Wednesday, 3 December 2014

Mindset- ensuring growth or failure for our children?

There is an old saying that you will be the same person in five years time except for two things- the people you meet and the books you read. As you know, at Bradbury and in fact right through educational circles around the world, there is an increasing emphasis on teaching and looking after the 'whole child'. As a part of my own research into this area, I recently read a book called "Mindset The New Psychology of Success" by Carol Dweck. I found this book absolutely life changing in terms of how I personally view the world and my experiences in it, as well as the type of feedback we give our children. Dweck talks about the fact that it is not just our talents and abilities that ensure our success, it is also whether we approach our goals with a fixed or growth mindset.

A fixed mindset is a belief that our abilities are carved in stone, creating the need to prove ourselves over and over again. Failure is not an option! A growth mindset is one where you believe that your basic qualities are things that you cultivate through your efforts- which includes learning from failure. Everything can change and grow through application and experience. A mistake or failure is valuable, as this is where the learning takes place and gives us feedback on what needs to improve or be worked on in order to gain success next time we attempt it:

How do we as educators and parents reinforce either a fixed or growth mindset? It is often manifest in the way in which we talk to our  our children. The chart below gives some examples of  growth v fixed mindset responses that we can encourage our children to use as self talk:

Growth mindset is one that I am really enjoying learning about. As an educator, I see a real opportunity to inspire learners. As a parent and now a grandparent, I see the opportunity to make a difference in the lives of my own family as well. It is a huge area but I hope that maybe I have inspired you to think further. Here is a link to a YouTube talk given by Dweck  on the topic of happiness- how do we make sure that kids and adults are eager to learn? She talks about growth mindset in detail:

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

What does 'parent partnership' REALLY mean?

I have been thinking a lot lately about the idea of 'parent partnership' and what it really means. It is a term I use often and the idea of partnership with parents is fundamental to my philosophy of leading a school.

However, I have wondered recently whether it is a term and concept that needs clarity- I have always assumed that everyone has the same understanding of what this means and operates within similar parametres as me, but I think I am wrong to make this automatic assumption.

For me, it means a high level of trust, respect and mutual cooperation. Armstrong (cited in Hodge & Runswick, 2008) states that partnership... "implies: mutual respect, complementary expertise; and a willingness to learn from each other."

We have in our care your most precious children, nothing should be hidden from you and we should operate in a transparent way that engenders the characteristics of partnership as above. However, this works both ways, we need the same from parents!

One of the most critical components of partnership in my view is trust. Bryk & Schneider (2003) suggests that there are four components to trust:

  • Respect
  • Personal regard
  • Competence in core role responsibilities
  • Personal integrity

Each of these work together to foster relational trust that is built slowly, day by day. It does not happen overnight. All of you extend to us, as a matter of necessity, a level of provisional trust when you send your child to us on their very first day. As time goes on, this trust is either built on and confirmed or eroded away. Given our strong parent community, the norm is the first!

However, the same applies to us as a school community welcoming parents in and building that relationship. We extend to you, also as a matter of necessity, that same provisional trust, which  is either built on or eroded away as time goes on. Again, at Bradbury, the former is the norm.

This then builds the basis for true partnership, where both sides can rely on the other to act in ways which build relational trust which in turn, builds confidence in the other. This does not mean blind trust- partnership also means constructive feedback and dialogue, working together, through differences to reach solutions and compromises.

To me, parent partnership is an area that is a strength of our school. I feel that we have the trust of our parents in terms of respect, personal regard, competence and integrity. This then acts like both a glue and a lubricant, to use Schannen- Morgan's definition, which I love! Glue because it binds us together, lubricant because it greases the wheels of of our school.

I would be really interested in hearing your views on what 'partnership' in school means to you.

Anthony Bryck & Barbara Schneider (2003) Trust in Schools: A Core Resource for School Reform, Creating Caring Schools, 60:6, 40-45
 Nick Hodge & Katherine Runswick‐Cole (2008) Problematising
parent–professional partnerships in education, Disability & Society, 23:6, 637-647

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Things that keep me awake at night...

Last weekend, I attended the East Asia Regional Council of Schools (EARCOS) leadership conference. This is always a great opportunity to learn more about a whole range of things as the quality of the speakers and workshops is always high.

One workshop I attended was on coping in a crisis and ensuring that you are well prepared in terms of knowing procedure and how to respond, including how to deal with the media.

For  principals, this is probably the one thing that keeps us awake at night- all of the potential risks 'out there', what to do when things go wrong...and deal with events that can be out of your control. Of course, the workshop was peppered with lots of real life school examples, which only served to fuel the insomnia as they were very real and quite current.

Lots of very good strategies were given and a clear 'game plan' provided. Things like ensuring the phone list is kept up to date (note to parents: do we have your current contact details?) assigning a media spokesperson, keeping answers open, honest and brief, thorough background checks of new staff and so on.

Preparing for potential incidents is possible to some degree. We do have a  comprehensive critical incident procedure in place (which is now about to undergo a review to ensure that we have covered most broad areas and that our procedures are current and known to those involved!). We are rigorous in completing risk assessments for trips and each of these has a reconnaissance visit completed by the staff involved before the trip takes place. We will continue our current practice of having  new appointees to school undergo a background check as well as  referee checks.

Another workshop that I attended was about the 'To DON'T List' for principals. As you can imagine, my 'To Do' can be quite long at times! However, this workshop urged us to think about eliminating practices that have never worked (I call this 'strategic abandonment' and have used it at times very successfully!) or those that have ceased to work in new contexts, or have such a so low impact on learning that they are just not worth doing. It was a good reminder about constantly reflecting and reviewing our current practice- it is so easy in a busy day to forget to do this.

Talking about reflecting, our focus on teaching our students to be 'mindful' is going well and we are noticing a positive difference in our classrooms. Have you noticed a positive difference at home?

Thursday, 16 October 2014

Uniforms/uniformity- one less decision to make!

I am not really sure where the idea of a school uniform came from. Perhaps it was an early attempt to standardise clothing in order to reduce parental costs or class discrimination? Whatever the reason, we have a uniform at Bradbury and this is a feature of our school. We have changed, modified and added to it over the years, but it remains basically the same with a few 'upgrades'.

I like the sense of team that a uniform engenders- it is an obvious  sign  of having a place and belonging to a group. On a practical side, in terms of school, it eliminates the need to spend hours deciding on what to wear and how to wear it. If you have daughters like mine, who had very determined ideas about what they would wear to their 'uniformless' primary school, they are a huge stress reducer- as a parent, I would have loved them!

In a Vanity Fair interview, Barack Obama agrees with the elimination of sartorial choice: “You’ll see I wear only gray or blue suits … I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.” Dr. Alan Hilfer, senior psychologist in the Children's and Adolescent Unit at Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn says, "Uniforms do eliminate competition, pressure, and assaults perpetrated by older kids on younger kids for their sneakers and other possessions. They also allow some kids to focus better, especially in the lower grades." (FamilyEducation:

What does a uniform do? It creates a level playing field and equalises our students. It eliminates dress competition and conversations around what is appropriate to wear to school. We see uniforms everywhere, not just in schools- sports, police, Boy Scouts, military and plenty of informal ones as well- like jeans and a tee shirt or an all black business attire. Uniforms show power, rank and affiliation and gives us information about the wearer.

Information about the wearer can be useful for a school. If a student gets separated from the group on a school outing or is involved in an accident somehow, it provides a key to identity and follow up. However, the ability to make an accurate identification about where the wearer is from can also be detrimental, such as the time I received several phone calls from irate members of the public upset about the behaviour of some of our students on their journey home. The caller knew who to ring because of our uniform and I was able to follow the complaint up, much to the horror of those involved!

So, no matter what we think about our actual uniform, uniforms have a place in our world and have a role to play. Wearing the correct school uniform at Bradbury is a sign of respect for the prevailing culture and expectations of our school. Plus- it eliminates just one more decision we have to make on a daily basis!

Friday, 10 October 2014

Expanding our idea of professionalism?

As many of you know, I am modeling being a life long learner and have started a PhD. I am really enjoying the reading that I have been doing and as a part of that,  I have been thinking and reading a lot lately around the idea of professionalism and what it means to be a 'professional'.

I came across some research that presented an extended and possibly unconventional idea of what it means to be a 'professional'. This model consisted of three themes, each one I believe relevant to us as a school community and certainly expands what many of us see as constituting this concept.  I was privileged recently, to open the first ESF conference for our Educational Assistants and used this research as the basis for my opening speech, an amended 'blog' version of which follows. 

The first theme of the research is that professional practice is relational involvement -we are all part of each other’s lives and each of us has an impact on those around us. All those seemingly trivial conversations that we have with our students about the smallest things that may seem isolated, but they actually link to a much larger pedagogical goal: that of creating and maintaining personal connections that refer back to their joint history.

Everyday, we engage in numerous and fleeting conversations that demonstrate a deep layer of connection based on our shared personal knowledge and shared reference points. By having this involvement, also nurtured through these conversations are caring relationships and a sense of togetherness. So: being professional is personal, it is about relationships.

Secondly,  professional practice is teamwork and attunement to one’s colleagues. Teamwork occurs not only at the structural level of agreeing on responsibilities, but also at the level of day to day negotiations of our relationships with our colleagues. Here collegial support is the key, looking out for one another and supporting each other.

This sense of team is renewed daily through preparations for the day, through chats over morning tea, over the photocopier, actually in a myriad of situations! Teamwork requires regular communication- touching base during the day to see how students are going and to see if there is anything that needs to be passed on. It may be an observation made on the playground or on the way into school about a child who is not in the direct care of the observer, but it is important to let those involved with the child know. We all have a personal relationship with our colleagues individually and we also have a collegial responsibility to support our colleagues by sharing that information.

Finally, the third theme about being professional means acting professionally: ‘being fully present’ and bringing it all together. Acting professionally means to bring together multiple  layers of thinking, understandings and knowledge from diverse sources. That moment of balancing - what needs to happen now for this child to move their learning forward? Each of us at school makes that kind of decision everyday, many times a day.

So, in this model, there are three key elements of educational professional practice:
·       A focus on relational involvement in our student’s life
·       Teamwork that goes beyond structural planning and which includes ongoing relational attunement to our         colleagues
·       Professional decision making- the bringing it all together in an act of balancing in order to make the right decisions for learning.

What I like about this research is its inclusive approach. While the concept of 'professionalism' is a highly complex one, this simple definition means that everyone who works in our school can display attitudes, behaviours and dispositions that are professional in nature.

Dalli, Carmen
Early Years: An International Journal of Research and Development, 2011, Vol.31(3), p.229-243

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Help(er) or hindrance?

The other day I was in a classroom working with a child-  taking him through a test of the reading strategies that he was using. I handed him the closed book and asked him to read it through quietly to himself. Interestingly, he just sat there...and sat there, until I realised that he was waiting for me to open the book for him!

This made me wonder if many of our our children are so 'supported' in their learning that they lose the ability to think and act independently. It is as if they feel that their learning cannot take place until an adult is there to help them.

This morning, I read an article published in 'is international School' entitled 'The 'Maid Phenomenon'- a worrying trend for schools?" (Bradley,G., is International School, Autumn Spring 2014 Vol 17.1 pgs 18-19) in this article Dr Bradley talks about how our maids can actually hinder the development of the life skills, independent learning and attitudes that we work on so hard to develop both through our school philosophy and curriculum.

She states that some of the consequences of 'the maid phenomenon' can include:
  • poor language development
  • promoting 'learned helplessness' which may hinder the development of self reliance
  • attachment disorders- sometimes,  maids take on the role of 'parent'
  • poor behaviour
  • children relinquishing vital skills which have become unnecessary for life in this context
  • children taking for granted that someone else will pick up after them
  • a belief that some individuals are worth less than others
This can have an impact on learning right through school. Professor Marcus du Sautoy, in his article "It's not about  the numbers" (IBWorld, September 2014, 70 pgs 11-13) states that "students lack of confidence in mathematics is a long-established problem." He goes on to state that  a PISA study found that one in three students from OECD countries said that they "were put off by by difficult problems."

I have written before about the need to develop resilience in our children. They need to be able to get up, shake themselves off and carry on when they encounter mistakes, problems or difficulties, not just not try! Teaching then to be self reliant and independent is a really important part of this. So please, ensure that you are the one spending time with your child and that you are encouraging your maid to let the child do things by themselves and most importantly, encourage your children to value your maid as a person.

As a side note, this might really help our congestion at the beginning and end of the day- maids do not have to leave the drivers to double park while they (carrying the child's schoolbag) walk them into or out of school, rather than have them wait for them with me at the top of the stairs!

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Being open minded

Last weekend, around 17 teaching staff members attended a Google Summit for Educators. This was a two whole day event that was voluntary, so I was very impressed that so many of our staff attended.
It was a great opportunity to catch up on all the latest developments in learning technologies- for me at least!

I realised that at Bradbury, many of the teachers had already started to use some of the applications, systems and programmes in their classrooms. 'Google Classroom' was a great example of this- several teachers had already started using this application already- with great success.

What this meant for me was a great affirmation of how 'switched on' and open to new ideas the teachers at Bradbury are. The idea of being open minded is an important one and is something that is valued and encourage both for staff and for our students through our inquiry approach to learning.

All of us are brought up and in turn, bring our own children up, with a set of values and beliefs. As a school community we have a set of shared values and beliefs as expressed through our guiding statements. Having a set of values and beliefs is a very good thing- it gives us guidance on how to live our life and operate in our world.

It becomes a problem however, when it stops us from considering other points of view and recognising that they may be as equally valid as our own. In such a multicultural and accessible world, this understanding becomes vital in order to live respectfully and peacefully together- especially in a melting pot like Hong Kong! At Bradbury, we address this through our approach to 'internationalism' and by valuing diversity as something that makes our world a richer and more interesting place.

This quote by Gerry Spense sums it up rather nicely:

"I would rather have a mind opened by wonder than closed by belief."

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Professional Learning Communities as a Way of Improving Learning

You would had noted in my previous blog that I mentioned that we have formed a curriculum group to look at well being. This is not the only curriculum group that we have formed, there is also one for Maths, literacy and the Social Sciences (Science and Social Studies).

The idea for these groups is that they are formed to strengthen particular areas of the curriculum, with a focus on learning while at the same time, capitalising  on the strong sense of collaboration that we enjoy at Bradbury. Shared practice, knowledge and a professional interest in the area are also hallmarks of our curriculum groups. These are really what are called, in educational lingo,  'Professional Learning Communities' (PLCs)

I like the way the Ontario Ministry of Education defines  PLCs  as "a shared vision for running a school in which everyone can make a contribution, and staff are encouraged to collectively undertake activities and reflection in order to constantly improve their students’ performance".

As you may know, the concept of a shared vision is important to my own personal philosophy of leadership as well as to the way leadership operates here at Bradbury. One author I have really enjoyed over a period of years is Peter Senge. In his book 'The Fifth Discipline', he states: “The practice of shared vision involves the skills of unearthing shared ‘pictures of the future’ that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance. In mastering this discipline, leaders learn the counter-productiveness of trying to dictate a vision, no matter how heartfelt” (1990, p. 9)

So true! And unearthing 'pictures of the future' for our students is a challenging task! So often, we are bogged down by the day to day tasks of running a school or a classroom. To have a picture of where we are going, to have aspirational goals for our students and remembering that we are teaching our students for their future, not our past, is crucial to an effective school.

So our PLCs here at Bradbury aim to move practice forward in each area by giving staff dedicated time to reflect, discuss and move forward their area, all within a collaborative, sharing culture.
Each PLC is scheduled to present to parents over the year, so do keep an eye out for these meetings. They are  intended to inform and have you be a part of our shared vision for each curriculum area as well.

  • Senge, P. (1990). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization. New York: Currency Doubleday.