LIMIT – A Model for Understanding Healthy Teacher-Student Relationships

LIMIT – A Model for Understanding Healthy Teacher-Student Relationships

Dallin Bywater
School Counselor


Academic research underlines the importance of positive teacher-student relationships for creating an effective education environment (Hamre & Pianta, 2001; Baker, 2006).  While this truth is well known, the intricacies of how to develop and maintain a safe and positive relationship with students is less understood.  In fact, teacher behaviors that are intended to engender a supportive relationship may actually be risky and unhealthy in practice.


Experts have identified four risk factors for unhealthy teacher-student relationships (Wolowitz, 2006):


1. A relationship power imbalance

2. Poor boundary setting

3. Role confusion

4. Isolation


All four of these risk factors are common in international schools.  By understanding and providing training to educators to mitigate these risk factors, both teachers’ and students’ wellbeing will benefit.


The first risk, a power imbalance, is inherent in a teacher-student relationship.  All teacher-student relationships include a difference in power because the teacher is an adult in a position of power, and the students are children or adolescents.


The second risk, poor boundary setting, can easily occur due to the transitional nature of international living.  Professional boundaries are limits in a relationship that protect the space between the professionals power and the student’s vulnerability (NCSBN, 2018).  There are various personal factors that can increase the likelihood of poor boundary setting.  For example, when teachers or students move to a new school, naturally personal boundaries are loosened in order to get to know people, and make new friends.  Additionally, teachers and students often do not have extended family nearby, creating an emotional void that can lead them to look for emotional support from other relationships.


Third, role confusion, occurs when individuals are in an environment where personal and professional life frequently overlaps.  For an educator in a small international community, the lines between parent, educator, coach, family friend, and/or other identities can be blurred.  A teacher’s social circle and work circle have considerable overlap.  Blurred identities are a hallmark of role confusion.


Lastly, isolation is a risk factor because there are opportunities for one on one interaction in residence halls, classrooms, health or counseling centers, and other locations on campus.


Two further complications to teacher-student interactions include the complex cultural influences on social behavior at international schools, and the various training backgrounds of educators in the school.  Each culture has unspoken rules about appropriate social behavior.  An international community may contain a spectrum of high and low contact cultures, and high and low context cultures which impact social behavior (Bywater, 2021).  While this diversity is overall an unquestionable strength, it is also important to recognize that amalgamated cultural expectations about acceptable student-teacher interactions can be nebulous, and the training worldwide about teacher-student boundaries varies immensely.  Some teacher training programs include strong expectations and education about healthy boundaries, while in other programs it is nonexistent.  Culturally, the norm for interactions between teachers and students in some countries might be considered nurturing and positive, while teachers of a different cultural background may consider the interactions highly unethical.  A visible example would be physical boundaries – some cultures encourage touch between students and teachers, while others may forbid it due to concerns of allegations, and/or respect for student body autonomy.


Learning about and applying boundary-setting skills can reduce the risk factors described above.  Having awareness of the power imbalance between students and teachers, knowing how to set firm boundaries, and avoiding overlapping personal identities are all part of developing healthy relationships.  It is important that each school community clearly communicates to staff, students, and the community what is acceptable in regards to staff-student interactions, and what relationship-building behavior is appropriate.  Clarity in guidelines and policy supports the wellbeing of both staff and students, and prevents unnecessary confusion and potentially damaging allegations.


The LIMIT Model


The following model, aptly named LIMIT, has been developed to guide the discussion and training of education staff about healthy teacher-student relationships.


While the model described below may appear to be directed at teachers, the information applies to all school staff and can be used accordingly.  The recommendations provided are generally applicable, however, what is appropriate for your school community may be different depending on the culture of the school and country laws and norms where you reside.




M – CoMmunication

I Identities/Roles

TTime and Touch




Location refers to the places that an educator’s interactions with students occur.  Interactions with students should be viewable by others.  A few other recommendations include:

  • Do not allow students or their parents parents to be in your home.
  • Do not go into a student’s home.
  • Avoid weekend social locations (e.g. clubs and bars) where students might be present.
  • Avoid locations where you may be alone with a student.




Internet refers to communication done over devices – social media, texting, and other mobile phone services to name a few.  Some professionals estimate that around 90 percent of inappropriate teacher-student relationships start through texting or social media (Millweard, 2017).

  • Interactions with students online should be done on school platforms
  • Online interactions should reflect the same language and behavior that you would use in person
  • Students should not be added by teachers as Facebook friends, or on any other social media platform.
  • Set professional limits on when, how, and on what platform you will communicate with parents and students.
  • Photos of students should not be posted on your social media accounts
  • School guidelines should limit student photo taking and video recording for specific learning purposes, and delineate proper storage and destruction of these files.




Communication includes the content and connotations of words used with students.

  • Avoid making any comments about a student’s body.
  • Be aware of what personal information you disclose. For example, students do not need to know where you live or what is happening in your romantic relationships.  Any personal disclosures should be purposeful and meet the needs of students.
  • Students should be asked to call you by a culturally appropriate, respectful title. In many cultures, addressing you solely by your first name, nickname, or name that your friends call you can imply that your relationship is something more than teacher-student.
  • Maintain confidentiality of all student and staff records (including health, disciplinary, academic, etc.).




Teachers must maintain their identity as a teacher and avoid mixing this identity with other personal identities at school.  A common way to conceptualize identities is wearing hats.  Each role identity is a hat.  Professional, balanced decisions and healthy relationships are best accomplished when a person avoids wearing multiple hats at the same time.  Misunderstandings occur when multiple hats are worn together.  This principle can be particularly challenging for teachers who have children in the school, because it is difficult to separate the roles of parent and teacher.

  • Always remember that you are the teacher, not a student’s parent or friend. Having a positive, supportive relationship is not the same as being friends.
  • Be aware of your overlapping role identities, and how they affect your professional relationships.
  • Wear one “hat” at a time whenever possible.
  • When interacting with students and other staff, ask yourself what role you are acting in. As a teacher?  A parent?  A friend?  Is it clear to the individual which role you are in?
  • If you feel a role conflict, excuse yourself from decision-making capacities related to the situation. For example, if you are the principal and your child has entered disciplinary procedures, you should excuse yourself from the proceedings.


Time and Touch


Time refers to the amount of time a teacher spends with a student.  Recommendations include:

  • Set limits on when students and parents should communicate with you (e.g. before 5pm).
  • Only meet with a student during work hours for academic-related purposes.
  • Avoid allowing a student to dominate your break and lunch hours.


Touch refers to any physical contact between a teacher and student.

  • Any touching should be viewable by others.
  • Consider the cultural expectations of touch, including how it could be perceived and received.
  • Context is important – a goodbye hug at the end of the school year is different from an unsolicited hug.
  • Examples of appropriate touch may be a handshake, high-five, or hand on the high back or shoulder. This can be culture-dependent.
  • Whenever possible, ask permission before touching (ex. “Can I put your hands on the proper place of the tennis racquet?”)


Practically every day teachers encounter situations where it is important to set boundaries with students.  In many cultures, adolescence is the time of testing and pushing boundaries, and it is the adult’s responsibility to set an appropriate boundary, and keep it.


The LIMIT model provides a simple way to begin school dialogue about professional relationships, and helps staff conceptualize appropriate behaviors.  Many recommendations appear to be common sense, but administrators cannot assume that teachers are clear about appropriate teacher-student behaviors.  The high turnover in international schools, diversity of cultural expectations, and variability in teacher training programs make boundary training an essential element of any international school professional development plan.


What Positive Teacher-Student Relationships Look Like


In addition to mitigating the risks of unhealthy teacher-student relationships, other strategies can contribute to creating healthy relationships.  Researchers generally agree that the following are qualities of healthy teacher-student relationships:

  • supportive, but not overly dependent
  • high and realistic expectations (Downey, 2008)
  • honest and trusting
  • strives to be conflict-free
  • teacher uses learner-centered practices
  • teacher encourages positive relationships among students
  • mutual respect, caring, and warmth (Birch & Ladd, 1997)


Some other ideas for developing positive teacher-student relationships can be found here:


Considerations for Administrators


When teachers have opportunities to understand and be empowered to set appropriate boundaries, it is an opportunity for self care, further benefitting the school environment.  Teachers need to know from administrators that they are expected to set healthy boundaries, and that their leadership team will support them in this process.  Imagine the relief that some teachers may feel if an administrator tells them they are not expected to read or answer emails past 5:00pm.


In addition to providing adequate training and support, administrators are responsible to monitor and give feedback to staff regarding boundaries.  Feedback is necessary when boundaries are loose.  Unhealthy and inappropriate relationships rarely occur suddenly – rather, boundaries are slowly relaxed over time until there is potential for the occurrence of completely inappropriate behavior.  The following can be warning signs of poor educator boundaries:


  • secret conduct
  • oversharing personal information with students
  • behavior showing favoritism (Feeney, Freeman, & Moravcik, 2020)
  • minimal separation between work and personal life
  • acting in a peer, friend, or parental role to students
  • dependency meeting a teacher’s need
  • repeated boundary crossing, even if it appears insignificant or harmless


International school administrators, counselors, and other support staff can use the LIMIT model to provide common language for learning about, discussing, and establishing healthy boundaries in teacher-student relationships.  This dialogue can extend past country lines and diverse education models.


At one international school, an hour of professional development time each year was dedicated to healthy boundary training.  The resulting discussions clarified the school’s expectations, shed light on cultural differences, and raised important questions that teachers had regarding their interactions with students.  The training also opened the door for yearlong dialogue with teachers and staff about boundaries.  All four risk factors of unhealthy relationships were brought to staff awareness with a short amount of formal dedicated time, and the guiding principles of healthy teacher-student relationships were reaffirmed in future informal conversations.


Prevention is paramount.  Organizations where boundaries are fully adhered to are likely the safest environments for children (Eastman & Rigg, 2017).  Targeted professional development and correcting initial loose boundaries may minimize the probability of teacher misconduct with students, where the resulting harm and tragedy has no bounds.




Baker, J. A. (2006). Contributions of teacher–child relationships to positive school adjustment during elementary school. Journal of School Psychology, 44, 211−229.


Birch, S. H., & Ladd, G. W. (1997). The teacher–child relationship and children’s early school adjustment. Journal of School Psychology, 35, 61−79.


Bywater, D. (2021).  Touch in International Primary Schools:  A Practical Approach with a Cultural Lens.  ECIS Insightful.


Downey, J.A. (2008). Recommendations for fostering educational resilience in the classroom. Preventing School Failure, 53, 56-63.


Eastman, A., & Rigg, K. (2017).  Safeguarding Children: dealing with low-level concerns about adults.  May 2017,


Feeney, S., Freeman, N., & Moravcik, E. (2020).  Boundaries in Early Childhood Education.  Young Children, 75, No. 5.


Hamre, B., & Pianta, R. (2001). Early teacher–child relationships and the trajectory of children’s school outcomes through eighth grade. Child Development, 72, 625–638.


Millweard, Christy. “Fed up: Leaders Battling ‘Alarming Rate’ of Inappropriate Teacher-Student Relationships.”, 28 Apr. 2017,

Wolowitz, David, Bluestein J., & Broe K. (2006).  Boundary Training in Schools, United Educators Roundtable Reference Materials, December 2006.




Dallin Bywater is an international school counselor on hiatus.  He has presented for parent and teacher workshops, and has published articles on a range of topics related to student mental health.

Creating a STEAM programme in your international school

Amanda Rose Serrano
Lincoln Community School

How can we as elementary teachers and generalists meet the challenges in our 21st century to help provide students with the skills they need in an ever-changing world?

This is the central question that I have explored for the last few years at Lincoln Community School (LCS) in Ghana as an elementary generalist on a mission.



My Story at Lincoln


Exploring interconnectedness with students and in the elementary school classroom is ideal because I cherish working with a relatively small group of students who I get to know well, while teaching all subjects. So, when I came to Ghana in 2020, the first school year that started in the pandemic, I knew I needed to be flexible – as does international teaching in general. Fortunately, Lincoln is an innovative school with a brand-new elementary school building that is designed with grade level pods where we could create whole new programmes.

“I have a background in the arts & design but I wanted a position as a classroom teacher because at heart, I am a generalist.”

The rooms and spaces at Lincoln are well-equipped for the programmes I was set to create. When you enter a LCS grade-level pod, you step into a huge room called The Hub with flexible seating, furniture, bookshelves on casters, and a projector that casts onto an entire wall. Even greater, both sides of the Hub are lined with windows that provide an unobscured view into four classroom spaces.



In these four spaces, there is a classroom teacher in each – including myself. Two of us are also specialists, I am an art specialist and the other is student support. All fourth grade students and teachers exist in one large group. Roles and duties are subdivided, but done so with a function in mind. This highly flexible grouping allows for new and exciting possibilities.

Given the flexible grouping of students, we as the fourth grade teachers ended up specializing in certain subjects. For me, I was very attracted to the innovation and laboratory approach to teaching and learning. It was exciting to drive my teaching with the design-thinking process, but it was also exhausting in the midst of a pandemic. My first school year was an interactive process where I found myself teaching mainly Math, Art and STEM.

Although I like those subjects, the generalist in me was missing the connections and holistic learning that come with teaching all the subjects. I felt limited and that I was not truly able to teach to my full strengths. Fortunately, the school was preparing to combine the Art and STEM programmes in elementary to become STEAM. Naturally, I was immediately drawn to this idea.


Design and STEAM serve our students in unexpected ways


STEAM prepares students how to approach problems thoughtfully and creatively. It encourages process, failure, resilience, and tenacity. “Fail fast, fail often” is a mantra of the maker movement. STEAM and Design helps students learn critical thinking and problem-solving in a way that nothing else can. It’s hands-on, it’s tangible, it appeals to our kids’ love of technology. Design thinking gives students that flexibility of mind to analyze a problem and come up with creative solutions, consulting with others and testing ideas, finding the best option, refining and implementing it.

While they learn it in Design, STEAM, and in makerspaces at school through building with Lego, perhaps creating an app or video game, woodworking, doing set design for a school production, or puppet-making, the fact is that Design Thinking is perhaps the best preparation we can give our students for the future; how to think creatively, navigate ideas, to try, fail & try again – as these are the skills that will carry our students forward.


Building a STEAM Programmes


STEAM is a new subject at LCS. We have two STEAM Labs, which are a kind of bridge or connecting point between the grade two and three Hubs and another between grade four and five. Our STEAM curriculum was something we chose to build from the ground up. Here, I was entrusted with the freedom to create our curriculum while focusing on making concept-based and ATL (approaches to learning) skill connections, rather than thematic units. This was great because it helped me find deeper learning opportunities, driven by process over product.


My guiding objectives in building the STEAM programmes then became two-fold:


1) Create balanced horizontal programmes for each grade level and a spiraling vertical curriculum from PreK through grade five.

2) Use design methods such as design thinking as a focus, rather than a lot of flashy kits and gadgets.

Planning and creating the curriculum began by defining what we wanted our STEAM programme to offer and how we would build our students’ skills to help them find a bridge to MYP Design. What areas of specialization do we want to offer when STEAM can encompass so much? Knowing that students (and parents) are excited about technology and robotics, I wanted to be sure to include coding and machines and mechanisms. Our students are often encouraged to make things out of recycled materials even in their classrooms so I wanted to include 3D thinking and cardboard. These were areas I especially wanted to spiral up through every grade level.

To get started, I made a spreadsheet with a tab for each grade level. At the beginning of the school year I referenced the school’s Programme of Inquiry (POI) and used that to populate my Working Copy of LCS STEAM Programme sheet. The columns include dates, STEAM unit title, Key Concepts, Related Concepts, the classroom’s Central Idea, and the STEAM Central Idea.

“I made it my goal to create more universal, concept-based central ideas that would be possible for specialists as well as classroom teachers to use to generate their own lines of inquiry, in order to meet content or subject area requirements.”

Next, I had a column to identify which STEAM elements I would be focused on and integrating in the unit (I aim for two per unit in order to keep it manageable and focused for students to make connections). There is another column for STEAM content/skill such as coding, algorithmic thinking, robotics, machines, makerspace, circuits, stop motion, etc. another column for kits or resources I knew we had available at school such as Makey Makey, Snap Circuits, Squishy Circuits, LEGO, WeDo 2.0, Scratch, etc. Finally, my last column was for resources such as books or websites that I might find helpful in developing that particular unit.

Brainstorming at the beginning of the year, I filled out as much as I could using the POI, highlighting the Key Concepts and Related Concepts that would be best for STEAM and tried to identify which unit might be the best for coding, makerspace, etc. for each grade level to ensure that I could start developing a spiraled curriculum. I made notations in the Resources, Kits, and STEAM elements column for anything that came to mind.

Then, I started unit planning using slide decks, which I then linked to the unit title in my spreadsheet. Of course, it has taken consistent work and development over the course of the whole school year to get all the units planned and some of the ideas I had written in my sheet have changed once it came time to design and plan those units in more detail.



Each unit has at least two items from STEAM identified. For example, our second grade unit about Balance included the E[ngineering] and the A[rt] from STEAM for special focus. We did many explorations giving hands on guided inquiry to learn about the center of mass as well as kinetic sculpture. All of this led up to the students designing and creating Alexander Calder inspired kinetic sculptures.

They learned how to manipulate wire, used hand tools such as pliers and wire cutters, and paper mache techniques in order to transform cardboard and other materials into shapes which they affixed and balanced on their mobile. It was so satisfying to see students let their imaginations take flight and sketch their ideas in their sketchbooks and then learn how to select and use the proper tool to make their project. They became independent, helped each other, and took great pride in their kinetic sculptures, which were displayed in-progress in the STEAM Lab and once completed moved to the elementary school lobby for the whole community to enjoy.



For the second objective, using design methods as a driving factor rather than kits, I felt this was important so that students develop both creative and critical thinking skills. When using kits, I prefer to use them as provocations or a kind of library for students to find out how things work. Students can use kits to further their learning if it helps them ask questions that help them transfer what they learned in order to actually make something themselves. I try to be careful to make the projects in our units open-ended so that when students leave the STEAM Lab they are outfitted with freedom, confidence, and understanding about how things work so they can think of their own ways to be creative and have the skills and knowledge necessary to make things.



Key features of the learning process of my units include; making prototypes, sketching ideas and plans. We use brainstorming, presenting in-progress work, talking about problems and questions with each other and sharing ideas and skills. This can take time, especially when we only have classes for 45 minutes, twice a week. At first, students wanted to do quick projects, something different every time they came to STEAM.

It has been a process to help them readjust their expectations and find the possibilities and satisfaction that comes from this kind of exploration, getting nervous or uncomfortable because their idea seems too hard, and then working through that with their classmates and teachers’ support to stretch and learn what they need in order to achieve what they have set out to do.


Conclusion – My Impressions


My STEAM units have a structure to how they are created, spiraled and communicated to colleagues. They are also underpinned by some fundamental concepts designed to push student thinking, encourage creativity with time dedicated to the design process. During the implementation of these units, we have seen evidence of students changing and growing not only in their understanding, but in the process in which they work and think about problems that they aim to solve.

I have been very fortunate to have such a supportive and well equipped school to build a STEAM programme for. My knowledge of Design Thinking, my efforts in planning and organization have helped me create a solid foundation for the programme. Through my situation and effort, I have managed to create a meaningful and rewarding STEAM programme for LCS.





Amanda is an International educator at Lincoln Community School. With over 10 years of classroom experience, she works on designing learning experiences that inspire students, opening portals and pathways for interdisciplinary connections and transference.  She also guides teacher candidates as an instructor and mentor in Moreland University’s Teacher Certification Programme.  Connect with her on Twitter @ASerranoEDU.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We would love to hear what you think below.

Times are changing, let’s run with it and move forward again

Juliette van Eerdewijk, Chair of ECIS Leadership Special Interest Group
Head of School, International Primary School Khuzam


The world of education has rarely experienced a more dramatic push into the unknown as during the last two years, in which educators have been trying to educate the future generation during a pandemic. Educational systems were turned upside down as educators around the world were desperately trying to teach a traditional curriculum to students online. We were asking teaching staff to follow a curriculum that was designed for face-to-face interaction and using pedagogical approaches that suited daily physical presence in a school, and fit it in a distance learning capsule.


Reflecting back, some schools were forced to upgrade their access to technology whilst others were well prepared with technological equipment. There were teachers who were struggling to cope, working their way through the use of apps and online meeting tools, lacking the skills needed to deliver quality lessons, and reverting back to old-fashioned styles of teaching. Others blossomed into technological wizards, creating learning opportunities that would never have existed had it not been for enforced distance learning. As teachers and students learned to become more skilled at dealing with this challenge, the leaders in the school were pressed to make decisions on what staff and students could handle during these stressful and trying times.


Curricula were adapted, content was cut or shortened, staff training was put on hold, performance management might have been slowed down, etc. What we saw in some schools, was a cut back version of a traditional educational system and exams and pedagogical approaches that no longer worked effectively for the new situation. As some of us were waiting for things to return to normal, others were asking whether going back was what we really wanted.


Schools have been given two years of enforced research! We have moved into a position where we can now evaluate what has been happening during the pandemic to our provision. We can identify the pros and cons of distance learning, which will be different for schools according to their national or cultural setting, the type of school, the availability of resources etc. There is a lot out there that can drag us down and make us depressed about the situation we find ourselves in.


However, I do not believe this will help us get out of the rod of negativity. As leaders of our schools, I believe that we need to focus on the positives. We need to rediscover the passion that we have for our profession. Let’s celebrate what worked well for teachers, what worked well for students and what worked well for specific curriculum areas. All of us were forced to accelerate and upskill our approaches to learning, using the digital platform where students, curriculum and teachers met. As a result of this pandemic, educators became performers as they pre-recorded sessions of their subjects. There is a huge wealth of pre-recorded lessons out there now. What are we going to do with that? How are we going to use this in the future? How can we tap into the positives from the distance learning?


For two years, we slowed down, we learned to accept the uncertainty and we gave in to an attitude of waiting and watching and for some stagnation. Now we need leaders whand innovators. We have the perfect moment right in front of us. Let’s not waste it! The potential for apathy that was created by the slowing down and take us out of this dip and demonstrate leadership that inspires, encourages and stimulates growth again. It is time to stop the pause and start focusing on moving forward, to become risk takers and to protect staff, students, parents and caregivers, we now need to shift back into gear. I urge school leaders to take the lead and grasp the opportunity to truly make changes to the educational system.


As we start evaluating what worked well, we need to keep the following in mind:

What worked well for specific students?

Who were the students that blossomed in these circumstances?

What worked well for them and their situation?

Which students have we missed and how can they be truly included?

How can we use what we have learned, to improve and innovate our education now?


Questions we need to ask ourselves:

Do all students need to be in school every day?

How will what we have learned inform new ways of teaching the curriculum for meaningful learning?

How can we use the bank of resources to benefit the students in a face-to-face setting?

How might resources and accommodations change our teaching mindset and establish a culture of change?

How does student voice and choice shape opportunities for differentiated resources and learning approaches?

What are the small steps we can take to change?

What are our best hopes for teaching and learning in a truly inclusive setting?

What bold decisions should we consider?


So therefore, my questions are to all school leaders.


As leaders of international and national schools, what are we going to do with the positives that has come out of distance learning? Are we going to grab the opportunity and make the changes we need to make or continue as if nothing has happened?


We are now reaching the point where a different leadership is needed, leaders need to take charge of moving the school forward again. The time has come to recognise the great learning that has come from this unexpected world problem and using this as a springboard to initiate a dialogue to push for reforms. Educational reform is more than ever possible. Let us start the conversation amongst ourselves, to lead, to be brave and tackle the question: How will we use what we have learned to intentionally shape education to include all students, so they all benefit from the learning/teaching relationship?


Now is the time for our school leaders to take a stand and use this impetus to make the urgent changes needed in our curricula, in our approaches to teaching and learning, in our school systems. Let the student learning become the driver to instigate change.


Times are changing. Let’s be intentional in how we shape/drive this change.



Juliette van Eerdewijk, Chair of ECIS Leadership Special Interest Group
Head of School, International Primary School Khuzam




Abramson, A. (2021). Capturing the benefits of remote learning. American Psychological Association


Fullan, M. (2001). Leading in a culture of change. Sand Francisco: Jossey-Bass


Fullan, M. (2008). The six secrets of change. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass


Hazari, S. (2021). The benefits of Online learning during the pandemic. London College of Contemporary Arts


Li, C. & Lalani, F. (2020). The COVID-19 pandemic has changed education forever. This is how. World Economic Forum


MacBeath, J. & Dempster, N. (2009). Connecting leadership and learning. Abingdon: Routledge

Changes in maths pedagogy: Making maths accessible for all

Karen Morrison and Lisa Greenstein


According to Oxford University Press’ 2021 survey of maths educators, a massive 84% of teachers say they have changed how they teach maths in the last year or more. This situation has been exacerbated by the impact of the global pandemic, but maths pedagogy is continually shifting as learner needs and resources evolve. Here, we reflect on the changes in maths pedagogy over the last 10 years and explore how educators can now make maths more accessible for all.


Ten years ago, the buzzword in maths teaching was problem-solving. Teachers already had a sense of wanting to move away from drill and practice. They wanted to move towards giving students the tools to solve problems in creative ways, but there wasn’t a lot of commonly-used vocabulary around how to do that. This vocabulary issue was complicated further recently by the COVID-19 pandemic as 75% of educational professionals stated that school closures had impacted children’s understanding of mathematical language (Oxford University Press, 2021).


Some students struggle to visualise and communicate ideas in written or oral forms, and there are some students who don’t understand the task instructions (Lyttle, 2021). This lack of understanding is more profound with EAL students or those who are neruodiverse, such as with Attention-Deficit / Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Therefore, there is a need to not only plan maths lessons, but the specific language within those lessons, so we say what is mathematically meaningful (Prescott et. al., 2020).


Today, we (teachers) have so much more awareness of what it means to think mathematically. We talk about questions with an open middle. We talk about exploring mistakes. We’ve come such a long way from agitating over whether kids could remember the 7 times table.


The biggest change in the way we approach maths now is the shift towards asking big, open-ended questions from the beginning – before we teach kids a given algorithm or formula. You don’t want to start off by telling them how to do something, and then ask them to do it. You want to start off by posing a question that they can genuinely grapple with.


Rather than simply focusing on questions and answers, it’s now important to have wider conversations about maths. For example, by asking learners to explain how they arrived at an answer and discuss this with them (Sylva et. Al 2020). We need to create opportunities for rich interactions that involve lasting activities where children work together to solve problems, giving learners the thinking time they need to develop their own ideas and discuss them openly (Williams, 2021).


Today, we need to pose questions which include mixed units, reasoning and thinking, justifying your answer, and solving a problem that can have different solutions – and yet it doesn’t seem frightening or off-putting. This allows for everyone to feel included and encourages them to share their ideas.


Teachers are talking about growth mindset more than ever, and embracing this attitude in classrooms is slowly becoming the norrm. A growth mindset, put simply, is the realisation that there is no such thing as “good at maths”.


Not knowing the answer is part of the learning process and in fact, research shows that the brain can only make new connections when it experiences challenge (Wathall,2021). The human brain has incredible plasticity and learning is a process of stretching ourselves through the struggle of doing something that seems difficult – impossible even – at first. Children learn that this sense of struggle is ok. That it’s fine (and necessary even) to find maths difficult. The difficulty is not a sign of failure; it’s a sign of learning.


In order to encourage a growth mindset in pupils, teachers must utilize inquiry-based learning to promote debate, problem-solving and critical thinking to help build understanding. Allowing learners to work through problems with their friends can also make them more engaged and help to remove any stigma about struggling. Furthermore, high-ceiling, low-threshold activities allow every learner to demonstrate what they can do, without worrying about what they can’t do (Wathall, 2021).


Put simply, “Individuals who believe their talents can be developed (through hard work, good strategies and input from others) have a growth mindset” (Dweck, 2016).


The interventions carried out with struggling students in disadvantaged communities have shown that a more flexible approach and questions that genuinely make students think increase engagement, and lead to improved academic performance (Boaler, 2020).


When educational authors develop a primary maths course for children, they are now thinking about how best to start every child (and level of learner) on a lifelong journey with maths. They cover traditional bases of number sense, sorting, measuring, identifying shapes. Making the link between numerals and quantity is still, and always will be, essential for young learners’ understanding and they need access to many opportunities to experience and explore this (Williams, 2021). But authors also celebrate exploration and investigation; developing a sense of playfulness and fun, as well as a willingness to struggle when things get tricky. These things are often the intention of today’s mathematical education authors – to introduce challenge and struggle.


Another wonderful aspect of developing maths content today is social media. Just following a few hashtags – #mathteachersofinstagram, #mathsadventure, #numberchat, or #iteachmath – can turn up such a wealth of information and knowledge.


Teachers are having conversations in these spaces on how to cultivate a growth mindset in the classroom (Wathall, 2021); they are sharing moments of challenge or success from their own classroom experience; educators are sharing online resources and conferences and courses. Social media has its detractors, but ten years ago, teachers just didn’t have access to all this wonderful shared knowledge and experience.


Maths teaching in international schools is continually changing. But now, more than ever, teachers are focused on challenging traditional approaches to teaching maths, by changing perceptions of it in order to build curiosity, joy, and wonder in order to celebrate growth mindset and reduce anxiety. Developing and practicing behaviours such as problem solving, collaboration, and resilience will only continue to gain importance and focus in the years to come (Neale, 2021).


Introducing Nelson Maths

International Education experts, Karen Morrison and Lisa Greenstein have combined their knowledge and experience in the creation of the new edition of Nelson Maths – a rigorous, whole-school programme for teaching and learning maths from early years through to the end of primary education, from Oxford University Press. Written for learners across the world, it enables all children to start and sustain a lifelong journey with maths. The new edition includes a brand-new look and feel, vocabulary support and activities that prompt engagement with the latest mathematical thinking, such as problem solving and growth mindset. Find out more about the new Nelson Maths at:


Bibliography & further reading


Boaler, J. (2016) Mathematical Mindsets, San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.


Dweck, C. (2015). Carol Dweck revisits the growth mindset. Education Week, 35(5), 20-24.


Greenstein and Morrison. (2022) “Making maths accessible for all: Behind the scenes with our writers”. Oxford University press [blog article] via: [Accessed 18/02/22].


Lyttle, D. (2021) “Lessons from the pandemic: Putting our findings into practice”. [Oxford University Press: Online Article] via [Accessed 18/02/2022]


Mitra, S. (2012). Beyond the Hole in the Wall. Ted books.


Mitra, S., & Crawley, E. (2014). Effectiveness of self-organised learning by children: Gateshead experiments. Journal of Education and Human Development, 3(3), 79-88.


Oxford University Press. (2021) “Maths and the impact of Covid-19: survey of international teachers”, Maths survey of UK teachers, Oxford University Press 2021.


Oxford University Press. (2021) “Preparing for the future: Using curiosity and creativity to boost confidence in maths. A whitepaper for international educators”. [Whitepaper] via [Accessed 18/02/2022]


Rowland, T (2008). The purpose, design and use of examples in the teaching of elementary mathematics. Educational studies in mathematics 69/2, 149-163.


Williams, H. (2021) “Building solid foundations”. [Oxford University Press: Online Article] via [Accessed 18/02/2022]


Wathall, J. (2016). Concept-Based Mathematics: Teaching for Deep Understanding in Secondary Classrooms (1 edition). Thousan Oaks California, Corwin.


Wathall, J. (2021). “Develop a growth mindset”. [Oxford University Press: Online Article] via [Accessed 18/02/2022]


Watson, A. (2021). Care in Mathematics Education: Alternative Educational Spaces and Practices. Springer Nature.


Newsletter 101: A self-directed course for English Learners

Hatty Fryer Smith, Bilge Kalkavan, and Paul Magnuson


Veteran teacher, Hatty Fryer, is part of a group of teachers in an experimental program focusing first and foremost on transferable skills, e.g. collaboration and self-motivation. She creates room for students to practice these transferable skills by helping them create a school newsletter. The non-native English-speaking students are in US grades 8 through 10, with a range of language proficiency.


Hatty starts at the whiteboard, suggesting students break down their goals for the next newsletter into smaller steps to reach those goals. She asks her students to write these steps in bullet points using Google docs. Hatty leaves the board after a few minutes to speak with students individually about how they are planning to contribute to the next newsletter.


Bilge and Paul watch as Hatty speaks with the students. They notice the variety of topics the students are choosing to write about, from sports and video games to drug addiction and the LGBTQ+ community on campus. They also notice the numerous types of contributions students are planning: writing, interviewing, collecting art from students, collecting writing from students, talking to teachers in other classes, taking photos, and designing the pages.


This is an English writing course for non-native speakers, but in no way is the content limited to writing. Because the students are focused on an end product (with just a bit of the peer pressure that comes from publishing something for everyone else at the school), and because they have the freedom to determine both the end product and the work process themselves, the project does not seem contrived. Not only do they have to pull the newsletter together, they have to work on larger organizational issues, like balancing the complexity of the project with considerations for what is actually doable – and doable in what time frame. As students told us: Maybe we don’t have ideas so we have to think for ourselves, it’s hard to work by yourself without the teacher, and we have to find the things that we are going to do.


Their comments exemplify the goal of this class, and others like it in our Edge program’s set of elective courses. We are supporting student growth to greater self-agency. Along the way the students in this class are also very likely to improve their English writing skills.


Hatty had this to say:


Teaching an Edge class at Leysin American School (LAS) has caused me to examine my expectations and assumptions about students and learning in general. It brings into stark relief a point about learning that I, and perhaps other teachers, habitually lose sight of – namely, that the process is more valuable than the product.


In an Edge class, I am more conscious of myself than usual. I make an effort to step back and allow the students to get on with it because that’s the philosophy. When observing students I often think “Why would you do it that way when it would be so much better and quicker to do it this way?” It’s hard to resist that feeling after years of teaching students in a traditional way. But I have learned to keep quiet and to hope to be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.


About fifty percent of the time I am proud of the product. Typically, students work quite slowly without teacher assistance but do a fine job in the end.


The value of the process is clear: students are learning self-reliance. Sometimes the final product is great but completely different to what the student had talked about at the outset. In these cases learning is also clearly happening. When the teacher steps back, students have some space to discover what they are really interested in. Any interference from an authority, positive or negative, might stop them from changing tack and following their own instincts. Students learn to have self-confidence and to trust their own instincts and decision-making.


But I would say that about fifty percent of the students produce a final product that is disappointing. Do these students also benefit from the Edge class experience?


I haven’t yet experienced a student who didn’t submit any work at all, because although students are not graded and cannot fail, there is something about letting the group down that forces them to finish something, even if of poor quality and at the last minute. A common scenario, for example, is that a student starts a project with enthusiasm and then gets bored of it as the classes go on.


But I think that even if the student is not proud of their final product, they know that it is due to their own lack of work, making the process a valuable experience. Here is where my skills as a teacher are fully in play, because feedback to the student needs to be managed carefully. There must be a balance through helping the student learn through the experience of producing poor quality work so that the student sees the experience as a chance to learn rather than a failure.  This is tricky since students have been trained most of their academic lives to avoid failure and they may be fighting feelings of shame or constructing all sorts of defense mechanisms.


If I as the teacher do not address what’s happened, they may withdraw (literally or figuratively) from the class – or they may decide that I really do not care if their final product is of poor quality.  They will say they didn’t get the help they needed or that the course is ‘too easy’. But if they see that the teacher is non-judgemental and actually interested in ‘what went wrong’ – and genuinely not concerned about this particular final product – they will pick themselves up and try again.


Bilge and Paul leave the class to discuss the experience. Bilge noticed some of Hatty’s specific moves to keep the students in charge. To the student with an idea for the newsletter’s cover page, Hatty says: “Why don’t you ask the class if you can be the one to do the front page?” Hatty offered a strategy to move forward with the work – but didn’t use her status in the class to determine the course of the work. To the student who asked, “Miss, do we have to have the contents on the front page?” Hatty answered, “No. You do whatever you want.” It’s the process that counts, after all. Hatty’s approach gives important pedagogical insights for teaching contexts and reminds us to be facilitators for our students rather than a dominant teacher figure. From topic selection to design, Hatty allows her students to make their own decisions as autonomous learners. During teacher-student interaction, she hesitates imposing her opinion and assists them with her questions to help them to set their own goals and design their own work.


Paul smiled as he recounted what another student told him. “We don’t have to think about the grade. I think it’s super good. No grades is the best point [of the class]. It’s a workplace environment. You do it by yourself. If there’s a mistake … you can try something else. We can learn.


Exactly. We can learn.


We would love to hear your thoughts – please share them below.



Hatty Fryer Smith graduated from university with a Masters in Contemporary Fiction and has taught EAL and English literature. Currently she teaches a Creative Writing class in which seven students from different nationalities and abilities in English come together three times a week to create a magazine for the school.


Bilge Kalkavan is in the Faculty of Education at Hasan Kalyoncu University. She has a PhD in Language and Communication, an MA in Applied Linguistics, and an MA in Business Administration. Her research interests include interaction studies, second language acquisition, language, culture, and communication. She visited Hatty’s class during her second stay at LAS as a visiting scholar.


Paul Magnuson is director of Educational Research at Leysin American School and Academic Development Specialist for Moreland University. He has a PhD in Curriculum & Instruction and an interest in furthering student agency.


LAST but not least: The adaptive work of the teacher

Jonathan Butcher (Primary School PYP Principal, Berlin Brandenburg International School)
In dialogue with Anne van Dam and Fiona Zinn


The adaptive work of the teacher is much to be admired. The acronym LAST – Looking ‘closely’ At Student Thinking, is the prerequisite to: conferring with a child, directing them to take their next steps, modelling strategies and techniques, and creating scaffolds. These are just some of the powerful impacts on learning a teacher has and one would hope that these are not only worthwhile engagements for learning, but also joyful and rewarding experiences for the teacher too.


Carlina Rinaldi, describes documentation as an act of caring, an act of love and interaction. It enacts careful observation, listening to both the voices and the silences, actions and inactions. It facilitates further questioning, so that we can better understand the learner, through what educators in Reggio Emilia refers to as a meaning making process. Documentation can come in many forms: still photography, video/ film, drawings/ writing, or perhaps listening in on self talk/ peer-to-peer exchange/ group discourse.


One should always ask why we are documenting. I believe it has to be learning centric, not driven by the documenter’s guilt, or purpose-lose admin request, or parent pressure to portfolio. The process of documenting learning brings us closer to the learner themselves. In a webinar last year Fiona Zinn reminds us not to interrupt, but to consider – Listening with all senses, to observe, to see how the moments unfold.


Last year I created this documentation panel (Andrea Morgan was the teacher, and images from Aisha Kristiansen). My aim was to create, and model a documentation panel with multiple audiences in mind. The written narrative provides the context for any reader and photograph galleries for our early readers. The educator’s quote qualifies the approach used, together with the pedagog’s metacognition for professional insight of best practice. Publishing the student’s individual expressions advocates for the learner.



This panel work inspired Alanna Mazzon, an exceptions teacher, to work with me in creating an ebook using Apple Pages, following the same layering described above. The ebook allowed the documentation to unfold, be shared electronically, and to contain the multimedia clips that set a deeper context, allowing the reader to experience more.


Above: Excerpt from Alanna’s eBook on Apple’s Pages.



“Documentation is a highly personal strategy, we must take time to explore strategies, to refine our listening and to come to know both documentation and the processes of learning with depth and complexity. Indeed, time, collaboration and reflection are essential travelling companions in the journey toward becoming a better documenter.” Fiona Zinn


“Documentation is such a complex process, so rich in the possibilities it affords to create reflective collaborative learning communities who think deeply about their work alongside young children.” Anne van Dam


In the process of sharing my work, and writing this article, I was fortunate to engage in dialogue with both Anne van Dam and Fiona Zinn, two educators I highly admire. In my role as Principal, I felt responsible to promote best practice amongst my staff, to celebrate our learning and to bring parents on our journey and gain confidence and trust.


However, they point out that whilst the schematic patterns and episodes of childrens play is important, it is their personal belief was that the function of documentation is not to understand the schema of the children or to record what they have ‘done’, but rather “documentation offers something much more valuable:


“the chance to meet and tease apart the ongoing construction of ideas that children’s learning processes bring forth in relationship with others. It offers us a way to see ‘inside’ the learning process and understand the complex strategies children and adults have as they build new knowledge together rather than record ‘what happened’ or ‘what resulted’ at the end or ‘what type of play’ this might be. Documentation is about seeking to understand how (not what) learning happens.”  Fiona Zinn


“This process brings us closer to the learner. It is a disposition of research, a curiosity to learn more about learning. It offers us material that we can use to think about how we can support students with their working theories, deepening and adapting their ideas.” Anne van Dam


Our reasons for documenting must be clear and understood by all. Our efforts should be child centric – front and centre.


Looking At Student Thinking (LAST) is a Project Zero routine. Earlier I added the word ‘closely’, borrowing the term from Agency by Design, because it requires a level of sensitivity. In earlier conversations in 2021, Anne Van Dam challenged my thinking by asking me to consider the ethics of listening in. She recalls Carla Rinaldi ‘you are not documenting what has happened, you are documenting your point of view’. Through research I began to consider: Are we quoting the child in the right context? Do we fully understand what we are observing? Does the child consent to our listening in? Have we checked in with the learner and asked for their point of view? An opportunity to model how we respect the rights of a child, to be truly curious in the process. Intentionally I draw parallels to AdD and JusticexDesign (JxD), crediting Jaime Chao Mignano, power and empowerment, as indeed we are designers of content, curriculum and learning experiences, as well as the documenting that comes with this.


Capturing or collecting work samples gives us a volume of data to get to know the learner better, to reflect on how best to support them, and design next steps. I can’t think of an argument against this relational learning; teaching and learning is indeed complex, which is why the partnership between the child and adult is crucial.


Documentation is not exclusive to the work of Early Years, in fact I have tried to disseminate their practises throughout the school. The documentation gathered can ultimately provide compelling evidence of growth that may be reported out. But reporting alone shouldn’t drive documentation. The Harvard LAST protocol guides teachers to raise one another’s awareness, to describe the work, to speculate on the student’s thinking, to ask deeper questions, and discuss implications for teaching and learning. It informs teaching, compliments our conferencing and generates meaningful conversations. Not only have I always found this work valuable, I find it highly rewarding and enjoyable.


I would love to hear from you. What documentation practises work for you? How do you ensure your approach is ethical? Who are your audiences? What is the link between documentation and planning?


But if learning is the driver, I ask about your planning experience. Do you believe it is worthwhile? Is it joyful? One would hope so, and if not, I would suggest the team talked about that elephant in the room. Perhaps this deserves another article? Please share your thoughts below.



Rinaldi, Carlina. “The RELATIONSHIP Between DOCUMENTATION and ASSESSMENT.” Innovations: The Quarterly Periodical of the North American Reggio Emilia Alliance, NAREA, 2004,

LOOKING AT STUDENT THINKING PROTOCOL: Roles: Presenting Teacher, Facilitator, and Documenter (Optional). Cultures of Thinking Project, 2005

Agency by Design (AbD), Project Zero


Interested in reading more?


Working with working theories: the teacher’s role:

Inquiring minds, meaningful responses: Children’s interests, inquiries, and working theories, Helen Hedges and Maria Cooper (The University of Auckland) in partnership with Daniel Lovatt, Trish Murphy, and Niky Spanhake (Small Kauri Early Childhood Education Centre) and Bianca Harper and Lindy Ashurst (Myers Park KiNZ Early Learning Centre) July 2014


Jonathan Butcher holds a M.Ed in International Education, and continues to learn how to maximise learning through meaningful projects. At a time where the world needs compassion, innovation, and action, he is committed to working with others to call for Education for Sustainable Development. Jonathan is the Primary School Principal at Berlin Brandenburg International School.


Fiona Zinn is an Education Consultant based in Hobart, Australia. Fiona collaborates with International Schools to re-imagine early years and primary pedagogy, curriculum and learning environments in response to contemporary theory and research. She has a keen interest in collaborating with teachers to develop a ‘shared pedagogy’ as an authentic reflection of their culture, community and context.


Anne van Dam is an educator and educational consultant with a passion for play as young children’s active, complex, vivacious meaning making process. She views documentation as a way to grow as educators as they dig deeper into the threads, ideas and connections underpinning these investigations.

A Partnership Approach: Empowering Collective Efficacy through Data, Collaboration, and Alignment

Montessa Muñoz, Educator
Chad Dumas, Consultant and Author

It is no secret that the belief that one’s actions impact others is tightly correlated with actual improved student learning. Some might call it self-fulfilling prophecy, others efficacy. Going back to the Pygmalian in the classroom research (Rosenthal and Jacobsen, 1968) we know that teacher expectations drive student performance. And more recent research from Hattie (2018) places this concept among the highest predictors of student achievement. We as educators and schools can, do, and will improve outcomes for kids to the extent that we believe that we actually can.

Knowing this is true, however, does not make it magically happen in schools. It is only the first step. Developing a strong sense of collective efficacy, built upon individual educator efficacy, happens through deliberate actions focused on instructional practices (as opposed to mere managerial issues). Our experience, as a building principal supported by a district administrator, is that both levels of the system support and enhance each other. As such, we will highlight three major areas of our partnership: the collection and use of data, collaborating on instructional improvement, and aligning a culture committed to student success.



Prior to an in-depth look at these three areas, let us provide some background. The setting from which most of these experiences derive was a high-poverty, high-diversity, lower-performing school and district. When Montessa arrived as principal (one year following Chad’s arrival at the district level), the building had grade-levels with the percent of students proficient on various benchmarks near single digits. Despite having more than 90% of students from poverty with a high proportion of English Language Learners (ELs), through the application of the ideas presented below, the school became a national model and achieved more than 90% of students reaching benchmark on multiple assessments.

We know that Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) are an effective route to building collective efficacy (Voelkel and Chrispeels, 2017), and our district’s first priority was in doing this work. As such, from a district perspective, we honed in on the advice of DuFour, Dufour, Eaker, and Many (2010). For a more detailed discussion, please see Dumas and Kautz (2014); suffice it to say that the district emphasized three areas for leading PLC implementation: Limit initiatives (i.e. focus the work), build capacity, and create systems for mutual accountability. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on building-level actions taken to build individual and collective efficacy.


The collection and use of data

Building individual and collective efficacy, in our experience, is grounded in the collection and usage of data. Data was collected by students, teachers, principal, and central office staff.  It was posted in classrooms, along hallways, around the cafeteria, in the staff lounge, and on the desk of the principal. In central office, the main conference room displayed data from administrator learning meetings, and a spider-like radar chat was prominently displayed in the office of the director of learning. Data could not be missed.

The weekly newsletter to staff from the principal listed goals and progress. Instructionally, 80% of students were to be on-task in any given classroom, and the principal collected and reported this weekly from classroom walkthroughs. For reading and mathematics, data was charted weekly, and scores on the school-wide common writing rubric was charted monthly.

In order to display the data, it had to be collected. Progress monitoring was previously done by non-classroom teachers. This changed (with some push-back, but surprisingly little). Classroom teachers are the rightful owners of progress monitoring and the data provided by this work. District common assessments and benchmarks, DIBELS, easyCBM, and common team-based formative assessments (known as LtoJ in our case) formed this foundation.

Having the data collected and displayed is only the beginning, though. The more important work is in talking about it. All. The. Time.

Data was a focus in evaluations, PLC meetings, at the start of each staff meeting, and in school-wide daily announcements about student and classroom “All-Time Bests” (ATBs). Student artifacts were shared by staff in team and school meetings, building confidence of staff as they talked about what they saw from students. And, believe it or not, students themselves, all the way down to kindergarten, were involved in graphing and tracking their own and the classroom’s progress.


Images 1 and 2: Students chart their own progress—including Kindergarten



Office referral data was reviewed once per month by the Positive Behavior and Intervention Support (PBiS) team. Attendance data was reviewed weekly by a team that included the principal, counselor, nurse, and social worker. Math and reading benchmark data were formally reviewed three times per year.

A partnership with the University of Nebraska helped build capacity to collect meaningful student performance data, set decision rules, configure aim lines, and adjust practice accordingly. Little by little, over time, our mindset changed around data. It changed from expecting someone else to hand us some standardized test score to us doing the collecting, analyzing, and using our own, far more meaningful results of students’ learning. Needless to say, seeing the impact of our work on students built efficacy both individually and collectively.


Collaborating on instructional improvement

Just collecting and using data, by itself, however, does little to increase efficacy. This work must be accomplished with learning to improve our practice so that the results will improve. Enter a laser-like focus on collaborating for instructional improvement.

In combination with district-wide efforts, the school had a total of four areas of focus: 1) Engagement strategies, 2) Explicit phonics and vocabulary instruction, 3) Four Block Writing instruction, and 4) Social-Emotional Learning/Proactive behavior strategies.

Regarding engagement strategies, we sent four staff members to a national Kagan training to then come back and help other teachers develop these skills. Not only did this experience build the capacity of these four staff members to be better at engaging their students, but they then taught other teachers how to implement these strategies. Efficacy became integrated into their identities.

The same research project from the University of Nebraska mentioned earlier helped focus on explicit instructional practices. The intense focus on these strategies to teach phonics and vocabulary instruction were then a focus of professional learning and data collection. For example, frequency of choral and physical responses, the use of white boards for formative assessment, and tracking the explicit use of research-based vocabulary instruction strategies to ensure students know and can apply key words.


Figure 1: A walkthrough observation form used to collect and use instructional data



The district had embarked on a four-block writing strategy years before, and school leadership decided to reinforce this work. Staff learning, PLC conversations, and data collection were key tools in ensuring the quality and fidelity of implementation of these practices. Further, the school used vertical teams (K-2 and 3-5) that included EL, Title, and Special Education to ensure consistency of language and structure for writing instruction. And a school-wide rubric was developed and used on common writing prompts to track progress and inform changes to practice. Finally, writing exemplars were identified and reviewed regularly to create a standard of quality writing in the school.

Finally, understanding and proactively addressing SEL and behavioral issues was a focus of the school. We know that students must feel safe, and the adults in the building are responsible for doing this. So the school implemented “families” where each adult led a group of six students (one from each grade level) who met throughout the course of the year to build community and relationships with each other. The school also worked diligently to faithfully implement PBIS to ensure that our core processes and interventions were helping all students self-regulate. Part of this involved holding Friday assemblies to celebrate team and individual accomplishments of students and staff. And finally, the counselor taught “Second Step” materials while teacher’s facilitated classroom meetings.


Aligning a culture committed to student success

Developing individual and collective efficacy, grounded in data usage and an instructional focus, manifests itself in a culture that is committed to student success. In our work, this culture was advanced through the alignment of several structures: High expectations, Practices, and Teaming.

Using data and focusing on instruction will do little good without high expectations–for each other and for each student and family. This begins with learning each student’s name, and ensuring that we are not “dumbing down” expectations based on race, socio-economic status, gender, or other characteristic. Further, it involved celebrating successes for students, as well as staff–both individually and in teams. And it involves ensuring that instructional practices are in accordance with having high expectations (Marzano, 2007).

Finally, high expectations shows up in how we partner with families. We found parents ready and willing to help with translating, interpreting, and providing food for myriad events. We encouraged their involvement in other ways, too, like in the structured Dads of Great Students (D.O.G.S.) program, and in providing lists of how and when parents could volunteer for the school.

Second, this culture required the alignment of multiple practices. All work aligned towards the identified school improvement goals. This included ensuring that monthly professional learning time focused on the priorities, and that teachers were the ones leading the professional learning.

Previously-identified interventionists transitioned to instructional coaches. They were trained in Jim Knight (2007) processes, and attended monthly support meetings and trainings with other coaches across the district. These same coaches led instructional rounds with staff throughout the building in an effort to de-privatize practice. And the coaches met with the principal once per week to plan specific professional learning and supports.

Finally, the high expectations and alignment were reflected in how the school worked as a team. Grade-level teams met at least two times per month. Vertical teams (K – 2 and 3 – 5) met once per month to blind-score student writing samples based on the school-wide rubric. And grade-levels from across the district met the remaining one time per month for establishing common district-wide expectations.


Figure 2: A sample action planning tool to assist with aligning all priorities




Efficacy is built on collaboration. While compliance may get short-term results, long-term gains and sustainability will only happen through working together. This means that all levels of the system are collaborative, for we can’t expect principals to build collaborative environments when the district is top-down and compliance-oriented.

The work of building efficacy is hard. Mindsets don’t change overnight. Creating an environment of caring for kids that includes high academic standards is completely doable. The work of collecting and utilizing data, collaborating on instructional improvement, and aligning a culture focused on student success can happen in any school and district. And the partnership approach between the district and school are fundamental. The question in our minds isn’t, “Can we do what it takes to meet the needs of every child?” Rather, it’s “When and how will we start?”




DuFour, R., DuFour, R., Eaker, R., & Many, T. (2010). Learning by doing: A handbook for professional learning communities (Second edition). Bloomington, IN: Solution Tree.

Dumas, C., & Kautz, C. (2014). Wisdom from the factory floor: For best results, limit initiatives, build capacity, and monitor progress. JSD, 35(5), 26-34.

Hattie, J. (2018). Collective teacher efficacy (CTE) according to John Hattie.

Knight, J. (2017). Instructional coaching: A partnership approach to improving instruction.

Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

Marzano, R. J. (2007). The art and science of teaching: A comprehensive framework for effective instruction. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.

Rosenthal, R, and L. Jacobsen. Pygmalion in the classroom: teacher expectation and pupils’ intellectual development. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968.

Robert H. Voelkel Jr. & Janet H. Chrispeels (2017) Understanding the link between professional learning communities and teacher collective efficacy, School Effectiveness and School Improvement, 28:4, 505-526, DOI: 10.1080/09243453.2017.1299015


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We would be delighted to read your thoughts below.


Storytelling as a way of mapping student learning

Jonathan Butcher, Primary School Principal
Aisha Kristiansen, EdTech Integrator
Berlin Brandenburg International School


Like any great navigation system, learners, teachers and families need to have a sense of direction, in order to know past, present and future destinations. The ‘OECD Learning Compass 2030’ provides a framework for understanding the learning landscape, so that schools can start to reimagine learning possibilities and empower students to shape a positive future for our world. With this in mind, the Primary School team at Berlin Brandenburg International School have worked incredibly hard to charter the systems and structures that would support this approach to education.



Understanding By Design – Developing Knowledge, Values, Skills and Attitudes


The Primary School’s overarching focus on highly effective teams – and a review of our work as a pedagogical collective – determined that the IB PYP enhancement focus took us beyond a mere redesign of the planner. Instead, we placed team dynamics and effective collaborative planning at the forefront of our efforts. Within this, there were four central drivers:


1. Capitalise on highly effective teams

2. Concept-based inquiry planning

3. Being intentional, identifying critical curriculum areas

4. Getting to the core of documentation


With the help of leading concept-based inquiry thought leaders – Carla Marschall and Rachel French – the school built a shared understanding of the Inquiry Cycle. We developed a backwards by design model, whereby teachers intentionally planned for the development of knowledge, values, skills and attitudes in our learners. As documented by Professor John Hattie in his Visible Learning research, shaping ‘Collective Teacher Efficacy’ meant that we were chartering the learning terrain for our students, and giving our teachers a strong sense of collective purpose and direction. The primary goal of the planners was to provide a rich, transdisciplinary and collaborative story of the learning journey.


Evidence of Learning – Core Foundations


For the planning to be effective, we used the phrase ‘compelling evidence of growth’, as a gold standard of what we wanted to document. The compelling evidence of growth would provide the basis for developing student agency and transformative competencies, so that learning and teaching was both personalised and engaging, and within the zone of proximal development. We started to look closely at student work, in order to gain a shared understanding of achievement and implement future steps. This would allow the teams to plan for intentional action. These conversations had a two-fold effect. Tuning staff into what great learning looks like, whilst consciously planning to make learning visible for our students.


Like any great story, we needed a climax and that came in the form of evidence of impact. Through reviewing the cognitive, health, social and emotional data for our students during rich collaborative planning conversations, the teams received affirmation that they were heading in the right direction. These discussions also provided a catalyst for next steps, so that students were experiencing ‘just right’ learning, resulting in excellent outcomes in growth. This evidence would also be used to create powerful, reflective and highly personalised learning stories.


Partnerships Within and Beyond the Classroom – Capturing and sharing ‘Learning Stories’


By late 2019, our school’s position on the map was clear and the direction was set. We had established a clear purpose for our learning stories, which was for students to build their metacognitive skills to reflect on their journey and to establish strong partnerships beyond the classroom. Evidencing learning was a term that was understood and became widely expected amongst our staff. Capturing compelling evidence of growth, and sharing these stories through Seesaw and our social media channels, provided our families and the community with a window into learning, especially when doors were closed to the outside world.


The Anticipation-Action-Reflection (AAR) cycle of the OECD Learning Compass 2030 states that learning ‘is an iterative process whereby learners continuously improve their thinking and act intentionally and responsibly, moving towards long-term goals that contribute to collective well-being’. Giving students an authentic audience to share their learning improves the quality and impact of their story. It provides a detailed map of their learning journey, so that students can be proud of their travels, whilst engaging in reflective discussions about how to grow. The learning stories also created a platform to celebrate the action part of their learning and ensured student agency.


Reflecting on the Journey


As outlined above, our next step is to ‘zoom in’ on the reflection piece. As Hattie highlights:


There are many misuses of this term (reflection), and it does not mean looking back to where we think we have been. It is more a “disciplined way of thinking” and more often the more powerful notion of reflection is “seeing your learning through others eyes”, seeking and using feedback about progress, checking our cognitive biases (especially confirmation bias), and adjusting our learning to more effectively attain the expectations developed in the anticipation phase. 


Supporting our students to take an ‘outsider looking in’ approach to their learning will continue to enhance the quality of student learning and achievement. Similar to intentional planning, compelling evidence of learning and rich learning stories, this next developmental phase will take a shared agreement and collective effort by our team. The work has already been piloted with our Early Education students through the ‘Growing Up Project’. For this initiative, our youngest learners are being challenged to create new value, reconcile tensions and dilemmas, and take responsibility within an ethical framework. It is grounded in Hattie’s view of true and authentic reflection. This project has been shortlisted for the Ethical Values Category for the International Schools Awards. For more information about the project, please visit –


And of course, embedded throughout this journey is a strong focus on high quality feedback, but perhaps that’s a story for another time…


Berlin Brandenburg International School is the ECIS Member School of the Month for January.





BBIS homepage





OECD Future of Education and Skills 2030. “The OECD Learning Compass 2030.” Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development,


Hattie, John, “Collective Teacher Efficacy (CTE) according to John Hattie.” Visible Thinking,


Hattie, John, “Thought Leader Written Statement.” Organisation for Economic Cooperation & Development,



What do you think about the points raised in this post? We’d love to have your thoughts below.





Jonathan Butcher holds a M.Ed in International Education, and continues to learn how to maximise learning through meaningful projects. At a time where the world needs compassion, innovation, and action, he is committed to working with others to call for Education for Sustainable Development. Jonathan is the Primary School Principal at Berlin Brandenburg International School.


Aisha Kristiansen holds a M.Ed in Leadership and Gifted & Talented Education. She has worked in a range of curriculum and leadership roles, which have focused on placing students at the centre of the learning process. She is currently working as the EdTech Integrator at Berlin Brandenburg International School.


Upskilling, Reskilling and Newskilling Teachers for the Metaverse of Future Education

Eleni Armaou, Student Oriented Services (SOS) and Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Coordinator
Metropolitan School of Frankfurt

Transferable concepts from the MIT Sloan and HBR World of Business


Last month, as every month, I indulged myself in reading the HBR and MIT Sloan Management, which apart from strictly and purely business journals, are really incubators of culture organisation ideas, concepts and deep market, finance, business related research.


Education, business world and society do not operate in silos: we are directly and increasingly connected with business research and business ideas that got in motion exempli gratia, Amazon, the Facebook Metaverse, social media trends, all those developments are influencing our lives as citizens, netizens ( online citizens), parents and teachers.We have, therefore, the opportunity and the duty to explore, know and eventually control ( to the extent possible) the developments in the educational metaverse which will be here sooner or later.


Where do we start from? We prepare ourselves, by reading, researching and most crucially, upskilling: supercharging our skills from the fundamental direct instructional tools and skill sets to more future related skills which will become sine qua non skills in the future ( either metaverselly or not).


MIT Sloan Management Review and Professor Katherine C. Kellogg in her article (2021) Workplace Hierarchies Matter in Skill Transformation argue that there are three (3) main types of upskilling initiatives: Upskilling, Reskilling and Newskilling. Let us look at their business definition.




Professor Kellogg defines it as “initiatives that target employees who need additional technical training to remain relevant and continue to deliver value. Leaders can personalise learning for these employees by providing peer-to-peer training in new technologies and related work processes”.

For educators, upskilling would mean, for example, peer learning walk-ins in classrooms, peer discussion for conflict resolution with specific conflict resolution protocols, direct instruction videos reviewing and roundtables for tech in education.

In the world of learning support and inclusive education, this becomes particularly important as schools have to build effective and research -based RTI Systems ( Response to Intervention ) in order to manage Student Referrals, either for social, behavioural, counselling and mental health issues or for learning problems. RTI protocols in schools are vital and skills related to RTi are crucial: learn how to use a learning intervention with:

1. Effectiveness

2. Fidelity

3. Validity

MTSS systems ( Multi-Tiered Support Systems) are primarily based on very good skill building of educators who need to have a range of skills, from investigation skills ( e.g. what is the learning problem? Or what is the system’s problem in this case? ) to deep self-assessment strategies.




‘’As AI-Artificial intelligence analytics and technology and Robotics automate many existing jobs, the workers who formerly did those jobs will need to LEARN entirely new skills rather than merely add to their current skill sets’’ notes Prof. Kellogg. Let us imagine educators and students in a metaverse classroom: what new classroom management skills will be crucial? How do we handle and remediate cyberbullying and what justice restorative strategies we have to use? What mental health issues should we anticipate in a metaversed classroom ? And how do we prepare for them? The answer is research, reskilling and self-assessment.

A future-ready school with future-ready educators calls for skills, in the areas of:

1. IT and coding ( for ICT Teachers)

2. Metaverse social patterns, behaviours and Psychology of the metaverse netizens (for all teachers)

3. Mitigating Cyber Bullying Skills ( for pastoral care officers and school counsellors)

4. Knowledge and skills on how to support in mental health crisis ( egain for support staff and school counsellors)

We have not fully grasped what a METAVERSED school environment will look like and feel like and frankly, it is much better and will prove more effective, if we prepare ourselves. Society was not, and to a large extent still is not, ready for the consequences of social media ( think of Tik Tok trends, Facebook and so forth) on mental health of adults and teenagers alike.




‘’When corporate leaders adopt new technologies that automate various kinds of work, some jobs and tasks are eliminated while others emerge. Many new roles involve technologies that require considerable work to develop, implement, maintain, and change over time’’.

Change in school culture is required and, as in organisational culture -related research, it means addressing underlying beliefs, artefacts ( mission statements) and instructional behavioural elements of educators.

Change on how you accept change is also another equally fundamental newskilling aspect of educators, parents and students.

Equally importantly, if not more, we need to support teachers in any potential mental health difficulties they face, in our rapidly changing world. Our times are similar to medieval times, as we are between an old world and moving to the A New one. As in all historical phases, our times are brimming with signs of things and concepts to be born. As we are waiting, we should also prepare with resilience, perseverance and future-related training, while passing the threshold of conviction that continuous research and training will make us, if not better educators, at least, prepared.

Eleni Armaou studied Psychology, Pedagogy and Philosophy ( major in Educational Psychology) and holds a MA in Special Educational Needs from the University of Leeds, UK. She has worked in IB Schools in Istanbul, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt and is now the SOS, ALN and Counselling Coordinator and Secondary CPO, at the Metropolitan School of Frankfurt, in Germany. Eleni is passionate about AI, Robotics, Space Travel, Quantum Physics as well as Human Psychology, Inclusive Education, Leadership and Management Studies, Negotiation Skills, CRISIS Management and Conflict Resolution.

She is a Member of ECIS SEN/Learning Support SIG and content creator for the LS/SEN SIG page. Website: special education and inclusive education

Student Oriented Services ( SOS) and Additional Learning Needs (ALN) Coordinator, Metropolitan School of Frankfurt


References and Sources:


1. Image Source:


2. Katherine Kellogg (2021) Workplace Hierarchies Matter in Skill Transformation. MIT Sloan Management Review Journal


3. The Future-Proof Organisation Harvard Business Review Journal -September/October 2021


What do you think about the points raised in this post? We’d love to have your thoughts below.




Eleni Armaou studied Psychology, Pedagogy and Philosophy ( major in Educational Psychology) and holds a MA in Special Educational Needs from the University of Leeds, UK. She has worked in IB Schools in Istanbul, Stuttgart, and Frankfurt and is now the SOS, ALN and Counselling Coordinator and Secondary CPO, at the Metropolitan School of Frankfurt, in Germany.

Eleni is passionate about AI, Robotics, Space Travel, Quantum Physics as well as Human Psychology, Inclusive Education, Leadership and Management Studies, Negotiation Skills, CRISIS Management and Conflict Resolution.

She is a Member of ECIS SEN/Learning Support SIG and content creator for the LS/SEN SIG page.

Website: special education and inclusive education

Student Oriented Services ( SOS) and Additional Learning Needs

(ALN) Coordinator, Metropolitan School of Frankfurt

She is a Member of ECIS SEN/Learning Support SIG. Visit the website here.


Touch in International Primary Schools: A Practical Approach with a Cultural Lens

Touch in International Primary Schools: A Practical Approach with a Cultural Lens
Dallin Bywater, International School Counselor


An international school community breeds a complex system of influences on touch behavior, where each culture has its own unspoken rules about appropriate touch.  There is a spectrum of high and low contact cultures (Dibiase and Gunnoe, 2004), as well as high and low context cultures (Meyer, 2014) that often coexist in a single school.  Although complicated, it is both possible and necessary to develop touch guidelines and policies in international schools.


Touch between teachers and students has been a feverishly debated topic for years (Johansson, Aberg, and Hedlin, 2021).  Researchers have written extensively about touch in the early years context (Blackwell, 2000).  A robust amount of research indicates the emotional, physical, intellectual, and social benefits of touch (Owen and Gillentine, 2010).  For example, touch can decrease aggressive behavior (Diego et al, 2002), can promote positive behavior and social interactions (Dobson et all, 2002), and even encourage cognitive development (Hart et al., 1998).  However, there is a notable lack of research about the effects of touch in an international school community where touch is interpreted from many cultural viewpoints, and community members have a wide range of expectations about appropriate teacher behavior.


In place of this research void, some schools around the world have adopted “no-touch” policies in efforts to protect employees from accusations of abuse.  Some schools have left the issue up to teachers without giving guidelines, in a nebulous ignorance that renders teachers and students vulnerable.  Other school communities have embraced touch and even encouraged it during school in many forms.


Whatever school policies exist, many teachers believe or are aware of the research that indicates appropriate touch is positive for child development (Johansson, Aberg, and Hedlin, 2021).  Nonetheless, a significant number of educators, especially male teachers, are apprehensive about touching in school (Clyde, 1994; Piper, 2014).  Following a number of high-profile cases in the media, many educators are fearful of abuse allegations.  Fear of touch creates a significant chasm between research and practice.  An international school with teachers from various cultures will have some teachers who are afraid to touch students, and others who are oblivious to the risks because of their cultural or educational history.  The ambivalence, discomfort, or unawareness that many educators have could be alleviated by a clear understanding of the community culture in addition to explicit school expectations and guidelines.  With such diverse teacher backgrounds, and due to the ease by which misunderstandings can occur, school leaders cannot afford to be unclear or neglect to have guidelines and policies about touch.


Depending on local regulations and the course of the COVID-19 pandemic in the area, many schools may have no choice but to return to temporary “no-touch” policies in efforts to limit transmission of the virus.  In this case, teachers and educators must find other ways to appropriately express their support and affection for students.  Alternatively, this may be an optimal time to reevaluate touch culture at school, and thus the following recommendations are provided to assist international schools which are reviewing guidelines or entering a phase where touch would not put students or teachers at risk for infection.


Developing Guidelines by Starting with Questions

School leaders can concurrently avoid the paranoia of “no-touch” policies and the danger of nonexistent guidelines by finding a middle ground where children are safeguarded and teachers supported with clear boundaries of touch in school.


For School Leaders

School leaders must assess touch culture from multiple lenses: a community lens, teacher lens, and student lens.  The following meta-questions should be considered:

What is the host culture?

What are common touch behaviors in the host culture?

What is the cultural makeup of the school?

What are accepted touch behaviors in the cultures represented at the school?

Are there any host-country laws about touch in schools?

What has been the culture of touch at the school in the past?  Have there been issues with it?

Are there already some written school guidelines for educator-student touch?  Is the focal point student wellbeing or avoiding allegations?

Is the community aware of these guidelines?  Are all staff aware of these guidelines?

Do you model appropriate touch behavior for the school community?


For Teachers and Staff

It is essential as part of the development of appropriate touch culture in school teachers and staff are involved and trained regularly.  Teacher turnover can be frequent, and they may come from diverse cultural environments and training.  From an individual teacher perspective, the following concepts should be explored:


Before the School Year Begins

What is your personal culture, and how is touch between adults and children viewed in that culture?

What is your personal experience with touch?

What are your beliefs about touch in school?

Do you know the policies and guidelines regarding touch at school?

Do your touch behaviors differ depending on the gender or culture of a child in the class?

What are your school touch behaviors, and are these done for the benefit of the student in mind?

How do you protect yourself from allegations and misunderstandings?

How can you mold your touch behaviors to fit the school cultural environment, with the student’s welfare at the forefront?


 After the School Year Begins

What is a child’s reaction to and perception of touch from you in various situations?

Does the child seek touch or avoid it?

What is the child’s caregiver’s perspective about touch?

Does the child have any sensitivities to touch, or additional touch needs (ie: sensory integration differences)?

In the Moment of a Potential Educator-Student Touch Situation

What is the school guideline?

Is touch appropriate for the context, and is it necessary?

Is this touch done in the best interest of the child?

How did the child react?


Educators remain weary and afraid of touching students (Piper, Garratt, and Taylor, 2013), therefore in addition to knowing what is inappropriate (i.e. child safeguarding policies), it may be even more important for teachers to receive training that encourages appropriate, supportive, culturally sensitive touch.  Generally, physical contact might be appropriate if it is used to assist in skill development (educative touch), is required for a child’s safety (assisting touch), occurs in an open environment, and occurs with the student’s permission whenever possible (Bergnehr and Cekaite, 2018; “Physical Contact with Children”).  A culturally sensitive approach requires a teacher to be emotionally available to accurately interpret the effect of their touching and respect student body autonomy.

As common as math and writing levels are to a child’s cumulative file, educators should also be aware of how children respond to comforting, assistive, or educative touch.  Much like it would be counterproductive to place a student in a math level group that is too high or too low, creating an unfitting touch environment for a student can be detrimental.  Touching one student in a specific way could have a positive effect, whereas touching another student in the same way could elicit negative emotions and have negative implications.


For Students


School culture and guidelines about touch would be incomplete without student social and emotional learning (SEL) opportunities regarding touch.  Even the youngest students can learn to recognize safe, unsafe, and uncomfortable touches.  Shortly after, they can recognize and verbalize which touches are unwanted and nonconsensual.  All these ideas taught within a multicultural lens encourages rich conversation and deep thinking about their personal experiences and preferences of touch.  Schools have a responsibility to empower students by allowing them to decide what touch is comfortable for them in which contexts.  Crucial opportunities are available in school settings for exploring and understanding preferences for touch.


Policy Essentials


The information elicited from the aforementioned questions and perspectives can allow a thoughtful formulation of touch guidelines and policies.  There is no one-size-fits-all list of guidelines or policies for touch at international schools.  Each school will differ in the details, but the following general guidelines can be a starting point to protect educators from allegations, and concurrently provide a comfortable environment for staff to render caring and beneficial touch to students at school (Hansen, 2007):

  • Limit touching to safe areas of the body (shoulders, hands, upper back)
  • Avoid being alone in a room with a student, and not with the door closed
  • Before touching students, be an observer – see how students interact with peers and other adults, and what their touch behaviors are and what they are comfortable with
  • Ask for permission whenever possible


These guidelines go hand in hand with child safeguarding policies, which further delineate social and sexual boundaries.  Touch guidelines and safeguarding policies have congruent principles – to care for and protect children.


Children with pervasive coordination or physical needs will need a higher degree of personal touch to complete daily activities, and this also should be indicated in school guidelines.  In activities where touch may be necessary for the safety or teaching of students (i.e. PE, demonstrations for some Arts), differences should also be indicated in school documents.


With the welfare and body autonomy of children as guiding points, school leaders have a responsibility to teachers and children to help the school develop a healthy and culturally sensitive culture around touch, imbuing a caring, nurturing environment.  Taking time to wade through the cultural complexities can provide clarity and comfort.  The costs for developing well-balanced policies and guidelines are in itself beneficial to the community:  thoughtful evaluation, honest and open discussion, and professional growth.


About the author

Dallin Bywater is an international school counselor on hiatus.  He has presented for parent and teacher workshops, and has published articles on a range of topics related to student and parent mental health.




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