Students at the Centre – Personalised Learning with Habits of Mind

117015b

Costa and Kallick’s habits of mind (2008), which were introduced to me by Karen Boyes at uLearn15, make up the spine of this superb book outlining the process of putting students at the centre of their learning. The book makes a case for prioritising four areas in order to support students to fully realise their potential as global citizens:

  • voice,
  • co-creation,
  • social construction and
  • self-discovery.

These areas guided a transformative approach to personalisation by teaching through the lens of the Habits of Mind.

I responded to the book’s sense of how and the focus on practical application of student-centred learning. A number of structures, templates and ideas could be taken straight into the classroom and these tangible strategies solidify the central philosophy of the book:

“The sense of urgency to respond to the growing diversity of our students, coupled with the innovative technologies currently available, make personalised learning not just a possible approach, but a probable one” (100).

The other strong section of the book that I responded to was the focus on educator’s actions when supporting a student-centred project. The authors suggested that “teachers need to resist rescuing students from struggle and allow them to think and learn” (92). By giving space around the learner, they get an opportunity to learn more about learning dispositions and their ability to persist, self-manage and make progress with a growth mindset.


Kallick, Bena & Zmuda, Allison (2017) Students at the Center: Personalized Learning with Habits of Mind. ASCD: Virgina USA.

Disobedient Teaching – Welby Ings

‘Disobedient Teaching: surviving and creating change in education’ by Welby Ings really struck a massive chord with me.  The book is filled with inspiring ideas, relatable anecdotes and valuable points that helped to affirm some of my personal challenges and successes as well as point to next steps in my journey. I absolutely recommend this book to all teachers, or at least check out some of the media Ings did around it’s release including this superb interview on RNZ.

I was really moved by his discussion around change; declaring that “waiting for permission means very little ever gets changed” (20). It spoke to the conservative walls I’ve encountered and the issues I’ve faced in trying to evolve ideas that don’t come out of something being ‘broken’. Ings calls for bravery and disobedience in order to achieve reform.

In particular Ings takes aim at assessment. The arguments for why there needs to be change are familiar. But his solutions (framed up as self-evaluation, reducing the impact of marking, and quality reporting) gave me more hope for reform than I think I’ve held before. In terms of self-evaluation, he suggested three ground rules (72):

Only the person who has made the work can criticise the work

Others can offer positive comments, but, more importantly, they should ask analytical questions.

Deadlines are absolute.

The challenge therefore is to grow learners who have the reflective and critical skills in order to effectively self-evaluate. Ings suggested the questions “What is effective about the solution and why?…If I had time again what would I change and why?” (72).

Another powerful takeaway was his writing about passion and personality. A regular theme throughout the book was the power of teachers to create connections and moments that can effect a unforgetable positive change for a student. At the heart of this was the need for teachers to be authentic and real. “Showing feelings doesn’t make us vulnerable as teachers; it makes us complete…It’s by being ourselves that we become accessible” (112). I think this connects to a lot of the work that I’ve done around diversity. I’d go further to suggest that there is no way we can expect students to be authentic and real with us if we haven’t created an environment where we can be ourselves.

The final chapter was structured with a list of qualities to take forward:

  • Don’t criticise
  • Question bravely
  • Show an enduring interest in others
  • Think from the other person’s perspective
  • Humanise what opposes

I plan to keep this book nearby at all times and return regularly to its ideas. It was heartwarming to read such a real and moving account.


Ings, Welby (2017) Disobedient Teaching. Otago University Press: Dunedin, NZ.

The Power of Inquiry – Kath Murdoch

poibookI spent some time thinking about why ‘The Power of Inquiry‘ had made such a difference for my thinking above all the other literature I’ve engaged with dealing with inquiry. From about halfway through the book it became really clear that the point of difference was how holistic Kath Murdoch‘s ideas were around inquiry. Teaching through inquiry wasn’t about just about a process – it’s about a inquiry mindset that drives everything that we do; it’s a “way of being” (180). While this book appears to be more targeted at primary education, it was the idea of the inquiry mindset that I really latched onto and strongly feel is worth engaging with regardless of your sector.

The ideas in the book are really captured by the chapter headings, as titled below. For the purposes of this blogpost I’ve recorded something that each chapter triggered for me as a way of taking these ideas further in my practice.

Creating the Space: How can we design learning environments for inquiry?

I was struck by how this chapter didn’t just consider the physical environment, but also the emotional environment. I would argue these exist concurrently; design physical spaces for positive relationships. To me this means inclusive classroom spaces designed for diverse learners. The ideas of Universal Design for Learning sit nicely alongside this chapter.

Beyond Topics: What is Worth Inquiring Into?

Murdoch consider catalysts and contexts for inquiry, but also emphasises the big picture. The Newlands College vision contains the destination for our students. Any inquiry question posed can be evaluated by asking “how does this fit into the big picture?” (50). So for our Newlands College akonga we should be asking “how does your inquiry fit into our vision?”

Inviting Uncertainty: How can we grow a culture of questioning and curiosity?

The power of the question “what is this making you wonder?” really struck me (58). It’s a question that promote metacognition and allows thinking to be externalised. The process of learning becomes uncovered and questioning may indeed begin to flow. Other parts of the chapter recalled John Loughran’s ideas around questioning in What Expert Teachers Do (2010).

Finding our Way: What role can frameworks and models play in scaffolding inquiry learning?

The balance between formula and freedom was embraced here: “The challenge then is to acknowledge the way we can scaffold our planning and teaching by referring to a process without becoming overly prescriptive” (77). Essentially, I feel one needs to just get over yourself and let go. But also the notion of one lesson inquiries – deepening our understanding of the inquiry process through modeling it in one off lessons.

Assets for Life: How can inquiry nurture skills and dispositions for lifelong learning?

Drawing on Claxton’s learning power, Dweck’s work on growth mindset and Costa’s habits of mind, Murdoch makes a compelling case in this chapter for the way inquiry can prepare a student with toolkit for learning. The takeaway here is the importance of identifying the links to the skills and underlying dispositions that add value to the learning. In the Newlands College context, I believe this sounds like using the words of the vision actively to describe the learning taking place.

To each their own: why make it personal?

The idea that shone in this chapter was the power of letting go balanced with the challenge of letting go. Murdoch spoke about “holding the space” – giving the learning environment enough structure so that students can still find their way even if they find self-management difficult (124).

Staying Accountable: What does assessment look like in the inquiry classroom?

I felt like this quote summed up the entire book really:

Teacher who use inquiry-based methodologies have a firm belief in the transformative power of ownership. When students feel they are the ones ‘doing the learning’ rather than the teacher ‘doing the learning to them’ they are undoubtedly more engaged, and with engagement comes increase potential for learning (147).

Together is Better: How Can We Grow an Inquiry School?

Underlined the importance to me of not just having a vision, but having a deep and shared understanding of what that vision is. The shared aspect of that statement speaks to Murdoch’s section in this chapter on collaborative cultures which have been shown to increase student achievement (171).


Murdoch, K (2016) The Power of Inquiry. Seastar Education, Australia.

Dignity For All: Safeguarding LGBT Students

51ewlzrbrtl-_sx331_bo1204203200_Peter DeWitt’s 2012 book, ‘Dignity For All: Safeguarding LGBT Students’ is a call to action that is just as relevant now as it was five years ago. Written is a highly accessible way it focuses on the building the understanding of the needs of LGBT and the practical steps that can be taken to ensure safer schools.

Importantly, DeWitt makes it clear that this isn’t just about a minority group of students, this is about having a positive impact on the whole education ecology and everyone within it. “Without addressing the needs of LGBT students, educators are not addressing the needs of all students” (32).

Some of the key ideas he puts forward as action points include:

  • Educate staff about LGBT issues.
  • Participate in GLSEN’s ‘no name calling week’ which could reinforce NZ’s Bully Free Week, Day of Silence and Pink Shirt Day.
  • Read literature and use content that contains LGBT subject matter.
  • Do not be afraid to use LGBT language, like the word “gay”. Whispering the words or avoiding them suggests there is something that is wrong.
  • Encourage diverse thinking and for students to step outside their comfort zone by introducing the perspectives of minorities.
  • Ensure your school offers a GSA (commonly referred to as a QSA in NZ)

The best quotation I have heard was from a Rochester, New York, LGBT student who said, “You don’t have to do everything. You just have to do something” (11).


DeWitt, Peter (2012) Dignity for All: Safeguarding LGBT Students. Corwin Press: California.

What Connected Educators Do Differently

b437fc27f47f9f13c721d09109968686This book really spoke to me, validating my work in recent years to develop a professional learning network, and my desire to expand this and become more connected. Written by Todd Whitaker, Jeff Zoul, and Jimmy Casas, it acts as a call to arms for using social media (particularly Twitter) to connect and the importance of relationships (the 3 R’s: relationships, relationship, relationship) in education. This blogpost is just a bunch of ideas I extracted while reading the book and things I felt were worth revisiting.

Definition of a connected educator: “[educators] who are actively and constantly seeking new opportunities and resources to grow as professionals” (xxiii)

Principle of the 3 C’s: focus on Communication, Collaboration and Community. Invest in these principles!

“Who is helping you get better, or – more importantly – who is inspiring you to want to be great?” (30).

The challenge facing schools today is the ability to cultivate a culture wherein all members of the school community feel comfortable in disrupting routines long established by the status quo and embrace a connected world which is ready to support their desire to learn without limits (30)

Guide to setting up Twitter:

Strive to be tomorrow…today. Make a bigger impact by following these suggestions, which can be used as something like a checklist:

  1. Speed meet and greet – icebreakers to connect staff and create a family culture.
  2. Make it personal – give teachers time during professional learning to call 5 parents they would not otherwise and share with the parent something awesome about their child.
  3. The welcome wagon – have a select group of staff meet every new student in the school and ask them about their new experience being welcomed into the community.
  4. Making invisible students visible – during meetings, put up a list up of every student in the school and ask staff to write one thing about each one beside the name, those who have nothing are invisible and you can then think of a way to cultivate a relationship with that student.
  5. This week on twitter – share inspiring tweets with the school.
  6. Thank a parent or  a staff member – call the parents of the new teachers and let them know how great it is to have them working at the school.
  7. Two a day – two personal notes a day to staff from the SMT/PL
  8. Invite them back – call those who have dropped out of school and personally invite them back.
  9. Accentuate the positive – at SMT/HOFS/DEANS/PL talk about a teacher who has made a difference and then follow up with a note to that teacher.
  10. Celebrate good times – each faculty should start meetings with a successful learning story.
  11. Front and centre – Have the Principal greet people for a day – sit in reception.
  12. Student Leadership Teams – Host them for a monthly lunch.
  13. Exchange dates – host exchanges with other schools to swap teachers and students – model connections with others.
  14. Local educamp – partner with neighbouring schools and host a camp re professional learning development together.
  15. Televise the tweets – on a public TV at your school.
  16. #oneperson – have staff members name one person who has made a difference in their lives and write their address and a message on a postcard. Store these and send them in December.

These ideas and the overall purpose of the book speaks to the importance of relationships. Professional relationships beyond the school through social media can foster collaboration and widen your community and the impact of your teaching and learning.

In the concluding chapter, the authors surmised that connected educators:

  • establish their professional learning network
  • begin to learn what they want, when they want, and how they want (greater knowledge of themselves as a learner)
  • focus on communication, collaboration and community
  • have a ‘giving mindset’
  • strive to be tomorrow, today
  • always focus on relationships, relationships, relationships.
  • model the way
  • and know when to unplug (126).

I’ll be taking many of these ideas forward with me now. Cannot speak more highly of this book and the passion with which it is clearly written.


Whitaker, Todd, Zoul, Jeffrey & Casas, Jimmy (2015) What Connected Educators Do Differently. New York: Routledge.

The Creative Habit – Twyla Tharp

visionI was drawn to reading this text due to personal interest in the creative process through teaching creative arts subjects, but also wanting a deeper understanding of the word ‘creative’ which is prominent in the Newlands College vision. Twyla Tharp is someone I didn’t know by name, but I was already familiar with some of her work.

My general position on creativity in the classroom was that explicitly teaching creativity is a myth. I’ve joked about this with colleagues as we’ve laughed about the idea of framing up a lesson with:

  • C: Creativity
  • R: To learn how to be creative
  • O: You will have been creative
  • P: 1. Creative starter; 2. What is creativity? 3. Creative exercise; 4. Creative reflection

I have argued that creativity comes through student voice, agency and opportunities. Some of these opportunities to go outside the box are explicit, but if the classroom is designed in such a way that students have the opportunity of using their voice, then there is the opportunity for them to think for them to express creativity. But now, Tharp has cartainly challenged my perception on what it means to learn creativity.

254799Her thesis is that “In order to be creative you have to know how to prepare to be creative” (9). The book is essentially about how to prepare and create opportunities for creation from the perspective of an artist who has mastered their craft. She argues their is a process that generates creativity and anyone can learn it. In order to have this perspective one must therefore view creativity are the result of hard work, not some “transcendent, inexplicable Dionysian act of inspiration” (7). Therefore learning creativity is about adopting habits and a creative mindset (there are certainly growth mindset overlaps here).

A few points of interest:

  • “Get busy copying” (66). A challenge to my perception of creativity. Something I could think about reframing when giving opportunities for media students to come up with film ideas for their productions. “Traveling the paths of greatness, even in someone else’s footprints, is a vital means to acquiring skill” (66).
  • Generating ideas required four steps. Tharp argues some people are good at some of these but never all four. Holding awareness of your strengths and adopting strategies to address limitations is key to ensuring your ideas matter.
    • Generate – create, from memory or experience
    • Retain – hold on to it, don’t wake up without the idea
    • Inspect – study it, examine, infer
    • Transform – alter it in some way to suit your higher purposes
  • “Practice makes perfect – Not true. Perfect practice makes perfect” (165). Practice to maintain and protect your skills as you do to develop them. “Art is a vast democracy of habit” (166). 0968aa60b060f4d0da0400d390d0cb18

I believe overall that my views on creativity and education have shifted from this book. I have certainly begun to see the creative process as a habit, as something that can be taught. Explicit teaching appears to be the key and talking about each aspect of the process, making it clear how to scratch for ideas, deal with ruts and stay in grooves will enhance creativity in my classroom.

What about where creativity sits as a core value for the school? I’m left thinking about how these ideas sit within other subjects outside the arts. Is creativity viewed as a habit that can be learnt in science? How do we make ‘creative’ a word that doesn’t just appear in the vision, but a essential part of the fabric of the school?


Tharp, Twyla (2003) The Creative Habit. New York: Simon and Schuster Paperbacks.

Personalised Learning – The Continuum of Choice

continuum-choice-duckworth

In reading this article on personalised learning trends, this graphic stood out. Originally introduced by Barbara Bray and Kathleen McClaskey, it presents the opportunity to reflect on where we are at on this continuum of choice. It got me thinking about my classroom design, and how we can evaluate not just individual lessons/classes, but also different parts of our practice:

  • Drama class: students are participants and occasionally designers
  • Media classes: students are co-designers at first, but upgrade to designers once the expectations are set up
  • Active Learning: they have the opportunity to be advocates and entrepreneurs
  • Deaning: provides students the opportunity to be an advocate, but historically would say I’ve treated the students as participants.
  • Leading Professional Learning: my colleagues are participants.

This graphic offers a really accessible visualisation of the role of the teacher in learning, and a way of creating meaningful goals and next steps. For instance, I think I can do a better job at leading professional leading whereby my colleagues become co-designers in my focus group. By giving the teachers a greater role in the group they will need to examine their purpose for learning more which will make the sessions more valuable. They can learn from experiencing this approach and potentially take it into their classrooms.

I would add that what I plan to do with this illustration is share it not just with colleagues, but also with students. It will help to communicate what I want from them and their learning and part of the ‘why‘ of what we are doing in the class. I feel transparency around the intentions of student-centred learning is essential to making it successful.