Wednesday, 18 December 2013

PISA results- what do they tell us?

Ok, so I am being brave and dipping my toe into controversial waters at the request of one of my parents and writing about the latest PISA results!

So what are the PISA results and what do they mean to those of us interested in education standards around the world? This from the National Centre for Education Statistics website (

"The Program for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international assessment that measures 15-year-old students' reading, mathematics, and science literacy. PISA also includes measures of general or cross-curricular competencies, such as problem solving. PISA emphasizes functional skills that students have acquired as they near the end of compulsory schooling. PISA is coordinated by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), an intergovernmental organization of industrialized countries and is conducted in the United States by NCES. PISA was first administered in 2000 and is conducted every three years. The most recent assessment was in 2012."

The 2012 results have just recently been released and for the second time in a decade, 15-year-olds in Shanghai have scored at the top of the PISA global education assessment, ranking number one in the world in reading, math and science. This is a great result and one that Shanghai can be proud of.

PISA though, is not a full stop on achievement standards and just as with any standardised assessment result , you need to drill deeper to get a picture of what the data is really telling us. For example, the results are not representative of China as a whole - while 84% of high school graduates in Shanghai go to college, less than 5% of the rural poor make it to university, with attendance in poor rural areas being just 40% (Mind the Gap: China's Great Education Divide; K Stout; CNN 17.12.13)

So, it could be reasonable to say that the results are a reflection of a wealthier, urban population rather than of a city and its surrounds as a whole. Taking a privileged, educated slice of society and having them sit the exams is bound to reflect in the results, which may be quite different if the rural poor results were added to the mix.

However, PISA does give some indications of achievement standards across the world, but I do have to ask myself, is the test measuring what we value? Do the results of the test lead to a positive change in practice that benefits the students? The 'so what?' question if you like. This is a question that does not just apply to PISA, it applies to all standardised test achievement results.

Here at Bradbury, we see standardised assessment results as one part of the picture of achievement as a whole. We recognise that any test is a reflection of that child's performance on that day. A day in which the student may be feeling sick, or tired or upset or any number of factors that may impact on the results. For this reason, we ensure that we triangulate any data against what we know of the child and what other assessments are telling us.

As the Principal, I look at the data as a whole, to gain an idea of trends, strengths and weak areas that may need reinforcement or support in some way: professional development or resources, for example. Teachers will examine the results to look for the outliers, to ensure that there are no surprises and if there  are, to follow these up. The educational leaders of the OECD countries that sit the PISA exams no doubt do exactly the same, albeit on a grander scale and hopefully, use the results to inform their decisions to make positive decisions about the educational opportunities for all of their students.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Who is a hero?

I woke up this morning to the news that Nelson Mandela had died. Tributes were pouring in for what was described as a wonderful, courageous and amazing man who has been greatly admired the world over. Certainly, he changed his world and his influence was far reaching and inspirational. No doubt a whole nation will be in mourning for his loss, and my condolences to the people of South Africa on his passing.

This news came the day after I had attended the funeral and memorial services of one of our own staff members who had recently passed away after a long battle with illness. To me, he was also a hero. He was courageous, fought hard and always sought to make the world a better place for those of us lucky enough to know him. His care for other people, his concern and thoughtfulness were great examples of fine qualities that we could all emulate.

I also attended camp for the Year 4 & 6 students this week. For many of our students, camp was a huge challenge (jumping off a high pier in my clothes would also be a challenge for me!) but they were brave, participated and enjoyed a real sense of achievement, especially as they  faced and overcame their fears. In my opinion, they were also heroes.

So for me, a hero is someone who we can  admire for their great or brave acts or fine qualities
and is a person who is greatly admired, maybe by the world, maybe by their friends or colleagues or maybe just by their Principal.

"I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the brave triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear." Nelson Mandela

Friday, 22 November 2013

The New Pedagogy

On Monday, I was very lucky to attend, along with some other Bradbury staff, a lecture given by Professor Michael Fullan. Fullan is recognised as a worldwide authority on educational reform, he is a prolific, award winning author whose thoughts and ideas have been influential on the direction of educational policy around the world. It was wonderful to listen to him speak but mostly it was great to have my own thinking around what we do in our school challenged.

Prof. Fullan wrote a commentary recently entitled "The New Pedagogy: Students and Teachers as Learning Partners" (

While there are many interesting points that he raises, one that caught my attention is the notion of students and teachers as 'learning partners'. This is quite a radical departure of the traditional view of teachers, who are seen as the deliverer of knowledge and information to a passive, waiting group of students. This was certainly the view of teachers when I went to school, and possibly when you went also!

Certainly, the move towards an inquiry approach has changed this perception to some degree. When I interview for new teachers, what I hear from many, is that they see themselves as 'facilitators of learning' helping students to reach understandings themselves, to discover and apply their learning through a 'guide on the side' approach from the teacher.

This sounds perfect, until you consider Hattie's research, which I have written about in other posts, which found that this approach had only a .17 effect on learning- .40 and above being significant. But... with the teacher as the activator, or partner in learning, the effect size was .60!

This is challenging because some of the pedagogical approaches he lists as being part of the facilitator model: individualised instruction, problem based learning, for example, are practices that we believe make a difference, here at Bradbury.

At the same time, some of the 'activator' practices are also well embedded pedagogical approaches here as well: feedback, frequent checks on effects of learning, meta-cognition.

So the challenge for me as instructional leader is to be thoughtful about what we do here, to reflect critically on our practices, to ensure that I am current in my thinking and to change that which is outdated or no longer relevant.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Do we really kill creativity?

Creativity is a really interesting concept. It is one that I personally think we need to encourage and develop in our children in order for them to have the skills for their future. Sir Ken Robinson, in his 2006 Ted Talk asserts that creativity is, "as important as literacy and should be treated with the same status". Wow! In his opinion, however, schools do more than ignore or discourage creativity... they kill it! What a damning statement for all educators!

So what is creativity and how do we teach it? Personally, I don't think it is something we teach like we do reading or mathematics. I believe it is an attitude, a way of thinking and of seeing the world without the constraints of 'what is'. We allow for it in our classrooms and in our interactions with our students. We need to encourage their pursuit of the improbable.

But how do we do this? Education Scotland offer the following as suggestions:
  • Provide regular opportunities for hands-on experimentation, problem solving, discussion and collaborative work.
  • Actively encourage pupils to question, make connections, envisaging what might be possible and exploring ideas.
  • Use failure or setbacks as opportunities to learn.
  • Facilitate open discussion of the problems pupils are facing and how they can solve them.
  • Ask open-ended questions such as ‘What if…?’ and ‘How might you…?’
  • Ensure that assessment procedures reflect and reward creativity, enterprise and innovation.

I think we do pretty well with most of these at Bradbury, although point three is an interesting one that I would like to see more thought around...after all, it took Edison 10,000 tries (apparently) to create the light bulb. Thank goodness he saw failure as an opportunity for further thought and exploration and didn't stop after failure #3!

I often hear people say that they are not creative because they can't draw. Sorry, but this is a misconception! Some years ago, I took a year out of my job to complete the first year of a fine arts degree and so went to art school. I loved every minute of it and one thing I learned is what an exact process constructing a drawing is. It is not necessarily about being 'creative', drawing is an exact procedure that is about changing the way you see things, observing the world around you and using strategies like mathematically measuring proportion to get your drawing or painting to look right.

'We can't be creative unless we are prepared to be confused" is a great quote by Margaret Wheatly that I noted recently. Perhaps  creativity comes in when you know enough to break the rules? I'm not sure, but I do know that how good at drawing you are is not a measure of creativity! I have a friend who is a very successful artist (Anna Plattern). I once commented to her on how creative she is, but her reply was one of disagreement, after all, she said, "I only paint what I see".

So, for me, creativity is a mindset, a way of seeing the world in a different light where new things are possible and worth thinking about and exploring. It is a skill I think our children need to possess to function in their future and I do not want Bradbury to be a school guilty of killing it- I shudder at the thought!

Below are some photos of great creative thinking occurring in Bradbury recently.One is from a maths lesson, one is from a language lesson and two are from an art lesson with our Artist in Residence, Eleanor McCall.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

The joys of homework...

Like every Mum, I have kept examples of my children's school work as lovely mementos of their school days. One of the pieces that always brings a smile to my face when I see it is one of my son's assignments on 'Early New Zealand Settlers', completed when he was about nine years of age. It is a very high quality piece of work, beautiful borders, great illustrations, tidy handwriting, impressively presented. At the end of the assignment is a lovely note to my son saying what a great job he did.

I am sure his teacher wrote this tongue in cheek and what she didn't say was 'well done Mum'. Because of course, it was basically my assignment! I remember being totally frustrated at the lack of dedication my son showed to his homework, so decided that instead of running around climbing trees (I think I have mentioned that he is now a qualified arbourist specialising in high climbing?) he and I could spend some quality time together and I would show him the joy of producing a great  assignment! Of course, I did all the thinking, planning, cutting and  measuring, I think he might have done a bit of pasting and wrote down what I dictated to him. No surprises, he had no ownership of the assignment and really was not that interested in it at all.  He still isn't and yes, I still have it!

Homework is a really interesting subject. A couple of years ago, we did a survey to gauge our parental attitude towards this. Some parents wanted more, some wanted less and quite a few wanted none. We had then, to walk a delicate line and try to get it right for everyone, so introduced the homework grids. These were to be completed over a two week period, had some degree of choice and extension and linked into the current work of the class. They worked well at the time, and brought a degree of consistency across the school, but I do think that as a community, we are probably ready for another look at what our beliefs and values are around homework.

It seems to be that research indicates that at the primary school level, it does not have a significant impact on achievement at all. However, regular reading does, as does a good attitude to learning that is reinforced by home. I think homework has value in that it is a good home- school link and helps you, our parents support your child's learning by keeping you in touch with what we are doing. It is also a good discussion point and listening to and encouraging your child while they read is invaluable. I know that when I get home, I like to just sit down and relax- read a book or a magazine and just chill out. I suspect our children are the same. I have blogged before about after school activities and in many ways, I think this and reading is homework enough, maybe with a few small 'as they are needed' things added in.

I would be interested to hear your thoughts on homework and what you see as important and valuable in it.

Monday, 7 October 2013

Raising standards of achievement

Recently, I was lucky enough to attend a two day seminar presented by Dylan Wiliam. He is a well known author, who along with Paul Black, wrote a 2001 paper that seemed, at the time revolutionary in terms of the way teachers were thinking about assessment, more specifically, formative assessment. The basis of their case was that :

"standards are raised only by changes which are put into direct effect by teachers and pupils in classrooms. There is a body of firm evidence that formative assessment is an essential feature of classroom work and that development of it can raise standards. We know of no other way of raising standards for which such a strong prima facie case can be made on the basis of evidence of such large learning gains." (Black and Wiliam, Inside the Black Box Raising Standards Through Classroom Assessment 2001)

So what is formative assessment?
It is a range of formal but more often informal procedures employed by teachers during the learning process in order to modify their teaching so that the learning activities match the needs of their students and so, improve student learning outcomes. This means that the teacher is constantly checking, if you will, that what they are teaching is pitched at the right level. What they have planned may be too easy...or too difficult and so needs to be modified in some way. It happens on an individual and group level as well and may be as simple as spending extra time with a group of students who need extra help while the rest of the class carries on, or instantly raising the level of challenge for others.

It is what all good teachers do constantly and becomes a part of what we know and consider to be good practice. There are many, many techniques of formative assessment and when you are in our classrooms, you will see it happening all of the time, through questioning, observing, simple tests, conversation, feedback...

Interestingly, this is what parents do all the time as well when you are making decisions about what best suits your child and your observations on their learning that causes you concern or delight!

Formative is not the only form of assessment we use. Summative assessment happens after the learning has taken place. It is often used for the purposes of external accountability and its ability to feed directly back in the learning and teaching cycle is limited. There is no opportunity for students to go back and modify their efforts in order to achieve a higher outcome.

We use some forms of summative assessment at Bradbury. The International Schools Assessment (ISA) test is one example. Student sit the test in October, it is sent off to be marked externally and then we get the results in around January. For most students, their learning has grown, developed and changed markedly since sitting the test and a different result would occur should the student sit the test again in January. No feedback is given to a student on how they did or how they could improve their score. It is for this reason that we feel formative assessment is the most powerful and summative test results only offer a 'snapshot' of that child's performance on that day.

However, the results are useful in order to give us an indication of learning trends and how our students are achieving against other students in international schools around the world, i.e. the tests are externally norm referenced.

We triangulate all of our assessment results, both summative and formative, informal and formal, in order to build up a good picture of our students and their learning needs. It is never just a case of one test gives us a whole view, we need a range of assessment strategies in our classrooms that are used effectively and raise levels of achievement. There are other types of assessment too, diagnostic and ipsative and both have their own purposes and use in the classroom.

You may be interested in reading the article that began the move towards a stronger emphasis on formative assessment. It was written some time ago, however, the the principles and beliefs espoused are still true today.

Thursday, 19 September 2013

What does it mean to be internationally minded?

The concept of 'international mindedness' is a relatively new one in education. It has increased in importance as our world has become smaller, travel more accessible and world wide events having an impact on our daily lives.

In a place such as Hong Kong, a place that we think of as cosmopolitan, with a very wide range of ethnic groups- we have over 50 nationalities in our school, we have the perfect opportunity to explore the concept of being internationally minded and right from Year 1, give our students the chance to see and appreciate a wider world than just their own.

We have had lots of discussion what this means and around how we define this concept. Ultimately, we have adopted the IB's definition, which seeks to promote "intercultural understanding and respect, not as an alternative to a sense of cultural and national identity, but as an essential part of life in the 21st century". The first sentence of the IB's mission statement therefore reads:

"The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.

The aim of the PYP is for our students become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right."

Being internationally minded is not something you can teach in a lesson, it is an attitude, a way of thinking and being, of accepting other ways of thinking and doing are equally as valid as our own.
At Bradbury, we teach international mindedness as a concept, it permeates much of what we do as a way of being and thinking. It is my hope that while our students can appreciate cultural differences, they do not use them to make judgements or to perpetuate stereotypes, that they see their fellow students simply as peers and friends.

Last week, our Year 6 students, as part of their Unit of Inquiry, in which the central idea was
'International mindedness can provide an insight into the beliefs and values of others', held an international day, where students wore their national costumes and brought along food from their culture. It made for really fascinating conversation about where food was from (did the pavlova originate in NZ or Australia?), how it was made, and about names of food, for example I learned that round sweets in India are called 'ladoo' because of their shape. The students were asked to reflect on what they had noted about the food- similarities and differences. It was very interesting to see what they said, some of their reflections were quite sophisticated!

Of course, food and costumes are quite a shallow look at cultural differences, the concept is much deeper and richer than that. It includes things such as personal space, the concept of 'self', non verbal communication eg body language, attitude towards elders, ideas around adolescence, the list goes on!

Living as we do in an interconnected world, where global issues affect us all, we need our students to be creative, to be able to see and solve problems from multiple perspectives. As it is our current students who will have to face and solve these problems in the future, we need them to be able to move away from the idea of 'self' to that of 'other'.

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Music as a way to change the world!

I recently came across this article about songs that had changed the world.

While I don't know all of the songs, the idea of music as a form of social currency is one that fascinates me.

Of particular interest is the way in which music, both composition and instrumental mastery has become amazingly accessible to our students. When I went to school, unless you could play an instrument, the opportunity to create and perform music was pretty much out of reach, actually, for me, totally out of reach and it was something completely out of my range of possibility. It took me many years before I realised that I could list 'music' as an interest while not being able to play anything or read music fluently.

Here at Bradbury, and in many other schools all around the globe, this is no longer true, thanks to advances in technology. Programmes such as Garage Band allow our students access to a whole world of musical opportunity without the restriction of being musically illiterate. Students can compose, layer, produce and perform music with varying levels of musical competence, producing some impressive material in the process! I will just make the point though, that an understanding of music- phrasing, timbre, rhythm and so on, is still important and is taught still, it is just now that this knowledge can be applied by so many more. I sat through endless compulsory music lessons in high school with absolutely no outlet to apply what I was learning.

Music has always been a form of social currency, used to reinforce political and social messages, dancing its way into our heads with catchy tunes and quietly altering our attitudes as we have sung along. This means that this form of political and social voice is available to a much wider audience at a much younger age. Add to the technologies that make this possible, the social media opportunities and you have a pretty powerful tool!

Our Year 6 students have used their own compositions to reinforce the social responsibility message contained in The Exhibition. They produced their own songs with a passion and dedication worthy of all songwriters. I'm not sure that they realise the power that they have, quite literally in their fingertips, but it is certainly not something that was available to me and, for that matter, for many of us, until quite recently.

Is this a good thing? In my opinion, like many things, it is neither innately good or bad, it is how it is used. What is good though, is that these opportunities are given to our students. They are a reflection of the times we live in and the skills our children need to possess. While I do think it is highly unlikely one of our Bradbury students will produce a song in Mr Clothier's class that will change the world, I do think that the world has changed and in the future...why not?

These photos were taken last year in a music workshop run by Marcel Pusey, who wrote the 'O Generator', which is a computer based composition programme.

Friday, 6 September 2013

Socialising at school

It is the Bradbury School Picnic tonight, an event that I look forward to and very much enjoy. This is when school families come along to school with nothing more than a picnic and a rug, ready just to meet and mingle and get to know other school families in what is a very laid back, easy event. We have live music and that's it! No need to spend money, to bring along or prepare donations of food or goods- the only agenda is a social one.

I very much enjoy the parent body that we have at Bradbury. It is a strong community of people who value education and our school. We do many things that otherwise we would be unable to do- trips, activities, smaller learning groups, without the dedicated support of all of you. So this short blog is a thank you and to let you know that we do not take it for granted. Your support is valued by us all here at Bradbury.

Partnership with parents is a cornerstone belief for our school. I recently came across this article...see what you think!

Thursday, 29 August 2013

After school classes- pleasure or pain?

Like many parents, I wanted to ensure that my children (I have three) were well rounded individuals, exposed to a variety of interesting and stimulating experiences that would see that they grew into balanced, responsible and happy adults. To this end, they went to a variety of after school and Saturday classes to help them achieve this goal.

I wanted them to enjoy learning about things outside of school- dance classes, swimming coaching, rugby, piano and so on. Was I successful? Well yes, they are all great adults. Did these lessons help? Yes...and no!

Now I have the privilege of looking back, I can see that the classes that were the  most successful were the ones they themselves selected to attend. The ones I wanted them to go to because I thought it would be good for them, in spite of protests, were the ones that added stress and pressure and really, in retrospect, should have been dropped.

Funnily enough, I think most of the stress and pressure was on me as I 'encouraged' my child to perform. I certainly felt my blood pressure rise when they did not and over the years, I have laughingly told my friends that Saturday morning sports were the most stressful part of my entire week! My son is the only child I know who could turn rugby into an individual sport!

After school activities seem to be a way of life for many of our students and some attend a staggering array of activities. I remember one student who attended no less than 17 after school classes each week. The China Daily USA (23.08.13) recently carried an article about a 'switch' between the attitude of American and Chinese parents. The US parents want more pressure on their children to succeed in school , the Chinese want less. The article suggests that the "intense focus on test taking" in China and "the long hours of test preparation were a bit too much". Parents in the US however, have now taken heed of years of low test scores and under performing schools and want improvement.

So what is the answer? It is, of course, balance. We should encourage our children to follow their passions, to have high expectations (that are reasonable and achievable) of achievement, to encourage a diligent work ethic and so on. They do not need the stress and pressure- and nor do parents, of trying to excel or perform or even participate in an area that they just do not have a passion for.

As for my children, the dance lessons paid off and one of my daughters ended up being a champion salsa dancer. My son still has absolutely no interest in rugby or cricket, but did end up being in national championships in a team sport that he chose to participate in. None of them continue to play a musical instrument, but all love music. Most importantly, they are all balanced, responsible and happy adults, so I guess as parents, we did succeed!

Below are some photos from last year, of our student participating in ...and enjoying after school sports.

Thursday, 22 August 2013

How important is a good teacher?

Well, school is back, the new term has started and everything already looks settled and smooth. Our students are all with great teachers and are ready for a year of learning. But what is it that makes the difference to that year?

Probably not surprisingly, recent research shows that is the teacher who is one of the most important influences on learning outcomes and their classroom practice.

Professor John Hattie, who has been labeled as 'possibly the world's most influential education academic' (TES connect 14/9/12) undertook, in 2008, the biggest ever collection of evidence- based research into what makes a difference to learning in school.

It synthesised more than 50,000 studies encompassing the experiences of more than 80 million students across the English speaking world. From this, he was able to identify 136 interventions and rank them in order of effectiveness.

His research found that the best and most effective way to improve education outcomes relies on such things as setting learning goals and feedback from teachers.

Hattie says
" achievement is enhanced to the degree that students and teachers: set and communicate appropriate, specific and challenging goals; achievement is enhanced as a function of feedback; increases in student learning involves not only surface and deep learning but also a re conceptualisation of information" ( Hattie, Influences on Student Learning, 1999)

To achieve these things, the teacher is vital as they are the facilitators of the above.

One really interesting thing for me as a Principal, is that some of the things that many parents worry about, such as class size and homework have little effect on learning outcomes!

Hattie says
"The thing that really intrigues me is that the things at the bottom of the table still dominate our debates...We like to talk about things that really don't matter, such as all the structural things and the ways schools are set up."(TES connect 14/9/12)

So what are the top 10 list of influences on achievement according to Hattie?
Here they are, see what you think, they are taken from his book " Visible Learning for Teachers. Maximising impact on learning. (2012) The numbering is as per his book.

1. Developing high expectations for each student/ self reported grades
2. Piagetian programs
4. Response to intervention
4. Teacher credibility
6. Micro teaching
7. Classroom discussion
8. Comprehensive interventions for learning disabled students
9. Teacher clarity
10. Feedback

By the way, Homework is #94 and class size is #113. Other factors, like having a friend in class is not even on list.

It is good food for thought and as educators, the teachers at Bradbury, who all know about this research and have in fact heard John Hattie speak, constantly evaluate the effectiveness of their programmes, how they are teaching and whether or not they need to make changes to their pedagogical style.

It is great to be back. It is an interesting job, sometimes challenging, but always a pleasure! My best for a great year ahead. Below are some photos of learning this week:

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Building resilience ...or not

I had dinner with friends last night who commented that they are taking their children to Paris this summer as their 4 year old wants to see the Eiffel Tower. What lucky children they are and how fortunate that their parents can give them such an exciting experience!

As parents, it is our natural instinct to want to give our children all that we can and to protect them from harm, hurt and wrong.

But is there a point when this protection actually is potentially more damaging than the harm? Maybe. I see many students who have absolutely no capacity to deal with any level of emotional trauma because they have been protected from experiencing any form of unpleasantness, even on the most minor level.

We want our children to be emotionally resilient- that is a necessary capability to possess in order to function normally in the adult world- the ability to get up, shake yourself off and get on with it! It seems that some parents are very concerned with keeping their child's self esteem intact, but to me, it is at times, at the expense of allowing the child to build resilience in a supportive environment. Ironically, I think self esteem can be enhanced by resilience- the idea that it may not be nice/ pleasant but I'm alright and moving on, is a tremendously positive attitude to foster.

Edith Grotberg, in her book " Strengthening the Human Spirit" says this about resilience:

"Resilience is important because it is the human capacity to face, overcome and be strengthened by the adversities of life...With resilience, children can triumph over trauma; without it (adversity) triumphs."

It is okay to allow our children to experience unpleasantness at times, to not win, for it to be ok not to be in the top group- all sorts of daily experiences that mould us into emotionally functional people.

The photos below are some snaps that I took during a walk though the school this afternoon.

Monday, 3 June 2013

Celebrating all things Chinese!

Of all the curriculum areas, Chinese is the one I get the most 'feedback' from parents on, which to be honest, has somewhat surprised me at times. It runs the full range from bricks to bouquets. Parents want more, or less, or only rote, or inquiry based, or more traditional subjects, or celebration of festivals or no celebration of festivals...and I have come to the conclusion that the best I can do is simply my best!

My thinking is that Chinese should be taught by the best teachers I can find, who have the best professional development I can offer, who have the right resources, organisation and support that I can give. I think we have this at Bradbury and our recent reorganisation would support this. Most of all, I want our students to feel how special it is that we live in this amazing place, surrounded by this rich culture and we have the opportunity to embrace it.

A language to me, is the essence of a country's culture. In it is reflected all the values, ideals and beliefs of that culture. I love sitting in on Chinese lessons and hearing the story behind how characters are formed, it offers a rich glimpse into a sophisticated and ancient society.

Another thing about Chinese I really enjoy is learning and enjoying other aspects of the culture, such as its music. Today, we had the musicians from the Music Office Chinese Ensemble perform for us. They had around 16 traditional Chinese instruments that they not only played together, but also explained about and performed individually. Most I had never seen before-It was fantastic!

I very much support this whole school approach (today's performance was organised by the music department) to embracing and celebrating this wonderful culture which surrounds us!

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

Doing the rounds

As you may be aware, we have had the evaluation/accreditation visits from both the IB and Council for international Schools (CIS) in at school recently. It seems so far so good, with positive verbal feedback.

It is not all about good news only though, while affirming the good work going on, the teams were also in the school to help us with our on going development and so will make a number of recommendations for us to consider. It is actually very helpful to have objective eyes view our school and make constructive, professional suggestions for improvement.

Undertaking two in depth reviews ( both organisations required separate self studies) has been a really valuable experience to date, albeit lots of work! All fulltime staff, both teaching and support worked in teams to write a section of the self study, rating our performance against evidence, based on the standards of the organizations.

It was great to have staff involved and gave everyone the opportunity to understand aspects of school life that they may not know about or be involved in. It gave us a sense of tremendous unity, as we were all actively working towards a common goal.

While it can be a bit scary to have nine professionals going through the school like a dose of salt, I very much enjoyed the fact that there was a definite feeling from the teams of collegial support.

We will share the reports with you when received. At this stage, I am not expecting them until the end of June. I'll keep you posted!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Does fun have place in learning?

I've been reading recently some other blogs about the place of 'fun' in learning and it has led me to reflect on my thoughts and attitude to this idea.

For me, it is pretty simple- I think we learn something best when we are engaged, feel that we have a shot of being successful and enjoy it. In other words, as well as academic competence, there is a huge emotional component to learning.

If we think about how we learn, what we remember learning or how we were motivated to continue learning, fun has a huge place in it. An example from my own family that I can think of is when we went on a family holiday and during this time, went to a restaurant where they were having a salsa demonstration, that we could all join in on. My daughter loved it, had a great time, felt it was something she could be good at, so much so, that she continued on learning salsa and became a championship dancer. ( Meanwhile, at the same restaurant, my other daughter and I, who were partners, just argued about who was going to lead and never danced another salsa step again!)

I read an article called 'Serendipitous Interaction Key to Firms' Workplace Design' by Stephen Henn, talking about the cultures of innovation and creativity at Google and Facebook. The leaders of these organisations intentionally create opportunities for their employees to have fun, as they believe that it will lead to the creation of better products and services.

While our students aren't products or services, I feel that their attitude towards learning and coming to school will be enhanced if it is a positive place to be, they are engaged, they feel that they want to learn and yes...they have fun!

Monday, 29 April 2013

Orangutans and school life

One thing I really enjoy about life in Bradbury School is the huge variety of events that take place each and every week. There is always something going on! I try to get to as much as I can, as I love seeing our children participate in life outside the classroom.

Last week, for example, we started our week with our Earth Day walk. Each year group walked along Bowen Rd, dressed in Earth colours, to show our support for caring for our planet. By doing this, we hope to raise our students' awareness of the importance of the world around them.

At the same time, Year 2 were raising money within their classes for the Masarang HK Society for the rehabilitation of orangutans. They were doing this after the founder, Dr Willie Smits came to talk to them about his work on this project. I had heard Dr Smits talk at another conference I had attended and could not believe that we were lucky enough to have him come and speak at Bradbury. I found him to be absolutely inspirational! I was so moved that I tried to persuade my daughter in law, who is a wildlife vet, to go and work for him!

We also had the HK Athletics meet, which... we won! Very exciting as the competition was tough. This gives us a good measure how how robust our PE programme is in Bradbury School and how our level of performance compares to other schools.

As part of our PE programme, Year 4 had a rugby tournament in Happy Valley. It was great to watch the development of a high level of skills, accessible to all children, not just the 'sporty ones'. Not being a person who fits into this category, this is important to me to see!

We had another great class assembly, presented by 2W and 2M, on Forces. It was wonderful to see such young children presenting such a sophisticated scientific concept with understanding.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Cake Sale!

Cake sale morning teas are always very exciting for our students, they love having this treat now and then. It is also a great way to have parents in the school; it is a good option for working parents who cannot commit to coming in on a regular basis, but still would like to be a part of what is going on.

As you would know, I am on gate duty each morning and it is always fun to see such delectable treats being brought up the stairs so carefully! So much effort goes into making these look mouthwatering and delicious.

The money that is raised goes to support the Year Group whose sale it is. Traditionally, for little extras like games for wet lunches. It is each Year Group's decision what they spend the money on, so it is all in a good cause.

Some parents have told us that they disapprove of us selling cakes to students. As a school, we have discussed their concerns, but do always come back to the cake sale. The popularity and support of these sales shows us that, in the main, the majority of our parents approve of them. Ultimately, I guess it is each family's decision, as participation is optional.

I have noticed that sometimes, a 'healthy' option, like bags of plain popcorn, are sent in, which is a really good idea. In fact today, a bag of popcorn was one of the first items sold!

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Planning together

I really like the way that dedicated time for teachers to get together for planning is built into our timetable. It means that a high level of communication is in place, teachers can work on units together and share ideas, as well as having time for the practical planning of trips and visits.

This year, instead of going in to each classroom for a formal observation of teaching, I have dedicated a month to spend with each year group, to work with them in a way that they think would be helpful. An example of this has been to spend some time asking students questions about their perceptions of their learning, then feeding this back to teachers. The teachers then can examine their teaching practices to see if they need to make modifications based on their students' feedback.

The pictures below are from my time with the Year 1 team, after I spent some time asking students about their perceptions of 'success'.

I think it is great that teachers want to give value to student voice and to hear what our students think and feel about this huge thing called 'learning' that they are so heavily involved in each day!

Thursday, 21 March 2013

Year 6 Exhibition

What a fabulous Year 6 Exhibition we had last night! Our students were wonderfully articulate at presenting their learning and actions to a very large crowd of parents and extended family members.

Many people commented to me on the depth of knowledge and understanding our students displayed. They certainly demonstrated how important it is not to underestimate what children of this age can grasp. There was plenty of evidence of some pretty sophisticated understandings!

The Exhibition was also a great demonstration of how we as a school can pull together. Lots of staff from all across the school were involved as mentors and instructors, plenty of parents were involved with facilitating mini field trips and all of our students were able to be involved in a variety of ways.

I really like the move to global awareness and action as a part of our curriculum. I think that it is a powerful way to make a positive impact on our community and reflects the type of knowledge and understandings our students, who are the adults of the future, need!