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I like using the Question Formulation Technique with students. I usually introduce it in one of the first lessons of the year. By introducing it early, I’m trying to make a statement that questions are more important than answers in my class and that it is OK to ask questions that we might not know the answers to. It’s about fostering the disposition of curiosity and acknowledging that different people bring different questions to the table.

My Year 9 History class is currently commencing a unit on Australia’s involvement in World War One. I gave them the over-arching question/topic as simply ‘why was Australia involved in World War One?’ and then we jumped into the QFT.

The first step requires students to produce their own questions. They need to write down as many questions as they can in a specified time period, without pausing to discuss, judge, or answer the questions. This gets a whole bunch of ideas on the table.


The second step is to improve the questions. Instead of open and closed questions, I find it helpful to talk about fat and skinny questions, kids get this, and I always pause here to have a classroom discussion about what a good question looks like and what is involved in producing a good question. I’m continually amazed at their depth of thinking and insight.


The third step is to prioritise the questions. I ask them to choose the best two questions on their tables of four students, but before I do this I ask them to stop and consider the process of working together – ensuring that everyone contributes and nobody dominates.



Finally I get them to graffiti their best questions on the windows using liquid chalk. They love the sense of anti-authoritarianism in this. We then step back and look at the questions and talk about each of them.



Over the course of the coming term we will try to answer each of these questions in some depth. I hope that through the QFT process we have set a platform that we can keep looping back to as the year unfolds. I also hope to have the chance to work more closely with the Right Question Institute in the future.

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Posted by: | January 29, 2015 | No Comment |

Last week I spent a day at a workshop learning about the ABC Splash website and online resources. I am of the opinion that anything produced by the ABC is likely to be of good quality and, while I had heard of Splash before and checked out the website, I had never taken the time to really peruse the resources properly. It is an impressive collection, with content mapped to the Australian curriculum and the site is easy to search. In addition to a growing collection of ABC video resources, there is a collection of appropriate educational games, and I like the digibooks, which are like a channel of collated resources.

The film clips are all about five minutes long. They are good quality clips, cut with the concentration span of the YouTube generation in mind, from the ABC archives. I have curated some of the clips that I will be using in my teaching this year:

Australians at War

The Meaning of ANZAC Day: This clip explains why some people think that Anzac Day (rather than Australia Day) should be Australia’s national day and shows the differences between what ANZAC Day means to older people and younger people. It is a good way to start students thinking about how and why Australians commemorate war.

Equipment, More Equipment: In this clip from a wartime Movietone newsreel, former PM Billy Hughes implores Australians to contribute to the manufacture of military equipment during World War Two.

Rights and Freedoms

Australia’s 1967 Referendum: In this clip, Faith Bandler talks about how the eyes of the world were on Australia’s 1967 referendum result. It is a clip I have used from YouTube previously, however this version is better quality.

Two Years After the 1966 Wave Hill Walk-Off: This clip explains how the Wave Hill walk-off was more than just a wage dispute.

Native Title: This clip shows how the High Court decision ‘tore the country apart’.

Popular Culture

ABC National TV Service Opening Night 1956: This clip is from the opening moments of the first ABC television broadcast in 1956. Many people viewed this first broadcast through shop windows.

Australian Teen Culture – Birth of Skateboarding: The growth of suburbia in the 1950s, 60s and 70s facilitated the growth of Australia’s skating culture. This clip from 1976 shows Australian teenagers skating and reflects how skateboarding represented its own culture and attitude.

Vinyl – The Australian Record Industry 1963: In this clip from 1963 you experience the age of vinyl records, which created a teenage mass market and revolutionised Australian popular culture.

The Stomp – A 1960s Dance Craze: The arrival of rock ‘n’ roll in the late 1950s was accompanied by a wave of youth rebellion, and a ‘generation gap’ between teenagers and their parents. This clip from a 1963 Weekend Magazine program shows how the Stomp became a craze.

Surf Culture Hits Australia in the 1960s: In the 1960s the surfboard gave rise to a new youth subculture. This clip from 1964 explores the cultural changes, such as a new vocabulary and new hairstyles, that came with the rise of the ‘surfie’.

Popular Culture Post-War Digibook: A neat collation of several popular culture resources in one handy bundle.

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Education Research

Posted by: | December 23, 2014 | 1 Comment |

I have commenced several research degrees before giving up on the idea completely. On each occasion I was quickly bored out of my head. I prefer the immediate feedback loop in teaching. The Project Zero work on visible thinking and visible learning makes use of the concept of the teacher as researcher. Instructional Rounds are designed with similar intent. I believe that high school teachers have much to learn from the concept of documentation emanating from the Reggio Emilia early childhood approach.

Yesterday I noticed this blogpost from Harry Webb: a critique of PBL and the new pedagogies. The comments following the post are really interesting. Is education a research-based profession? I know that Richard Elmore claims that teaching is a profession without a practice.

I saw a tweet a few weeks ago that stated that nothing kills innovation faster than the words, “Prove it.” So what evidence do we need that something works? Where does this leave classroom teachers in the ‘my research is better than your research’ debate? For instance, I’m drawn to Ron Ritchhart’s criticism of John Hattie’s work:

“Outcomes are all that matter. And of course there is no questioning of the “outcomes” so we see this all the time in schools. As long as your students get good test results we’ll leave you alone. But there are other outcomes. Hattie is essentially say (ing), so you spoonfeed kids, so you tell them the answers, so you don’t let them think for themselves. Good test results? Great.

Also Hattie is a statistician, not an educator. He looks at outcomes. So in his world this is all there is.”

In February we are hosting researchED Sydney, a conference for educators interested in research- how to become research literate, how to tell the good from the bad, and how to find research that actually helps students in the classroom…

“the focus is on research as a tool- not a set of handcuffs- for improving practice in education. Teachers often find themselves at the end of a chain of authority, usually the bottom. What if teachers engaged directly with research, and researchers, instead? What if researchers reached out to teaching communities and listened to their practical concerns? What if teachers were research literate enough to know the difference between the snake oil that sometimes creeps into the classroom, and research that was robust, cautious and sensible?”

Hope to see you there on Saturday 21st February.

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Global Teacher Prize

Posted by: | December 19, 2014 | 1 Comment |

I was recently honoured to be listed in the final 5o teachers in the running for the global teacher prize, with an award of one million US dollars going to the winning teacher, to be announced in February. I just read through the biographical details of the 50 contenders and I don’t think I have ever felt like such a fraud.

I shouldn’t have been surprised to see Tom Bennett’s name appear. He is the engine behind researchEd which we are hosting in Sydney in February. I also wasn’t surprised to see Michael Soskil appear. I met him in an Edcamp breakout at ISTE this year and I was awed by his determination to change the world. Lisa Parisi was also known to me via Flat Connections. It is a small world and the education community is even smaller. 

I have no idea what I would do with one million dollars, although I would certainly use it for education somehow. To be honest my initial thoughts pale into insignificance when contrasted with the aims of nominees like Azizullah Royesh in Afghanistan and Kiran Bir Sethi in India. What amazing educators, with such initiative and resourcefulness and drive. If I won a million dollars I’d use it to work with people like them.

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Year 9 Reflections 2015

Posted by: | November 26, 2014 | 2 Comments |

“This year in history, I feel as though I have learned more about how I learn effectively than history itself.” (Ben)

“This year, not only have I learned much historical content, I have also learned to become a more effective learner and interpreter of historical events.” (James)

“I have learned to observe the situation from more angles than the first that comes to mind. I also found out how to appreciate the story of the losing side in a conflict, because the winner generally skews the truth.” (Scott)

“The assignments really helped me grasp the topics as they gave us freedom to do what we wanted but with some focus.” (Antony)

“It was a positive and fun environment and we were entertained and captivated.”

“I was taught how to encourage others and how to give constructive feedback.” (Tom)

“The main lesson I remember was learning about WWII when you did a large diagram on the whiteboard, then drew lines to connect the countries, and at the end it was a massive blur.” (Taylor)

“This year I have developed as a writer.”

“When I first started this year I found your method of teaching without linear notes quite deterring as I was always taught to be a rote learner.” (Brandon)

“I was intrigued and interested in your different teaching methods.” (Jack)

“I think you are a very fun teacher and you make learning fun.” (Alex)

“The key thing I learned this year and will continue to use throughout my life is the ability to think outside the box.” (Sam)

“This year in history, I have become a more independent and creative learner.”

“I had never used Facebook to do schoolwork before and I thought it was pretty odd.” (Alex)



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In the early hours of this morning I took part in a fantastic Kennedy School webinar on Leading Nonviolent Social Movements. I have often thought that educators could benefit from a greater understanding of leading social change.

The webinar covered the methods and tactics of nonviolent action and the introduction mentioned Rosa Parks, Martin Luther’s theses, the US civil rights movement, PETA nude protests against fur, and Greenpeace climate change campaigns.

The following are my notes:

Categories of nonviolent change include slogans, protests, petitions, flyers, obstruction of work, symbols, protest songs, demonstrations, symbolic mass actions, social ostracism, withdrawing funds, stay at home interventions, sit-ins, occupying, picketing, and civil disobedience.

Organisers should start small but think big. Concentration tactics versus dispersion tactics, high risk versus low risk. With dispersion tactics anyone can take part, even a 7 year old kid.

Use humour. Add a cool factor. Laughtervism

Pick the battles you can win. People join successful things.

The power of personal example.

Social media changed the landscape but clicktivism is a problem. You don’t change the world by sitting in front of a computer.

Make a clear distinction between your movement and any violent movement.

Consider multiple levels of actors in the system, not only the person at the top. Impact the causal chain. Think of packages of tactics. Be creative.

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ACEC 2014

Posted by: | October 3, 2014 | No Comment |


I’m just back from the Australian Computers in Education conference. At this time of year I usually attend ACEL, but when Julie Lindsay invited me to co-present a workshop on global competence and social change with her, I jumped at the chance. We presented much the same workshop that we presented at ISTE in July, although with 90 minutes rather than 60, Julie was able to extend her ideas on social entrepreneurship and I was able to model the use of a global thinking routine with participants. The feedback from the people in our workshop was very positive.

I particularly enjoyed Henrietta Miller’s workshop on revolutionising homework with student blogging. It directly fed into my thinking about the power of blogging over traditional essays, authentic audience, and the ease of feedback. Anthony Speranza presented a polished workshop on e-portfolios and I liked how he focused on process as well as product. Both Henrietta and Anthony’s work ties in nicely to my interest in promoting Reggio-inspired approaches in high school.

Stephen McGinley presented an interesting session on leading technology with pedagogy. The focus on strategic planning was helpful and I’m going to see if we can Skype him in to our professional learning forum sometime next year.

Greg Gebhardt presented thought-provoking ideas about wearable technology (like smart watches) and the internet of things.

It was good to catch up with Nick Jackson and see his work with Student Digital Leaders in action. The students were active throughout the conference videoing, photographing, and often asking direct questions that we wouldn’t dare. One asked Alec Couros what his keynote on social media had to do with education! I’m going to try to get Nick to my school next year to talk to some teachers and our Student ThinkTank, as well as ICT and Library staff to see if there are synergies we can build on.

As always, it was nice to meet people face-to-face that I had only previously met via Twitter. ACEC had a very different feel to ACEL. It was smaller, more intimate, and more innovative. I would love to see a combined ACEL/ACEC hybrid conference. It is at the intersection of usual ways of thinking that innovation occurs. Both conferences have their pluses and minuses. As usual, I question the whole concept of sitting and being spoken at for long periods of time, but now I’m left itching to get back to school and start making more things happen, and that’s surely what it’s all about.


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Social Media in Schools

Posted by: | September 12, 2014 | No Comment |

Like many schools, we have been wrestling with the issue of social media. A few weeks ago one of our students brought the social media policies of a local school to my attention. At this other school, staff are encouraged to use social media professionally, and students are encouraged to use social media and mobile phones to learn. I approached colleagues at the school and they kindly provided their policies for our leadership team to peruse. We now have five teachers involved in a trial where all social media blocks have been removed from their classes during the school day.

Making the most of this opportunity, my Year 9 class has been designing social media campaigns for a current struggle for civil rights and freedoms. The links between the history they are studying and their own world have been tangible:

“I enjoyed the social media campaign because it doesn’t just involve the class, it involves the world. Your work can be viewed around the whole world, not just in the classroom. The media campaign also had a meaning, I had a sense of accomplishment once I had finished it because it is something that will influence people around the world.” (Sam)

“The social media campaign stretched us and made us have to think outside the box.” (Deuchar)


Students have been using Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook. They found that Facebook helps them interact with students who are home sick, archive group discussions which can be reviewed after class, and create group forums for ideas. However, older students are more wary, arguing that Facebook is a distraction that they would prefer to have blocked.

The trial continues…

Helpful Resources:

Edutopia’s How to Create Social Media Guidelines for your School

Amnesty International’s Social Media Activism Guide

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Posted by: | August 13, 2014 | No Comment |

I am currently completing the final stages of a coaching accreditation course with Growth Coaching International. It has been a very worthwhile course.

The word ‘coach’ comes from a Hungarian word, ‘bus’, which means helping people move. Coaching is a way of leading and learning, and a coach is someone who takes the time to have focused conversations with others to help them maximise their capabilities. Coaching is about creating the conditions for learning and growing, it is about seeing people in terms of their future potential, and it is about building the coachee’s self-belief (Whitmore, 2009. pp. 5-19).

A key coaching skill is listening actively. Princess Diana was incredibly skilful at this:

“On many occasions, I watched her give unfailingly the highest-calibre attention to people. I watched her look into their eyes, bend one knee slightly, rest her arms easily in front of her, relax and listen as if they were the only person in the world at that moment. Often she had literally only a moment, but in a split second, because of the quality of her attention, she disarmed feelings of nervousness and assumptions of inferiority and allowed people to remember that they matter.” (Kline, 1999, p.250).

The quality of a coach’s attention determines the quality of the coachee’s thinking and Nancy Kline advises, “Keep your eyes on the eyes of the person thinking, no matter what.” (p.44). I now write myself reminders to “listen with my eyes” during coaching conversations.

Teachers are often “well-intentioned fixers” (John Campbell, workshop, 2014). They are used to being the authorities and possessing the answers. However, if we want teachers to take ownership for their learning, the coach cannot be the expert, as this creates learned helplessness on the part of the coached teachers. The primary responsibility for learning must rest on the shoulders of those doing the learning, and it is the coach’s role to facilitate the learning and to build capacity.

“A less optimal solution the coachee develops often produces better results than the right answer from me.” (Tony Soltzfus)

The danger with coaching lies in the perceived need for the coach to appear brilliant, to be seen to have all the answers. When coaches are focused on looking wonderfully clever, they do not listen long enough. They summarize and interpret and direct far too early in the session. Coaches need to realize that the brilliant person is the client. The coach’s job is to help the client discover that.” (Tina Breene cited in Kline p. 138.)

High Tech High teacher Tom Fehrenbacher talks about the coach holding a frozen snowball, ready to throw it if needed, but trying not to submit to the temptation. He provided me with an article written by Mike Reardon:

In the world of teacher transformation the issue is not reflective or directive but rather reflective and directive. It is not one model over another. It is instead a synthesised model containing both reflective and directive elements. A highly effective coach is skilled in both schools of thought, and based on experience and wisdom integrates them into a seamless conversation that increases the teacher’s efficacy. One moment the coach, through reflective conversation, unpacks a teacher’s unconscious competence into the Learning Zone through direct feedback and opportunities for rehearsal. It is not that one model is better than another. Both the cognitive coaching model and the behavioural feedback model are necessary for teacher transformation. Remember the goal is to build capacity in the teacher; a capacity to think and act with greater professional integrity so that the teacher knows what she does and does what she knows. We want our teachers to build internal schema based on external evidence that in turn drives their decisions as they plan, as they teach, and as they reflect. Some teachers have innate abilities to anticipate, to modify, and to enhance their craft. They simply need guidance on how to refine their level of reflection. Other teachers need direct feedback so they can gain those abilities. The role of an effective coach incorporates reflection and direction.

The questions that a coach asks determine the quality of the coachee’s thinking and David Cooperider states that, “People live in the world’s our questions create.” Drawing from the contributions of solutions-focused and positive psychology, Barbara Frederickson (2009) in her book Positivity, recommends a 3-to-1 positivity ratio.

Interestingly, it is likely that those who coach, in turn increase their capacity to seek feedback on their own performance. Stone & Heen (2014) write about developing the ability to sort through feedback to find the coaching, “see challenge as opportunity, and feedback as useful information for learning” and “hear feedback as coaching, and find the coaching in evaluation.”

Bryk (2002) found that the extent of trust among adults in schools strongly predicts positive student learning outcomes and Needham (2014) advocates that coaching can be “a vehicle for bringing an intentional, growth oriented approach to conversations about teaching practice.” An intentional and well implemented coaching culture can make a real difference to teacher growth and development and ultimately, to student learning. My role as a leader in this coaching culture is to “create the enabling conditions for these conversational communities, and ensure the coaching remains directly linked to student outcomes. This includes protecting the coach from being the evaluator” (Needham).


Bryk, A. & Schneider, B. (2002). Trust in Schools: A core resource for improvement. Russell Sage Foundation: New York.

Foltos, L. (2014). “The Secret to Great Coaching: Inquiry method helps teachers take ownership of their learning”, Journal of Staff Development, June, Vol. 35, No. 3.

Frederickson, B. (2009). Positivity: Groundbreaking research to release your inner optimist and thrive. Oneworld: London.

Kline, N. (1999). Time to Think: Listening to ignite the human mind. Cassell Illustrated: London.

Needham, K. (2014). “Coaching and the Power to Choose”, Australian Educational Leader, 35 (3).

Stone, D. & Heen, S. (2014). Thanks for the Feedback: The science and art of receiving feedback well. Portfolio: London.

Whitmore, J. (2009). Coaching for Perfomance: GROWing human potential and purpose – The principles and practice of coaching and leadership. Nicholas Brealey Publishing: London.

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Missing Christopher

Posted by: | August 2, 2014 | 2 Comments |

This is not a pleasant post.

One of my key memories of my first year of teaching was escorting a small group of Year 9 students to their friend’s sister’s funeral. She had died in a car accident. I recall my distress at observing the impact upon my students. Since then, attending student funerals has become a regular part of my job and I have spoken at several of them. Tom died from emphysema in Year 9, Alex was hit by a car late at night in Year 10, David died in a car mishap, Christopher fell off a headland, Joe passed away from an infection caused by leukemia, Nick died on a family bushwalk, and there were others I didn’t know so well as I had not connected with them in a large school. I wonder if there has ever been any research into the emotional impact of student deaths upon teaching staff?

Now a mother has written a harrowing story of the apparent suicide of her son Christopher. It is an insightful and powerful gaze inside a family devastated by depression. I taught Christopher’s brothers Ben and Nick. Missing Christopher is the story of Chris’s shocking death and its impact upon the family. It is a visceral read, with a very important aftermath written by Professor Gordon Parker. I was given the book last Friday and read it that afternoon while waiting for a delayed flight, with tears streaming down my face. The book deserves to be widely read – by parents, people suffering depression/mental illness, and by teachers.

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