Prioritizing Self-Care

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When someone asks you how things are going, how often do you answer that you’re busy? Unfortunately, I probably say this in passing much too often. Talking “with others about how much we work” happens since ‘busyness’ can be seen as a status symbol – an indicator of how important we are – even though being a workaholic is clearly not healthy. When I mention that I’m busy, I’m not trying to prove my value or how successful I am. Regardless, I find it quite sobering to think that talking about how busy we are is “harming how we communicate, connect, and interact” with others. This is certainly the opposite of what instructional coaches and teacher leaders are aiming for. I can see how even a casual comment about being busy might prevent me from connecting, empathizing or listening to others.

At the moment, I am home in Canada unexpectedly on bereavement leave. As my husband, two sons and I process our loss and spend time with family, I have had some time to reflect on whether I am prioritizing what is most important. In other words, what is keeping me “busy”? While I am confident that my husband and I do well at prioritizing our sons and our family, neither of us has consistently prioritized our wellness in the last few years. We both tend to let our own self-care and wellness slide when things get busy. I should know better; I know that an educator – or parent! – “who prioritizes downtime, relaxation and self-care discovers an increase in overall well-being and in multiple dimensions of performance.

Here are some actions that educators can take to practice self-care:

  • set clear boundaries on work hours
  • “prioritize ruthlessly” (this term really resonates with me!)
  • eat healthy (I usually plan and prep meals on weekends)
  • drink enough water
  • exercise regularly (for me, this is yoga, walking and strength-training)
  • meditate
  • spend quality time with family and friends (I need to ensure that how I spend my time with family and friends does not conflict with my desire to eat healthy and be active)
  • get enough sleep (I need to avoid work and other distractions so that I can get to bed earlier)

Use often & freely!

How can we ensure that we stick to new self-care habits? I know that I will need to schedule in time for self-care each week. When I get back to work next week, I am going to commit to at least two acts of self-care daily. I am also going to schedule in more frequent regular reflections on my purpose and mission as a teacher leader, as Elena Aguilar recommends in Ways to Cultivate Your Emotional Resilience This Year, and also in her book The Art of Coaching. This will allow me to ensure that I can “prioritize ruthlessly” what matters most.

Self-care is a priority and necessity – not a luxury – in the work that we do.

Author Unknown


NGSS UbD Unit Planning Cycle for PLCs (Collaborative Teams)

As an Instructional Coach primarily supporting MS and HS science teachers, I have spent a lot of time in the past year thinking about the process for designing NGSS units that are based upon the UbD framework, and which also connect with the PLC work of collaborative teams. Fortunately, I have been able to trial and refine this process as I work with collaborative teams. This has allowed me to improve and more clearly articulate the process each time I have worked with a team to help them plan a unit.

Recently, a colleague shared a book called Assessment-Centered Teaching: A Reflective Practice. Although this book has been around since 2008, reading through a few of its chapters was a lightbulb moment for me. It became very clear that I needed to make the process of planning and implementing an NGSS unit simpler and more VISIBLE to teachers in order to allow us to build shared understanding. The timing of my colleague sharing this book with me was perfect – it was a few days before I was scheduled to facilitate two different collaborative team planning days. I took the graphic from Assessment-Centered Teaching that outlines a unit design cycle, modified it slightly, and incorporated essential aspects of NGSS. I posted this graphic up on the wall during the planning days to help explain the overall unit design cycle, as well as which steps we were focusing on that day. Here is my first draft of this NGSS + UbD + PLC cycle for a unit:


It was so helpful to have this process visible to all of us; it served as a reminder to stay focused on where we were in the process at specific times during the day. We started with UbD Phase 1: Identifying Desired Results (PLC Q#1 – What do we want our students to learn?), then focused on thinking through UbD Phase 2: The Assessment Plan (PLC Q#2 – How will we know if they’ve learned it?) Of course, UbD Phase 3: The Learning Plan (instruction) often comes up naturally during both of these conversations, but it is helpful to focus on identifying desired results, as well as think through assessment before getting too specific about instruction.

To help make sense of my thinking and to better guide teams, I’ve drafted an NGSS Conceptual Flow Protocol for Step 1 of the unit design cycle above. This will lead to the creation of what Paul Andersen refers to as an ‘anchor chart’ (sample photo below) to help determine the storyline for the unit. (I am certain I will continue to refine it over time.) Protocols for Steps 2 & 3 (NGSS specific) coming soon!


Protocol for Developing the Conceptual Flow3 (Anchor Chart4) for an NGSS Unit

UbD® Phase 1: Identify Desired Results

PLC Question #1 – What do we want our students to learn?2

Prior to this Protocol:

  • bundle the NGSS performance expectations (PEs)
  • individually brainstorm main concepts and vocabulary related to the topic that will be considered
  • read over relevant evidence statements

Materials Needed:

  • collaborative team (2 or more teachers)
  • orange and green sticky notes, pens, large whiteboard or poster paper
  • planning cards (PEs, SEPs and CCCs)
  • evidence statements
  1. As a team, write what students should know (concepts/DCIs) on orange sticky notes. Begin to organize the sticky notes on a large whiteboard or poster paper.
  2. Are there 1-3 ideas that, if students could really understand them deeply, would help them explain other ideas in this unit?5
  3. Also consider the following questions:
    • Are there any concepts that are not aligned to the PEs? If so, are they essential for student conceptual understanding?3
    • How might the concepts be connected to one another? 5
    • How might the concepts be nested and linked to help build student understanding?3
    • To what extent is the sequence of concepts developmentally appropriate? 3
    • To what extent does the sequence of concepts anticipate alternative conceptions students might have as part of their prior knowledge? 3
  4. How do students need to THINK about the concepts? Use green sticky notes to incorporate the crosscutting concepts (CCCs) into the anchor chart.
  5. What might the conceptual storyline be for this unit? (A storyline means “the coherence is from the students’ perspective, not just the teacher’s.”6)
  6. What anchor phenomenon (anchoring event5) might drive the unit? Consider writing a driving question to go with the anchor phenomenon/event.5
  7. What supporting phenomena might drive individual lessons?
  8. What Essential Questions, Enduring Understandings, transdisciplinary transfer goals (TTGs) and disciplinary transfer goals (DTGs) might be appropriate for this unit?
  9. Start to write a draft description of the unit that incorporates the phenomena and storyline. This will help to guide you in UbD® Phase 2: Assessment Plan (PLC Question #2 – How will we know if students learned it?)


Protocol based on work from:

  • 1 Understanding by Design (UbD®) Framework by Jay McTighe and the late Grant Wiggins
  • 2 Marzano, Robert J. Collaborative Teams That Transform Schools: The Next Step in PLCs. Marzano Research, 2016.
  • 3 DiRanna, Kathryn. Assessment-Centered Teaching: A Reflective Practice. London, 2008.
  • 4 Andersen, Paul. “Anchor Charts” The Wonder of Science, 20. Oct. 2018,
  • 5 Windschitl, Mark, et al. Ambitious Science Teaching. Harvard Education Press, 2018.
  • 6 “What are storylines?” Next Generation Storylines, 20 Oct. 2018,

True Collaboration = Incredible Professional Learning

I am so very grateful to work at a school that values collaboration. Currently, I am part of a collaborative team of five instructional coaches. Prior to this, I was incredibly fortunate to have been a teacher in the Innovation Institute program at Shanghai American School. (Check out this video of Innovation Institute.)

At present, I am still involved as the Innovation Institute Coordinator, but I do miss the challenge of collaborating to create meaningful, engaging interdisciplinary projects. I was thrilled recently that some of my Innovation Institute colleagues created a game to represent the program from the teacher’s perspective. It is an excellent portrayal of the highs and lows of working in a collaborative team in which your success is truly dependent on your colleagues. This kind of interdependence is quite often challenging, but it is also incredibly rewarding. The unique experience of helping to develop this program, as well as teaching and coordinating within the program, has been some of the best professional learning in my career. Without a doubt, it has made me a much better educator.

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Innovation Game Instructions

Innovation Game Board

For more information about the Innovation Institute program, check out the excerpt we wrote for The PBL Playbook by A.J. Juliani:

The Innovation Institute program originated from a series of conversations between high school faculty and administration. Several teachers were inspired by their previous educational and professional experiences. After numerous discussions (at least one of which was based upon Jared Diamond’s Guns, Germs and Steel), James Linzel and Tom Musk spoke with their high school principal at the time, Sascha Heckmann. They were inspired to help develop a program driven by phenomena or issues-based perspectives. These conversations began to include more teachers as they gained momentum and became more structured as they focused on subject integration and overlap. Eventually, the program was approved, school administration secured financial support, and professional learning and time for teachers to collaboratively to develop the program was provided.

Conversations around meaningful outcomes and pedagogical philosophies, as well as developing deeper understandings of each other’s content areas, were important steps in creating the Innovation Institute program and specific interdisciplinary projects, recalls Patrice Parks.  She explains that it took about six months to address both philosophical and practical aspects of the program. Understanding collectively what project or problem-based learning was going to look like in our particular context—a private, college prep school in Asia—was essential to creating a program that honored our responsibility to our students, to parents’ expectations of an SAS education, and to our belief in what education can and should achieve.

Tom explains that teachers found it to be an incredibly challenging process to get the program started, and it felt high-stakes at the time because the school invested so much money into infrastructure. He feels that this program would not have survived, and ultimately thrived, without administrative support and teachers willing to support and inspire one another. In addition, Patrice says that pioneering students who were willing to take a leap of faith in a tradition-bound educational environment were also instrumental.

Another challenge, according to Patrice, is that [it] is deeply difficult to de-program/wean (for lack of a better term) students from the traditional classroom educational paradigm, but it can be done. The fact that this is a two-year program is essential to its success because it takes real time and effort to shift students’ horizons of expectations around their learning experiences.  The first year (grade 9) lays down the fundamentals in skills and content for the disciplines, as well as the 5 C’s (Collaboration, Creativity, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Compassion). The second year (grade 10) enables students to continue the journey and takes them to the next level of conceptual understanding and a better grasp of the 5 C’s.

Ultimately, all of the conversations, planning days and professional development led to the creation of a two-year, interdisciplinary, PBL program where students are expected to attempt to answer four to six ‘driving questions’ per year using their learning from Design, English, History, and Science. James explains that these questions are focused on contemporary challenges such as: ‘How to endure justly on a finite world?’, ‘What is the biggest catalyst for change in China?’ or ‘How do we adapt to scarcity in a globalized world?’ David Gran points out that in the Institute, content is not emphasized over skills. Instead, students start with real world applications and meaningful integrations and work backwards from there.

Amy [Foley] further explains that the driving questions (DQs) are always open-ended and can be answered in a variety of ways. In addition, student teams must draw upon their knowledge from all four disciplines to fully address the DQ. Depending on the project, students are involved in foundational learning prior to, or just after, the project launch. This foundational learning often involves students attending separate classes for each discipline as they would in a more traditional program. However, teachers co-plan in advance to ensure that what is being taught connects to the other classes and is also setting students up to be able to later further their understanding in order to answer the DQ.

After each project launch, the teachers’ role is to facilitate the process each team goes through to incubate their potential answers for the DQ. Team contracts are written, and teams are given time to ideate (brainstorm). Patrice says that while it can be difficult, teams must be given time to pursue less than stellar ideas far enough that they either realize on their own that their idea is going nowhere or is not deep enough to adequately answer the question. At times, student teams need to be redirected by a teacher facilitator. This can be tricky as there is usually only 6-7 weeks allocated for each project. When designs/products/research have to be cast aside, both students and teachers begin to feel the pressure. Timing for teacher intervention is important—and delicate.

In fact, helping students to collaborate effectively is one of the main challenges throughout the program. Students need help learning what collaboration looks like and feels like. To go beyond cooperative work to true collaboration, honesty and vulnerability is required. Patrice further explains that PBL can go the way of polite divisions of labor that prevent inspiration, depth, or innovation – or can perhaps lead to one responsible and driven student doing most, if not all, of the work. One way to avoid this is for teachers to model true collaboration. Patrice and other Institute teachers often share some of their challenges in becoming a truly collaborative team. The teachers also often hold meetings in spaces where students can observe teachers’ processes and how they negotiate conflict and honor each other. Teachers ensure that students know how to reach out for help when [they] need a mediator to help the team get back on track. Institute teachers also model hypothetical situations and frequently conference with student teams.

An exciting element of collaboration for students is the big reveal of teams during a project launch. Teachers may solicit input from students when forming teams for a new project, but ultimately teachers finalize teams that they feel are balanced and best accommodate students’ needs. However, it is a puzzle trying to ensure all teams will be successful. One interdisciplinary project requires grade 10 students to design and build a board game to answer the question ‘How do we adapt to scarcity in a globalized world?’ Tom recalls that during this project, there was a team that teachers were concerned about. The students were solid individually, but there was uncertainty about how they would work together, as well as whether any would step up as a leader. As the ideation process unfolded, the team really struggled to find a unifying idea to answer the driving question. However, in the final few weeks of the project – when other teams were iterating their final product based upon the expert feedback from a game consultant – one student made a joke about creating a game about competitive sushi chefs who compete to destroy each other. After further discussion and brainstorming, the group decided it was actually a good idea that would allow them to answer the DQ. Ultimately, the team produced an exemplary game that truly impressed parents and visitors during the Family Game Night showcase. Tom points out that this is a great example that team strength is not simply assembling strong individuals – it is about groups collaborating effectively. As an end note to this story, for the final project of the two-year program (eight months later), student managers were given the freedom to assemble their own teams. Perhaps not surprisingly, these four students chose to be a team again because they knew they could persevere and work well together. They ended up producing another fantastic project.

Another key element of the program is incorporating experts or members of the community. Tiffany Kelley explains that Institute teachers want to empower students to see the world as their classroom, and the meaningful connections students make with experts, authentic audiences and even places visited outside of school during PBL, contributes deeply to their engagement in the learning process and ultimately to their final products. It can be challenging to secure experts, so at times teachers have asked parents, other faculty, or members of the communications department to act as experts or audiences. Tiffany has observed that sometimes these experts are giving the same message as the Institute teachers, but having another voice say something in a different way to the students can have a profound effect.

Authentic products or audiences are also a focus for the Innovation Institute. Grade 10 students complete a film project to answer the driving question ‘Do we live in a Brave New World?” Both years that students submitted films to the Shanghai Student Film Festival, teams won awards. David explains that the significance of this is that Institute students were competing against more experienced film students, while this was the first film the Institute students had produced. Innovation Institute students most likely created impressive films because they were exceptionally skilled at working together as a collaborative team in their undertaking of creative tasks.  The technical skill of film can be challenging, but effective collaboration is crucial for most fledgling film crews.

Finally, time must be made for reflection. Student teams need to be guided through a reflection of how well their team worked together, and students need to individually reflect on how they could better support their team in the future. Student feedback can also be useful to help teachers refine projects and PBL structures. Institute teachers often seek student feedback before launching a newly-designed project. Running a protocol with a small group of students gives them input into the project and helps teachers to improve the project prior to an official launch. Amy recommends that teacher teams set aside time – both during and after a project – to regularly reflect and document necessary improvements. Teacher reflection helps to improve the program. For example, David recognizes that Institute teachers have learned over time to more effectively incorporate individual accountability through specific roles, teacher check-ins and student peer reviews both during and at the end of projects.

It is really important for teachers to remember that taking risks or implementing something innovative is sometimes overwhelming, says Amy. There are many obstacles along the way. However, focus on positives such as students who are benefitting from the program. The following quote is from a student who spoke about their experience after they had completed the two-year Innovation Institute program.

In Inno, every major project we had was a ride of its own. No ride was the same as any others, because of different group mates, different objectives, and different end products. After finishing each project, there’s a feeling that “Hey, I did this!” that I can sort of get when I do well on something like a test, but not really. That’s because my group and I had made something tangible, like a coffee table book or a film or board game. I feel satisfied knowing all the work that goes into something like that. Sure, it feels good when you ace a test, but that’s just me feeling great about my grades. These projects make a person feel good about themselves.

This is the sort of feedback that shows teachers they are on the right track and, like our students, need to keep persevering. Despite the natural ups and downs of implementing an innovative program, Patrice articulates what other Institute teachers feel – that this has been the hardest yet most satisfying work of our teaching careers and we are forever grateful for this opportunity.

If you are interested in project-based learning, I encourage you to read The PBL Playbook for some inspiration!

pbl playbook

Navigating Difficult Conversations

“… communication is at the heart of everything educators do. Our schools are only as good as the conversations within them.”

Jim Knight (Better Conversations, 2015)

Coaching is an Art, not a Science

As I look ahead to my second year as an instructional coach, I am excited to continue practicing coaching conversations. At times – while reading books, online articles, connecting with other coaches on Twitter, learning with and from my colleagues – I have felt overwhelmed about the ‘right’ way to coach. On many occasions, I have been reminded that coaching – like teaching – is an art, not a science. I am also reminded that coaching conversations (and effective communication in general) can be very simple. As mentioned in The Coaching Habit: Say Less, Ask More & Change the Way You Lead Forever (2016), instructional coaching does not have to be overcomplicated, overly theoretical or overthought. I also really appreciate Kathy Perret’s recent blog post The KEYS to Coaching Conversations which also recommends that coaches keep things simple. I am looking forward to using these resources, as well as re-reading Elena Aguilar’s books The Art of Coaching: Effective Strategies for School Transformation (2013) and The Art of Coaching Teams: Building Resilient Communities That Transform Schools (2016) to remind myself of what I learned at her workshop, as I continue to discover and refine my own personal coaching style during coaching conversations.

the coaching habit the art of coaching the art of coaching teams.jpeg

Difficult Conversations

While I want to continue to practice and reflect on my coaching conversations so that I can improve, I have also spent much time this summer thinking about how to navigate difficult conversations in a broader sense. During my first year as an instructional coach (within a newly-adopted coaching model), I found myself involved in – and sometimes facilitating – many difficult conversations. Perhaps surprisingly, these difficult conversations were rarely with the teachers I am responsible for coaching; my experiences with difficult conversations during my first year were not often related to one-on-one coaching. More often, the difficult conversations I found myself in happened when collaborating with peers, other colleagues or administrators.

“Crucial Conversations” need to be “Better Conversations”

In Crucial Conversations: Tools for Talking When Stakes Are High (2012), Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler define “crucial conversations” as those that involve opposing opinions, high stakes and strong emotions. Sometimes the difficult conversations I participated in left me inspired, uplifted and in awe of what a team can accomplish together. However, there were times when I should have spoken up during a difficult conversation, but I remained quiet. There were times when I felt frustrated, dismissed or undervalued. There were times I saw others silenced, or noticed tension, and did not know how to shift the dynamic. Perhaps there were times others were uncomfortable or frustrated, but I was unaware. The perspective of my new role helped me realize that for much of my career I was probably able to avoid many crucial conversations, or perhaps I sometimes reacted with silence by withdrawing or avoiding when conversations become difficult. Crucial Conversations explains that when people feel unsafe, they become either silent (masking, avoiding, or withdrawing) or violent (controlling, labeling or attacking). In my current role, moving to silence is not an option, since “better conversations” are needed to ensure trust building and strong relationships. In his book Better Conversations: Coaching Ourselves and Each Other to be More Credible, Caring and Connected (2015), Jim Knight says “one of the most important and powerful ways we can improve our schools is to improve the way we interact with each other.”

crucial conversations.jpg better conversations.jpeg

Constructive Conflict

During the past year I learned about many aspects of Adaptive Schools through colleagues who have previously been trained. (I am very much looking forward to receiving this training at my school in the upcoming year!) Not surprisingly, I have noticed many similarities between The Adaptive School: A Sourcebook for Developing Collaborative GroupsCrucial Conversations and Better Conversations as I reflected on my own “communication beliefs and habits” (Knight, 2016). Crucial Conversations refers to the importance of building shared understanding, ensuring everyone feels safe enough to put ideas on the table, and the need for clear decision making processes. Adaptive Schools uses the terms “constructive conflict”, “ways of talking” (dialogue vs discussion) and “The Seven Norms of Collaboration” (toolkit linked here).

the adaptive school

Areas of Growth

In addition to continuing to focus on the work of Adaptive Schools, my summer reading has given me some new areas of focus to help me improve my ability to navigate difficult conversations without ‘overcomplicating things’.

Crucial Conversations explains that mutual purpose is an “entrance condition” and mutual respect is a “continuance condition” in order for constructive, healthy conversations to occur. The book also recommends simply asking yourself the following questions during – or in preparation for – difficult conversations:

  • What do I really want for myself?
  • What do I really want for others?
  • What do I really want for the relationship?
  • How would I behave if I really wanted these results?

Knight outlines the following Better Conversations Beliefs that also seem simple but necessary:

  1. I see conversations partners as equals.
  2. I want to hear what others have to say.
  3. I believe people should have a lot of autonomy.
  4. I don’t judge others.
  5. Conversation should be back and forth.
  6. Conversation should be life-giving.

The four questions from Crucial Conversations and Knight’s beliefs about communication are helpful for both one-on-one coaching conversations, and difficult conversations in general. To be an effective communicator, one must be aware not only of the content of the conversation, but also have an awareness of others AND self-awareness. It is not always easy to manage everything going on in a conversation, but I know I will more confidently and effectively navigate difficult conversations with practice and reflection. The following advice from Better Conversations also resonated with me as areas in which I want to focus in order to improve my communication habits:

  • “see each conversation as a learning opportunity, not a telling opportunity”
  • “seek first to understand, then be understood” (from Covey’s 7 habits of Highly Effective People)
  • avoid formulating a response before the speaker is finished
  • when it comes to questioning, “technique … is not as important as the mindset you bring”
  • do not be too busy with tasks to connect with others – be fully present and be persistent in connecting with others

Instead of looking back at missed opportunities or mistakes made in previous difficult conversations, I find myself excited and hopeful that I am better prepared for future “crucial conversations”. Elena Aquilar’s blog post Managing Conflict in School Leadership Teams reassures me that I have made some good decisions in the past by naming conflict, reflecting on when it is appropriate to address conflict, and referring teams back to their norms.

Empathy, Trust and Relationships

I ended the school year with a reflection to remind myself that coaching is all about empathy, trust and relationships. After much reflection and learning about how to best navigate difficult conversations, it seems I have circled back to the same realization. By asking myself the four questions from Crucial Conversations and by reflecting on my beliefs and practicing habits of communication as outlined in Better Conversations, I have found manageable strategies to empathize with others and build trusting relationships that will allow me to more effectively handle difficult conversations. I am looking forward to another year of growth in my instructional coaching role!

In schools, better conversations can dramatically improve educator and student learning. When teachers are clearer, ask better questions, and foster dialogue, their students learn more.

Jim Knight (Better Conversations, 2015)

Better conversations also stand at the heart of professional learning in schools. Instructional coaches who learn to be better at listening, questioning, building emotional connections, and fostering dialogue become more effective.

Jim Knight (Better Conversations, 2016)

My Favorite NGSS Resources

One of my colleagues at Shanghai American School inspired me to gather all of the NGSS resources I have used and love in one easy to navigate padlet (see below).

I had a list of sites available internally for the teachers I support, but it was not visually appealing or easy to navigate. Hopefully this padlet is an improvement!

What are YOUR favorite resources for NGSS implementation? What resources am I missing?


Made with Padlet


Together We Are Brilliant

“Alone we are smart, together we are brilliant.” Steven Anderson

I have been so inspired in the last week to actively reach out to other educators – to learn from them, but also to share innovation that I have been a part of. I also want to encourage sharing within my school so that we create an environment where risk-taking is encouraged.

In my experience, it is true that when you are trying to do something new (and hopefully better!), it is very easy for others to criticize. ‘Pushback’ from parents and colleagues can be discouraging, but not if you know to expect it as part of the process. It is important to have a good support network to help you continue forward until people start to see the benefits of what you are doing. It is also important to focus only on what you can control, and to try not to let negative talk or criticism get you down. It will pass. And, it helps to remind yourself and others that “our thinking must focus on what learning truly can be, not what it has been.” George Couros #IMMOOC

I’ve decided that I need to really commit to using Twitter more regularly. First, I want to start by sharing amazing things that are happening in our school. We have an incredible open learning environment for our science department and our Innovation Institute program, so it should be easy for me to take pictures and post them to my twitter account so that we can appreciate and recognize each other’s efforts. Second, I want to share out important parts of our the final project for the year in the Innovation Institute. I want to share what we are doing in the Institute beyond the walls of Shanghai American School.

Here is my first item to share (already posted on twitter @foley_amy) about the Innovation Institute:

This week, 9 student “project managers” determined the groups for their final project. All 37 students shared their top strengths, preferred role (art or tech in this project), as well as students they would prefer not to work with (often that they have worked together several times on projects) and students who they would really like to work with. The main rule during this process was that project managers could only discuss students’ strengths – no negative talk. We gave the project managers a few tips, and they ended up determining groups in a very similar manner to what the teachers have done to make project groups this year. I was so proud watching these students through the process. They have grown so much throughout their two years in the Innovation Institute. It makes all of the hard work worth it, and I am so excited to see where this final project takes us. What a wonderful journey this year has been…


Innovation = New & Better

Educators are so much more likely to be innovative if they work together with their colleagues. At a recent workshop – Math Specialists in Internationals Schools (MSIS) with Steve Leinwand and Erma Anderson – it was inspiring to create a new and improved lesson to introduce students to calculus that is connected to the real world (skateboard ramps) and first develops a conceptual understanding. This is not a huge mind-boggling innovation, but it is something new and better for students. I’ve said in earlier blog posts that these 5 MSIS workshops have been transformative for myself and the other math educators who attended.

I love that Katie mentioned in the live session this week that often teachers’ innovations are not shared and do not leave their classroom. I feel fortunate that my high school (Shanghai American School) has embraced the PLC at Work™ model. It is powerful to be able to plan instruction and assessment as a group of teachers. I think some teachers may feel more comfortable ‘taking risks’ and implementing change as a PLC instead of on their own.

I do not tend to see myself as a risk taker in life (no plans to go bungee jumping any time soon!), but I do like to constantly reflect on my teaching practice and I do love to try new things if I feel confident that there could be an improved outcome for students. I would like to work on being more networked. Hopefully this #IMMOOC #IMMOOC2 will help!


Innovators Mindset #IMMOOC

I am so inspired by the concepts in the Innovator’s Mindset, by the Week 1 #IMMOOC discussion with @burgessdave and @gcouros, and by the very idea of this MOOC. I have completed quite a few MOOCs previously, but this particular MOOC really resonates with me. I think this is partly because for the first time, I can feel that I am legitimately doing something innovative in being a part of an integrated PBL program called the Innovation Institute at Shanghai American School (@SASchina). It is also because this #IMMOOC really models what we want our students to be doing – taking control of their own learning!

What do I see as the purpose of education? Why might innovation be crucial in education?

I think that the purpose of education today should be to help students develop into learners who are confident problem solvers. They need to be able to collaborate, find information, and think critically. I honestly think that our students will need to be able to solve some serious problems in their lifetime, and they need the skills to be able to think creatively, apply what they know, and work with others to make connections. If teachers are not modeling innovation for students and giving students opportunities to be innovative, then we are not preparing them for a future that could be very different than it is now. In his book Critical Path (1982), Buckminster Fuller estimated that in the 1900s, knowledge doubled every century. Recently, it has been said that knowledge has been doubling every 13 months, but that doubling soon may be as fast as every 24 hours. There is so much information available to students now that education needs to adjust so that the focus is not on what students know, but how well they ask questions, how they apply their knowledge, and what insightful, interdisciplinary connections or solutions they can develop.


“Change is an opportunity to do something amazing.”

I am so grateful for the opportunity to be a teacher in relatively new HS program at Shanghai American School called the Innovation Institute.We have a flexible schedule and an amazing new learning space in which to continue to build a program that focuses on 21st century competencies (4 C’s)  through problem/project-based learning (PBL) and the integration of Biology, English, AP Seminar and a newly-created Innovation & Design course that has a brand new Maker Space and Fab Lab at its disposal. I am thankful for the opportunity to help students make connections between their disciplines and have the opportunity to design innovative products to represent their learning. I will post more about this program as the year progresses.


This quote is also timely since I have just spent the weekend at a PLC at Work conference here at Shanghai American School. Change can be overwhelming at times (sometimes it is others’ negativity and resistance to change that discourages us), but I love this reminder that amazing things will not happen without change. I also loved the snowball analogy that @burgessdave shared in the Week 1 #IMMOOC discussion. We have to start small to build a snowball, just like we must start with a small group of like-minded educators to build the foundation for a culture that does something different.

It really stands out to me that both the PLC at Work conference and the introduction to #innovatorsmindset remind us of two important things:

  • schools too often reward student compliance, which prevents creativity and innovative thinking; and
  • schools need to ensure that teacher collaboration and innovation is valued by making time for it during the work day and minimizing irrelevant staff meetings, requirements, etc.

I am so inspired and excited to dig into The Innovator’s Mindset #IMMOOC, and also to dig into the work that needs to be done for our Innovation Institute Professional Learning Community (PLC). Looking forward to committing to regularly self-reflecting and documenting my learning journey on this blog. See you soon 🙂

Encouraging a Growth Mindset in Math

One of my areas of passion as an educator is helping students develop a growth mindset. I first stumbled across the idea of fixed vs growth mindsets when I read Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Since then, I have tried many different strategies in my classroom to develop an awareness and educate my students about the importance of having a growth mindset. As both a science and math educator, I have felt a strong need to educate mathematics students about fixed and growth mindsets. In my experience, it is much more common for students to have a fixed mindset in math than in my science courses.

A fixed mindset occurs when someone thinks that their ability or intelligence in an area is static. For example, they may feel that they are not a “math person” and therefore are not interested in putting forth much effort. Or, they may feel that they are “smart” when it comes to math and may actually be fearful of being challenged or making a mistake as it may challenge their identity as a strong math student and/or make them appear less “smart”.

In contrast, students with a growth mindset understand that they learn when they make mistakes. They also understand that the more they challenge themselves, the more confident and capable they will become.


If you are interested in learning more, here are some great resources:

If you are new to the idea of growth mindset, I highly encourage you to educate yourself so that you can start to make small changes in your classroom. I work at an international school where math is highly valued. Even still, every year, there are at least 1 or 2 students who seem to really transform; they become more engaged and much more confident in math. Encouraging growth mindsets in my math classroom inspired me and has improved learning for ALL of my students. I hope you have the same experience 🙂

Key Takeaways from MSIS Institute #2

The second MSIS institute was just as enlightening and inspiring as the first! It focused on the Number and Operations strand and progressions of the CCSS.

Good reminders for me included:

  • the importance of focusing on the big ideas of quantity, change, shape, dimension, and chance
  • great lessons are often based upon mini-lessons, workshop tasks, and an exit ticket
  • tasks should promote reasoning and problem solving
  • purposeful questions will encourage effective discourse between students
  • procedural fluency follows from conceptual understanding

People often talk about the need for focus, rigor, and clarity. What should this mean in math? It should mean FEWER topics, DEEPER understanding, and more EXAMPLES and STRATEGIES.

I really loved the explanation from Steve Leinwand that the “sweet spot” of instruction is “YOU – I – WE”. Students explore, the teacher may check for understanding or ask purposeful questions, then students work together to develop their understanding. Traditionally, a lesson would more likely be “I-WE-YOU”, but of course current research shows that best practice is a more student-centered approach. Exploration should not be “YOU-YOU-YOU” – there needs to be a partnership between students and teachers. The teacher should always intentionally facilitate/coach the lesson and not simply leave students to figure things out on their own. The “YOU-I-WE” approach is more likely to ensure that students are empowered, engaging in productive struggle, and constructing viable arguments.

Based upon the “YOU-I-WE” methodology, we had to work in a team to create a mini-lesson. We needed to start with the standard, then write it in a more student friendly learning target. Here is the mini-lesson on polynomials that we created, based upon adapting a problem from another site.

Some very useful websites from this Institute were:

The goals that I have set for myself between now and MSIS Institute #3 are:

  1. create &/or revise a rich lesson/task based upon the idea of ‘gradual release’, such as the 3 Act Lessons created by Dan Meyer)
  2. use exit tickets (or perhaps entrance tickets) more consistently (I often feel that I run out of time)
  3. as a PLC facilitator, guide my team to unwrap CCSS standards to create learning targets for a unit on circles

On May 7th, 2016, this great Edutopia article Harnessing the Power of the Productive Struggle seems to be an amazing description of the “you – I – we” focus that can be so powerful in math classrooms.