meaning of author’s words and stories by connecting the text with my life experiences. Intending to write more in 2021, these women inspired me to write this, so thank you Julia and Susan.   

The learning continues...



Baird, J. (2020). Phosphorescence: on awe, wonder and things that sustain you. HarperCollinsPublisher

Bungay Stanier, M. (2020). The advice trap: Be humble, stay curious & change the way you lead forever, Box of Crayons Press.

David, S. (2017). Emotional agility: Get unstuck, embrace change and thrive in work and life, Penguin.

Palmer, P. (2007). The courage to teach: Exploring the inner landscape of a teacher's life (10th ed.). Jossey Bass.

Quaglia, R. & Lande, L. (2017). Teacher voice: Amplifying success. Corwin.

van Nieuwerburgh, C. (2020). An introduction to coaching Skills: A practical guide (3rd ed), Sage Publications Ltd.