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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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Posted by: | July 31, 2014 | No Comment |

Last term we hosted David Price to speak to staff and some students. He facilitated a very engaging session on PBL and asked insightful questions about our school context. This week we held a book discussion about his outstanding book Open: How we’ll work, live and learn in the future.

Open explains how formal institutions are losing power and how the hierarchy between teacher and students is being transformed through open learning. Open uses the acronym SOFT – share, open, free, trust, and advocates radical transparency. An excellent example of this is this staff handbook for the company Valve. Citing Harold Jarche, Peter Senge, and Stephen Harris, Open points out the major changes wrought by networked working and learning – compared to working and learning in a hierarchy. 90% of learning is informal and we need to become more intentional about informal learning; no successful organisational-learning program is rolled out from the top; and teachers need to be taught to work in teams. The key message is the need for schools to make time and space for collaborative learning. And I really like this parting shot towards the end:

“Perhaps the biggest enclosure of all is the schedule (timetable) that governs learning. Moving kids around each time a bell rings every 50 minutes, only reminds them that they are cogs in an industrial machine, and destroys any attempts to deepen learning, so get rid of the atomised schedule. While you’re at it, get rid of the bell too.”

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I have been asked to speak about the future of learning in a few weeks.

Well over a decade ago I became fascinated by the work of the 21st Century Learning Initiative. Following this line of interest led me to the Harvard Graduate School of Education, eventually completing a Masters in Learning & Teaching there and then later working as a Fellow at several of their institutes last year. My views about the future of learning have been strongly influenced by the ideas emanating from HGSE, particularly from the Future of Learning Institute.

“When teachers embrace learning for the future, they nurture expert thinking, collaboration and entrepreneurship. They foster intercultural understanding, environmental stewardship and global citizenship. They invite students to understand complex problems, create quality work and express themselves through traditional and new media—ultimately preparing students to live ethical and reflective lives in rapidly changing environments.”

Howard Gardner talks about how today’s kids have less autonomy and are more risk-averse (whilst acknowledging that they are more connected and more tolerant than ever before). He speaks about nudging kids from dependence to enabling, suggesting that it’s all a question of agency. This leads him to conclusions about the value of direct instruction versus constructivism. For him there is no contest and he freely admits that he is rather taken with the concept of constructivism. He encourages us to allow kids to make mistakes and get lost sometimes. He referred to an interesting paper: The Double-Edged Sword of Pedagogy.

David Perkins speaks about the importance of wilding the tame and educating for the unknown. Instead of focusing on the achievement gap we should be focusing on the relevance gap. He insists that most of what we teach students in school is a waste of time and he calls for lifeworthy learning, and the development of flexpertise, acknowledging that we are moving from hierarchies of learning to a network structure.

“A huge information base may not be the right priority for our time”

“Our curricula are full of learning that doesn’t matter much”

“Our educational settings are often neat, organised, linear, predictable, structured. Life is often not”

The Future of Learning Institute is organised round three themes:


Neuroscientists stress the importance of multilingualism and teaching in multicultural classrooms in order to raise global learners for the future. Our brain is shaped by the environment we are born and raised in and we need to gain some distance.

“A fish doesn’t know what water is.” (Bruno della Chiesa)

They also caution us to watch the labelling. Educators have a mindset of trying to label rather than foster dynamic learning environments. Measuring intelligence in one way perpetuates the current social order and is a social time bomb.


Technology is often used in a boring fashion and reinforces outdated teaching methods. It is ‘old wine in new bottles’. Too often classroom technology looks like automated worksheets or digital lectures.

Teachers teach as they were taught and they need to be encouraged in different learning if we want them to teach differently. This requires unlearning the industrial model.

“We use weak forms of pedagogy with powerful technology and then wonder why the results are bad.” (Chris Dede)

“I see digital media as a Trojan mouse to open the door to conversations about pedagogy.” (Justin Reich)

“Most classroom instruction remains the I-Q-R model – we can do better.” (Justin Reich)


“Global competence is the capacity and disposition to understand and act on issues of global significance” (Veronica Boix-Mansilla & Tony Jackson)

We need to recognise perspectives: our own and others.

“Our geopolitical and intercultural misunderstandings are profound. Empathy is absent. Global citizenship is essential” (Jeffrey Sachs)


If we want to discuss the future of learning, let’s talk about great pedagogies like visible thinking, project-based learning, and scaling up approaches like group learning and documentation from Reggio Emilia.

While the focus of this post is on the future of learning as opposed to the future of schooling, I find the views of Yong Zhao, David Price, and Tony Wagner compelling, and I think that Hedley Beare’s 2001 seminal work on Creating the Future School remains highly prescient today.

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Posted by: | July 1, 2014 | 3 Comments |

I was at ISTE 2014 in order to co-present a workshop on Global Competence with Julie Lindsay. Julie had suggested this to me and I jumped at the chance to work with her. The workshop went well and because I was hanging off Julie’s coat-tails I got to meet lots of cool people associated with Flat Connections. Julie has been very kind sharing her experience and expertise. We are repeating our workshop at ACEC in Adelaide in October.

A session on the Edcamp movement led by Kristin Swanson was one of my favourites. It was run as an Open Space unconference. Mike Soskil facilitated a session on Edcamp as a social good – helping teachers in 3rd world countries. He is taking the Edcamp model to teachers in the slums of Nairobi and he has reignited my determination to spread the unconference model in Asia. I picked up lots of useful tips on how to host an Edcamp.

Other sessions I enjoyed included Visible Thinking by Michelle Cordy and Karen Lirenman, Andrew Miller’s Teaching with the 4Cs – “How’s content coverage going for you?” and Steve Dembo’s Storytelling for the YouTube Generation – “I don’t give assignments, I give creative briefs.”

There’s lots of device and app talk to wade around and you have to search for the sessions that focus on pedagogy. I found myself wishing I had attended more of the PBL sessions. It was good to be reminded that digital citizenship is not an add-on to the curriculum, that we should be teaching students how to ask good questions, that teachers should design their own learning, and that at its best learning is the social construction of knowledge.

Next year I’m going to volunteer. So many people have told me that it’s a wonderful experience that I’m going to give it a go. Also, next time I’ll watch the keynotes from somewhere like Blogger’s Cafe. I don’t get much from the keynotes; the best part is the live band.

It’s a shame that there is not more of a global presence; ISTE is about as international as the World Series baseball!

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High Tech High

Posted by: | June 25, 2014 | 6 Comments |

After wanting to get to High Tech High in San Diego for years, I have just participated in their annual summer institute.

Larry Rosenstock (CEO) kicked the institute off with a call for more experimentation in schools, noting that while national education conversations are about competition, international education conversations are about co-operation. He spoke about the building design and use of space at High Tech High and showed this clip on Changing the Subject.

For the next two days I attended interactive workshops led by High Tech High teachers. Tim McNamara explained their 20% time for teachers through the use of the Paseo protocol – just what I need to structure the team learning time we are creating at our school next year.

A Special Symposium session enabled us to spend 15 minutes with various High Tech High teachers to learn about their action research. I heard about research related to cultures of thinking, replacing grades, integrated teaching approaches in lower secondary school, and I picked up some great resources on creating a culture of growth mindset.

Tom Fehrenbacher then led a workshop on collegial coaching and helped me structure my thoughts about the peer coaching model I am planning on introducing next year.

At the end of the first day, one of the High Tech High students gave me a tour of the high school. It was fascinating to hear her perceptions and observe the school spaces and displays. There is a strong emphasis on relationships and happy students. There is even music playing in the toilets!

On day two, Daisy Sharrock showed me how to use crowd-funding like Kickstarter to create really authentic projects. Imagine getting funding to professionally animate a student video or to produce a textbook with global perspectives on history!

I then took part in a project Tuning. I found this a bit frustrating because the facilitator hurried though the protocol and kept on wanting to add his own ideas, but this was a reminder anyway of how difficult the effective facilitation of a protocol can be. One of the norms was described as KiSH, a nice way to refer to Ron Berger’s kind, specific, and helpful feedback.

I participated in Will Haase’s workshop on understanding motivation, engagement, and creativity. He spoke about the work of Tony Wagner, Carol Dweck, and Dan Pink, and provided a huge reading list.

The final day culminated with an Open Space unconference. I helped a group with a Tuning of their project idea for a Zombie-Apocalypse PBL unit. I’d heard of this cool idea before, but now I’m thinking about how I could use this in my own teaching.

I finished the institute talking to Laura McBain, the Director of External Relations. She spoke about the High Tech High outreach in Australia and she advocates that the fastest way to change a school’s pedagogy is to hold an Exhibition Open Day focusing on deeper learning, where all teachers display their student work. This fast-tracks dialogue about what is quality work.

What was particularly impressive was that everything High Tech High does is open-source and shared. All of their teacher portfolios are available on their website. I was also interested in their talk about student POLs (presentations of learning) and I need to find out more about this.

High Tech High walks the talk unlike any school I have ever seen. I would chalk this up as one of the best professional learning experiences I have participated in and I will be having more to do with High Tech High in the future.

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Three years ago our school strategic plan began mentioning global connections. This led me to Flat Connections and last week we hosted Australia’s first Flat Connections conference, previously it has been held in international schools. With participants from Iran, Norway, Spain, France, USA and Canada, the conference was a mix of global connections, educational technology, challenge-based learning, and student voice. A highlight for me was hearing Norwegian educator Ann Michaelsen describe how she wrote the book Connected Learners with her students. I also enjoyed catching up with Dorothy Suskind, a talented elementary school teacher from Richmond, Virginia.

Keynotes were provided by Simon Breakspear and Michael Furdyk and the participants were supported by Kristina Stoney, Anne Mirtschin, Ann Michaelsen, and Chris Betcher – with expertise in educational technology, social media, and social entrepreneurship. Both educator and student participants were required to create a video in small groups around the theme ‘What’s the other story?’ Social media provided a conference backchannel and virtual participants took part around the world. Check out the Flickr feed.

The biggest takeaway for me was the reinforcement that student learners are more agile than adult learners. I am beginning to think that staff professional learning activities should include students as the default position. Here is a great post about the conference by Michael Graffin.

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In January I scanned some of the projects on Skype in the Classroom and I found Teaching Principal Jasmine Shannon from Tipperary Station School in the Northern Territory, who wanted to do something based on the children’s book Photographs in the Mud and Anzac Day. We communicated, and after some quick negotiation and suggestions, we decided that my Year 9 History class would write some children’s stories based on World War One for her class of kindergarten children. Here is Jasmine’s blogpost about our project.

My students worked in teams of three, drafting and redrafting their stories. They were advised about writing for young children by our Prep School librarian Margo Pickworth and they critiqued each other’s work to improve their stories.

I then sent Jasmine the eight stories and her students drew beautiful pictures to illustrate the stories. My colleague, Paul Harrington, helped me produce this e-book.

My students were quite obsessive about wanting to produce “something good” for the Tipperary Station kids. Many of them commented on the project in their end-of-term reflections:

“I really enjoyed the short stories for the children in the Northern Territory” (James)
“We wouldn’t get to write children’s stories for the Tipperary School in any other class” (Nick)
“Our children’s stories are being illustrated by a remote school of kindergarteners, which is certainly not something that happens in other classes” (Karsten)
“I liked writing the children’s stories for the kindergarten kids in the country” (Taylor)
“The children’s story was good because it made us really think hard about the task” (Scott)
“The integration with another school in a remote part of Australia was insightful and helpful” (Charlie)

The project was a great reminder of the importance of multiple drafts and critique, and the value of an authentic audience. We hope to continue our connection with Tipperary Station School.

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Posted by: | May 10, 2014 | No Comment |

Visible Learners focuses on how we can make deep learning experiences visible for high school students and adult learners. It is inspired by the Reggio Emilia pedagogy of listening and relationships, and grounded in the philosophy of children as capable and powerful, rather than unskilled and passive. The two key principles are group learning and documentation. When combined, these two practices make learning visible. The following outline summarises the key practices from the book:

Group Learning

Group learning experiences enable students to problem-solve, create, encounter new perspectives, and build collective understanding.

Teachers can facilitate powerful group learning by:

• Designing tasks that are group-worthy and focus on meaningful topics. In project-based learning this is often expressed through an ungoogleable, intriguing, open-ended, driving question, which frames a collaborative task.
• Creating consciousness of effective group work dynamics by engaging students in conversations about effective ways to ask for and give help; the importance of body language; and strategies for helping everyone to feel included.
• Facilitating conversations that deepen learning by using tools such as protocols (to establish safe contexts), thinking routines (to deepen thinking), rubrics (to guide critique), and norms (to create explicit expectations).
• Carefully forming small groups by evaluating learners’ needs, strengths and interests, and incorporating their input.
• Deliberately choreographing movement between individual learning, small-group learning, and whole-class learning. David Thornburg’s metaphors of campfires, watering holes and caves for the use of learning spaces are helpful.
• Extending learning with technology through the use of learning management systems, social media, and blogging, to open up group conversations beyond the classroom walls.


The core of documentation is observing. It involves, “teachers and learners observing, recording, interpreting, and sharing, via a variety of media the processes and products of learning in order to deepen and extend the learning” (Krechevsky, et. al., 2013, p.59). When teachers stop and notice what students are saying or doing, they hone their capacity to recognise and respond in more informed ways. Reggio educators refer to documentation as “visible listening.”

In classrooms that make learning visible, the practice of documentation has several distinct features:

• It is guided by a specific question about the learning process and this question determines how, what, and when to document.
• It engages teachers and students in collectively analysing, interpreting, and evaluating learning.
• It uses multiple media to create tangible artifacts, which provide new vantage points on learning.
• It is selectively shared with audiences to provoke new understandings.
• It shapes the design of future contexts for learning.

Students develop greater attentiveness to the value of remembering pivotal experiences when recording them is part of the classroom culture. Involving students in the documentation process enables them to identify moments they want to remember. When teachers look at documentation with their students, teachers and students can gain new insights that help inform future learning and the result is empowered students.

A strategy for commencing the practice of documentation is to simply notice moments when things are going poorly or well and step back to closely observe. Other suitable practices to commence documentation mentioned in the book include:

• Starting a routine of sharing a short video clip of documentation at the beginning of class or staff meetings.
• Taking a photograph of an especially powerful learning moment to revisit with students.
• Jotting down a provocative or insightful quote from a student and sharing it with the class or writing it directly onto a laminated speech bubble.
• Asking students to do the above (perhaps by rotating the role of student journalist within the class).


Educators trying to create compelling learning experiences confront the daunting challenge of content coverage requirements and expectations of teaching to the test. Students and their thinking are often invisible as the only representations of learning made public are marks and rankings. However, quantification is not the only way to share evidence of learning. Qualitative forms of sharing evidence like student work, photographs, and video are powerful ways to provide a more complete picture. Reggio educators and Project Zero researchers claim that learning is an act of identity and that children are citizens of today, not just tomorrow. It is important that we take inspirational approaches, such as Reggio Emilia and scale them into new contexts.

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One of my favourite visuals is a cartoon sketch in Dan Pink’s A Whole New Mind, which shows five figures walking in a line. The first is an ape, the second is a farmer with a pitchfork, the third is an industrial worker with tools, the fourth is a knowledge worker with a briefcase, and the last is an artist. For me it is the perfect representation of where we have come from and where schools are heading.

Experience has shown us that top-down accountability and compliance measures are ineffective for building learning communities, and putting educators in large halls and talking at them is an ineffective practice (Richard Elmore terms it “spray and pray”). Yet Bob Kegan suggests that the developmental capacity of most adults is inadequate to cope with the complex demands of the 21st century. Educators need to be challenged and supported to move from socialised minds to self-authoring minds. Leaders have a responsibility to design cultures that move educators from informational stances to transformational stances. I posit that the most effective way to do this in schools is to establish a culture of coaching and teaming.

Coaching - Dr Douglas Reeves points out that the biggest influence on teacher professional practice is advice from a colleague (although I would be quick to add the importance of feedback from students). The way we talk affects the way that we work. I often say that my job is simply to get teachers talking to each other about teaching and learning. Mentoring and coaching programs provide useful models for changing the way we talk to each other in schools. My school now makes extensive use of Jim Knight’s instructional coaching work and Growth Coaching International’s coaching model. We have learned (the hard way) the importance of providing appropriate training and time for coaching to succeed, and we have learned that coaching is more about relationships than knowledge.

Teaming - Richard Elmore also notes that teachers get better by working in teams on teaching issues, but he is quick to point out that watching most teams operate in schools is like watching astroturf grow. In her brilliant book Teaming, Amy Edmondson describes the new style of leadership required for teams to learn and innovate. “Generating ideas to solve problems is the currency of the future; teaming is the way to develop, implement, and improve those ideas.” One of the key points she makes is about the importance of psychological safety. Team members feel more comfortable suggesting alternatives when their leader has previously modelled that it is OK to make mistakes. As a leader my role is to cultivate a culture that encourages risk-taking and allows teachers to question the status quo. Inspiring learning design can only come from the bottom up. I know we are on the right track when teachers start thinking like innovators and asking new questions like, “How might we…?” I also believe that the skilled use of protocols is one of the most practical steps that leaders can take in order to improve team learning.

Idea SetsDavid Perkins talks about change fatigue and the importance of finding a small number of idea sets that live well together. These idea sets will be different for each school. At my school we are imbuing ourselves with Project Zero’s Cultures of Thinking work and project-based learning, two idea-sets that fit particularly well together. I’m learning how these approaches can be supported through the Reggio-inspired use of documentation. Student voice is also a growing concept at my school. As an example, every Heads of Department meeting I lead now has two student attendees who do the same pre-reading as the HoDs and contribute to the learning conversation as equals.

I guess what I have learned is that the ‘what’ is easier than the ‘how’. The vision is easier than building the structures and culture to attain it.

My role is to build a developmental culture, not a compliance-oriented culture; to focus on improving learning and teaching, not satisfying outside bureaucratic bodies. Coaching and teaming are new ways of structuring schools, more networks than hierarchies. What does it mean to consider Project Zero Director Daniel Wilson’s claim that 80% of professional learning is informal and incidental?

Let the innovation commence.

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