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. https://visible-learning.org/2018/03/collective-teacher-efficacy-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 – https://iscresearch.com/international-school-awards/ethical-values/


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, https://www.oecd.org/education/2030-project/teaching-and-learning/learning/


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 armaou@msf.education

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


References and Sources:


1. Image Source: https://www.searchenginejournal.com/nfts-metaverse-marketing-guide/427528/


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. bywatercounseling@gmail.com




Bergnehr, Disa and Cekaite, Asta. 2018.  “Adult-Initiated Touch and its Functions at    a

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Incorporating Student Voice in the Classroom

Chrissy Talbot
General Education Teacher

Providing students with a voice is an important tool in creating an engaging classroom environment. As an elementary teacher, I’ve noticed that when my students feel that their own voice is valued they are often more willing to take academic risks. Below I’ve listed three practical ways you can provide even your youngest students with an opportunity to have a voice in their own education.


1) Morning Meetings & Entrance Tickets:

One way to provide students with a voice is by giving them a platform to express themselves. This can come in multiple forms. You can set up a morning meeting where students have the opportunity to discuss things they are feeling or events happening outside of school. A safe space for students to engage in honest conversation should never be underestimated. Or, if you want something less time-consuming, you can create Google Forms or entrance tickets that ask students to suggest topics for class discussion or their thoughts and opinions on the curriculum. Of course, you can modify these ideas to meet your specific grade level. Starting your day off with an opportunity for students to have a voice sets a tone that their opinions and thoughts matter in your classroom. They are valued.


2) Choice in Projects: 

Student voice can also come in the form of choice. This might mean giving students the opportunity to express what they have learned through different mediums. Would they rather make a diorama of an ocean habitat or create a video complete with sound effects and narration? Sometimes it can be hard as the teacher to release some control to our students but by doing so, we are showing our students that we trust them and that we accept them as individuals who may not always learn the same way. You cannot have student voice without student choice.


3) Student Surveys:

Lastly, you can promote student voice simply by asking for it. Give students an opportunity to drive your instruction and tell you how they learn best. Student surveys at the beginning of the year are helpful to get an understanding of how our students learn. We can then decide if we need more group projects or technology or visuals in the way we deliver instruction. But the surveys shouldn’t stop in the fall. We need to continue to ask our students for feedback. Would students like to see more videos or do more hands-on experiments? Assessments give us a lot of information about how much a student has learned but they don’t give us insight on the student’s learning experience. I believe learning experiences should count for something because, after all, aren’t we trying to foster a love of learning in our students? I think the best way to do this is to give the students a voice continuously in the way we deliver our instruction and the way we assess our students.


These are just a few strategies you can employ in your classroom to help lift up your students’ voices and make them feel heard.  Sometimes it’s easy to overlook or forget about the importance of this work but it’s so important for building long-term relationships with our students. We owe it to our students to show them that their thoughts are valued.


To learn more about Social-Emotional Learning and access additional resources to support a SEL environment, click here.


This article was originally published by Savvas: https://blog.savvas.com/incorporating-student-voice-in-the-classroom


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.



Chrissy Talbot

“My name is Chrissy and I am a creative, hard-working, and passionate teacher. I’ve been teaching second grade for the past four years on Long Island, New York. I’m currently the general education teacher in an inclusive classroom environment, and I LOVE it! I received my BA in Elementary Education from Stonehill College in Massachusetts and later earned my Masters in TESOL from Touro College in New York. When I’m not lesson planning or making anchor charts for my kiddos, I am reading books on my couch, planning my latest travel adventure, or spending time with my friends and family.”

Embracing democratic dissent in a data-driven age

Stephen Chatelier, Mark Harrison and Elke Van dermijnsbrugge



We teach in a pre-service teacher programme that prepares students for a teaching career in international schools. In one of the courses, we discuss models of teacher appraisal and teacher effectiveness, their purposes, and how different schools approach them. We ask whether or not student performance data should be part of these processes. During the discussion, it is inevitable that one of the students will argue that data must be used because, ultimately, the most important concern of a school is the learning of students.


During our time as schoolteachers and in our ongoing conversations with colleagues, we have heard this same argument, in different forms, many times over.


How dare you – it’s all about student learning!

These days, we often hear that the student – and student learning – are more important than anything else, and should be the yardstick for all that happens in schools. The problem with this is that it seems impossible to argue against. Who in their right mind is going to say “the students aren’t really the most important” or “hmm, I don’t think student learning is really at the centre of what we do as a school”?


The view that student learning is the aim of schooling might seem obvious, but has been challenged, perhaps most notably by the academic Gert Biesta who argues that education is a much broader enterprise. While the claim that student learning is all that matters is itself problematic, it is also used all too often as a “shut down” to alternative voices.


If you’ve ever tried questioning the latest initiative focusing on wellbeing, resilience, growth mindset, or “soft skills”, you’ve probably experienced “the shutdown”! If you’re thinking of being that person, good luck!


The ‘research shows’ argument

Perhaps you’ve been in a meeting about increasing the quantity of reporting. The school leadership is arguing that parents should get more regular feedback, as well as more detailed end-of-term reports. As concerns about the increased administrative requirements for teachers are voiced, the reply comes: “research shows that formative feedback and home-school partnerships are key to student improvement, and surely that is our primary aim?”


The argument here is not only that student learning is the only thing that matters, but that ‘the research’ undeniably supports the particular initiative being proposed. In this sense, ‘the research’ is often quoted in a vague and ‘handwaving’ manner to justify an initiative. After all, who can argue with ‘the research’?


So, just like the ‘student learning’ strategy, the ‘research says’ declaration is too often used to quash dissenting voices.


Democratic education

The dissenting voice, however, is central to ensuring a democratic education.


Put another way, the data-driven, evidence-based discourses in schools risk undermining the various forms of education that prioritise students’ responses to the world around them, inquiry and the construction of knowledge, and engaged citizenship, all elements of a broader vision of education than one which simply focuses on ‘learning.’


When teachers become focused on the numbers and the data, they are more likely to engage in practices that primarily focus on that which can be measured. That is, teachers are more likely to do the equivalent of ‘teaching to the test’. As a result, we start to value what we measure instead of measuring what we value (Biesta).


Given that many international schools claim to provide exactly the kind of education that guides students in becoming responsible members of a global society, it is important that we consider the implications of focusing on data and numbers.


Dissenting voices

In fact, if we really believe that the best education for our students is that which ‘draws out and opens up’ rather than ‘narrows in and closes down’, then we ought to be more, not less, sceptical about educational agendas which flatten and standardise practices.


And we ought to be willing to embrace dissenting voices from teachers as well as students.


But while we make the argument for allowing dissent, it is important to note that this is not the same as mere complaint. Dissent, it can be argued, is more closely aligned to democratic education, not because it allows the community to simply say whatever they want, but because it involves giving account for one’s position.


Dissent emerges from genuine concerns – whether philosophical, practical, political or pedagogical – and can, therefore, play an important role not only in critiquing the way things are, but in contributing to different and innovative ideas for education.


Embracing alternative views for education

The start of a new school year is the time in which new initiatives are proposed with energy and enthusiasm. School leaders are often keen to ensure that they push something through, before the grind of the daily and weekly routine sets in. As such, it can be tempting to resist the dissenting voices by invoking ‘the research’ which is, in actual fact, always contestable, or the centrality of student learning.


Managed well, a genuine invitation for dissent is to see any proposal of a new initiative as an educative opportunity itself. It is an opportunity for the community to genuinely inquire into, grapple with, critique and imagine alternatives. It is an opportunity to ask: what does the data actually tell us? What does the research not address? And, are there other factors – outside the data or the research – that perhaps ought, nevertheless, to carry more weight in making a decision?


A school that breeds a culture of genuine engagement with ideas, and leaders who genuinely listen to dissenting voices, model something of the kind of democratic education that so many international schools claim to promote. In embracing this culture within the staff, the effects will be felt across the school, including in the classrooms.


So, next time we are tempted to shut down debate by blithely stating “learning is the most important thing” or “the research says”, perhaps it is worth thinking about what this says about our perspective on the role of education.


Stephen Chatelier, Mark Harrison and Elke Van dermijnsbrugge have all been teachers and leaders in international schools. They now work in the Department of International Education at The Education University of Hong Kong, where they teach and conduct research on critical aspects of international schooling.

The Power of Community and Masterminds – creating connection and empowerment during our world crisis


Becky Carlzon
Co-creator of LearningPioneers.co and Letspressplay.co


If there’s one thing for sure, our shared recent world crisis has rocked the world. In many ways, this has had devastating consequences – lives have been lost, businesses have crumbled, people have been isolated.


In other ways, we have had to learn to pivot – to think on our feet and think up creative and innovative ways to solve problems; most closely to our hearts as teachers, this has involved developing effective online learning programmes whilst juggling home lives, navigating new technology and, if we’re lucky, getting out of our pyjamas, ready for our 8am maths lesson, trying to maintain the focus of 30 children surrounded by siblings, pets, and, in one of my calls, a feral bat!


Although this has been a challenging process, perhaps there are some gifts too – some silver-linings to the cloud of COVID. For me, one of these gifts has been making space to reimagine.


Here are a few ways I started to reimagine after online learning:


  • I wonder what learnings I can take forward from developing lessons remotely? What new technology can I incorporate? How might I be able to plan for more cross year group learning? How can I deepen relationships with families and therefore impact more on learning?
  • Can we build connection and community, even when isolated in our own homes?
  • Now that we can’t invite in consultants for staff training, how else could we develop effective professional learning opportunities?


It was these final two wonderings, that led me to develop online learning communities and Masterminds. Here were my “what ifs” to make that happen:


  • What if we could create a safe space for hungry-to-learn practitioners to connect?
  • What if we could run regular “Mastermind” sessions where we could troubleshoot best practice together?
  • What if we could collectively write a list of “dream” speakers and co-create questions for them to suit our individual needs and contexts?
  • What if, by doing this, we could connect practitioners, philosophies, curriculums across the globe and, in doing so, open our minds to new possibilities?


Well, that’s just what we did – We built an international community called “Learning Pioneers” committed to learning from and with one another, powered by the world’s learning minds. Since I have worked closely with Professor Guy Claxton, this began as developing our practice in Learning Power. Since then, it has expanded to exploring any ideas and approaches that empower students and ensure learning is meaningful, purposeful and joyful. So far, we have co-created interviews for speakers including Kath Murdoch, Professor Guy Claxton, Trevor MacKenzie, James Nottingham and David Price OBE. We have learned and implemented effective strategies in, amongst others, assessment, learning environments, growth mindset, agency and challenge.


And, now, a year after having got this started, we are really starting to understand the impact of developing a learning community like this. Research into teacher collective efficacy, shows that continuous professional dialogue over time can have a 4-fold impact on learning (Hattie). A GTCE study in 2007 found that effective teacher learning involves sustained interactions and interventions over time, teacher choice and influence over their learning and learning within a collaborative network – turns out, we have all three.


So, now I am wondering:


  • How can I empower others to set up learning communities of their own? Our focus is on the most impactful and meaningful learning. Other communities could be set up around STEM, best use of technology, oracy, inquiry, student agency, SEND provision … The possibilities are endless!
  • How can we go even deeper in our Learning Pioneers community? For example, Dr Kulvarn Atwal, who has a PhD in developing dynamic learning communities, will be an integral part of our learning next year.
  • What would this look like as a whole-school approach to professional learning? Not only are whole schools signing up to Learning Pioneers, but I have developed a new learning community called “PressPlay” with Kym Scott, Early Childhood Consultant, dedicated to supporting and empowering schools to take play beyond Early Years.


And I am wondering about you too.


  • What have your greatest challenges been during our world crisis? Did you get better at overcoming them as time went on?
  • Were there any silver linings to your clouds?
  • What are your thoughts on online learning communities? If you were to set one up, what would you like to investigate and learn about with others? Which speakers would you invite in?!


I would love to hear the answers to these questions! Imagine if we could all connect with like minds across the globe to learn and grow together? We could fire up education and learning from the ground up and, quite frankly, change the world (or at least our part of it!).


You can link with Becky via Twitter @beckycarlzon  and via LinkedIn.


And find out more about her learning communities via:






What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.




Becky is the Co-creator of Learning Pioneers, with a focus to make our classrooms as exciting, impactful and purposeful as possible. You can find out more at learningpioneers.co.

She is also the co-author of Powering Up Children, which is bursting with tips and techniques to get students learning muscles stretching from a young age. The book is designed for busy primary school teachers who want to get started on the LPA journey as well as for those who have already made good progress and are looking for fresh ideas.

Better Than Before – 3 Practices That Should Be Part of Our New Normal


Jessica Werner, Ph.D.
CEO, Northshore Coaching & Consulting


It is summertime and there are currently a lot of conversations happening around what the new normal will be in schools come this fall. Clearly, the teaching conditions we endured for the last year and a half were decidedly not normal. At best it was innovative, and at times it was simply survival. COVID was a once in a century pandemic and teaching through it wasn’t always pretty.


Though we know there will be a ‘new normal’ for schools, it may take a few school years for us to feel comfortable in this, let alone thrive in it. Yet, it is important to remember – teaching is hard during non-COVID times, and our ‘new normal’ should reflect that. Here are the top three aspects of our new normal that I am advocating for:


Keep wellbeing a priority

For everyone in schools – administrators, office staff, teachers and students.  In many schools where I work, the focus on academic achievement shared an intentional space with a focus on wellbeing, social-emotional learning, and self-care this past year. Teachers were offered CPD opportunities for wellness, which came at a crucial time as many reported feeling burnt-out as early as mid-September. The schools that did this deserve to be commended, yet it would be a mistake to discontinue this type of support in the future. Schools must continue to nurture the health and wellbeing of their staff as much as they focus on the social and emotional needs of their students. We know from research that happy, engaged teachers are less likely to transfer schools or to leave the profession entirely, just as we know that these teachers report higher academic gains in their students.


Encourage continued innovation

When the pandemic forced immediate school closures in early 2020 everyone working in education was forced to adjust, more or less overnight. It was extremely difficult, and this cannot be understated. This sudden, unprecedented shift ultimately led to new thinking, cooperation, and innovation in almost every school I have worked in and visited in the last 18 months. Educators have flipped the way of doing business on its head and this should continue to be the way schools operate post-pandemic. School administrators must encourage continued innovation by investing in CPD opportunities for staff, particularly those that are personalized to meet each individual’s growth goals.


Continue appreciating educators

Early in lockdown, Shonda Rhimes, an American television producer, went on social media after one hour of homeschooling her six and eight-year-old children, and said “teachers deserve to make a million dollars a year. Or a week,” and many people expressed agreement. Teaching is hard work. We educators have always known this, but it was nice, for these months, to hear this sentiment expressed by our non-educator friends. Despite this hard work, educators often feel taken for granted. At my daughter’s school, the parent community provided at least 20 lunches for the school staff throughout the year as a ‘thank you.’ Teachers also received a small stipend to reward them for their hard work during this extraordinary time. These displays of appreciation were absolutely warranted, and they should not stop when COVID concerns are behind us. Roughly 50 per cent of educators leave the profession in the first five years, and nearly 10 per cent quit every year after that. That is significant turnover, even in ‘normal’ times. One of the top reasons teachers quit is due to not feeling adequately respected or appreciated.  Therefore, I propose that we must continue to show educators that we respect and appreciate their hard work. Let’s try our best to keep amazing people in this profession. Through lunches, stipends, or simply a kind word or note here and there, letting your child’s teacher or your teaching staff know you care can mean a lot and help boost morale.


As we transition to ‘post-pandemic thinking, let’s focus on what actually worked well during pandemic teaching and consider how we can integrate these positive outcomes into our future work.  No doubt, COVID was a challenge for all, and especially for those in education. Let us remember that during this challenging time educators rose to the occasion and continued teaching, an act of resilience that will not soon be forgotten by millions of grateful students and families.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.




Jessica Werner, Ph.D. is the CEO of Northshore Coaching & Consulting. NSCC partners with schools worldwide providing professional development opportunities for teachers and school leaders that focus on both performance and wellbeing. Dr. Werner’s personal expertise lies in helping teachers establish a positive classroom culture, develop SEL skills, and improve their instructional practices. She teaches Assessment courses as a Professor of Education at the University of Notre Dame and lives in St. Paul, Minnesota, with her family.

Living with Asperger’s – an interview with SEN professional Beverley Williams


Aimee Haddock
Marketing Executive, Real Group Ltd.



Beverley Williams is a former delegate of Real Training. She has had an expansive career, influencing the lives of many young people with SEN. Not only has Beverley completed multiple courses with Real Training and gained a vast amount of professional knowledge through SEN and safeguarding roles, but she was also diagnosed with Asperger’s at around 50 years old. We thought it would be useful to share Beverley’s story, not only for those delegates looking to have an impact but also for those with Aspergers who may be looking for some advice.

Discussing Beverley’s early life, there was a common challenge that she faced almost every day – being able to build meaningful friendships and understanding how to behave in certain social situations. During her time at primary and secondary school, Beverley found herself feeling exhausted by social politics. Something she also experienced in some of her job roles in later life. She acknowledges her personal daily struggle with this and now understands this to be part of her Asperger’s. Explaining how she felt after her diagnosis regarding those social challenges, Beverley said,

“It has been really releasing on a personal level… I don’t feel I need to explain things to other people but it explains to me why I find situations hard.”

Since her diagnosis, Beverley has felt a lot more confident in building relationships, explaining that now she knows what she is going to find tricky, she can prepare herself and put certain strategies in place to help her deal with different situations.

I wanted to understand a little more about how Beverley thinks her experiences in early life influenced her approach whilst working with SEN children. She explained that she has always resisted stereotyping young people and children by their diagnosis. She explains that not everybody with the same diagnosis has the same limitations, behaviours and challenges. Her focus remains on the individual and she is highly conscious of the social isolation of SEN children, constantly working to combat this. Through her work, Beverley has noticed her ability to acknowledge each individual, recognising those who are on the edge of the social group and understanding that they may be happy there. Highlighting that this approach is strongly influenced by her experiences.

Following her own diagnosis, I wanted to know if Beverley felt her approach was influenced or changed in any way. Beverley explained the biggest alteration was a new awareness of females, acknowledging the likelihood of masking – not just Aspergers but all kinds of challenges. She feels this made her look more deeply into triggers and behaviours and spend more time getting to know each individual.

Beverley’s learning journey with Real Training has seen her complete CCET and NASENCO. She is also currently working on the Autism Spectrum Conditions module. After gaining knowledge through her lived experiences with Autism and her varying professional pathway, Beverley continues to expand her knowledge. When asked about her time studying with us Beverley said,

”My NASENCO tutor was fantastic. I explained about my Aspergers and she was really supportive. That gave me quite a lot of confidence to go onto the next course. I acknowledge that her support helped me to keep going and gave me the encouragement I needed. I never felt that she was making allowances nor do I think she was, but I did feel my tutor had an understanding of how I work best.”

I asked Beverley to provide us with some of her top tips, not only for other delegates working with SEN children but also for young people with Autism, highlighting the kinds of things she wishes she knew in her younger years. Although Beverley had not yet been diagnosed while she herself was at school she now understands, through her diagnosis, why she found school hard.

Beverley’s Top Tips for working with SEN children

  1. Don’t stereotype people on the Autistic Spectrum, they are as individual as everyone else.
  2. Provide a range of strategies to mirror the range of people.
  3. Give students the opportunity to work in a calm area, avoiding sensory overload. Always tailor these strategies to their individual needs and preferences.
  4. Look for those on the edge of the group who don’t feel they fit into any specific group.
  5. Focus on an individual’s interests and strengths and then build these into your learning strategies for them. In my experience, people on the Autistic Spectrum are more likely to be engaged in their learning if you encourage them to go deeper with specific interests instead of broadening their general knowledge.
  6. Understand, if you can, that what is important to you may be totally irrelevant to someone on the Autism Spectrum and they, therefore, may not see the point in learning about some things, which may seem trivial and pointless to them.
  7. It is often exhausting for children on the Autism Spectrum to comply with expectations. If they comply at home, they might not have the energy to comply at school and vice versa. Provide opportunities for the individual to restore and refresh using whatever strategies work for them- don’t make assumptions about what these are.

Beverley’s Top Tips for young people in education with Autism

  1. It’s ok to be different, everyone is!
  2. You don’t have to pretend to be someone you’re not. It’s exhausting.
  3. Find a teacher or other member of staff you can talk to.
  4. Ask for a quiet area you can go to if you need to take a break from the noise or light, etc. If you feel embarrassed to ask for this perhaps you could find a ‘job’ you need to do.
  5. Don’t let people ‘pigeon-hole’ you or put you in a box to fit their expectations.
  6. It’s ok to make a mistake because it’s all part of learning. Getting something wrong isn’t a failure, it simply means you have learned something new.

Many thanks to Beverley Williams for her insightful thoughts.

What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.


Aimee Haddock is the Marketing Executive at Real Group Ltd.

Leveraging student voice for a new world


Marta Medved Krajnovic
and Stephen Taylor
Western Academy of Beijing


This article first appeared in the June issue of International School Leader.

At a recently hosted TEDx at Western Academy Beijing (WAB), eight students shared ideas that were informed or inspired by the coronavirus outbreak. Topics ranged from innovation in biotechnology to music production at home, to learn more about what we are as humans and how we react when faced with a global crisis.


Research is confirming that being empowered, having voice and choice, and working together increases not only engagement, motivation and learning, but also student well-being. It is not just special events that create the opportunities for student agency to drive the learning in our schools. That journey of ‘students in the centre’ started at WAB through our founding values and, over time as an International Baccalaureate continuum school, we have incorporated it into all stages of our teaching, learning and school development.


Student voice and choice in daily learning

Even our youngest learners in Elementary have choice and voice, from how they connect with a unit of inquiry to the opportunities to co-create their daily schedule. In Grade 3, students engage with a prompt, “what did I do well this week and what do I need to spend more time on”, and then based on their responses they allocate part of their schedule to focus on this area. In Middle School, our student surveys have become a continuous collaborative effort with the Middle School student council. They work with school leadership to co-create the questions and analyse the results. Questions cover teaching, social-emotional support and inclusion, and the responses inform our planning for the coming year. In the Middle and High Schools, we have a nine-day rotation in our schedule. On Day 9 students have full freedom of choice on how to build the most inspiring and helpful day for them. Choices include academic, social, physical, leadership or creative options. Students also have the opportunity to lead workshops for their peers and teachers. Another example of student agency is Grades 6–9 Maths. During these lessons, students can choose whether they want to work in groups or individually, the space they think is most conducive to learning and whether they would like self- or teacher-directed instruction.


Student voice events at WAB

TEDx is not the only event where students have the opportunity to share their voices. When planning our global conference, students have played an integral role. At the Future of Education Now (FOEN) 2019 conference at WAB, students were supported with a facilitated stream over the three days where they could join workshops and speaker sessions. The conference culminated with a student-led closing keynote where they shared their vision of the future of education.


Student voice in the design of space

As spaces at WAB are changed to better support learning and well-being, so our students have a voice in the design. For their new Middle School playground, the student council surveyed and ran focus groups with fellow students on what they would like. Their feedback resulted in a tailor-made space that is used not only for play but also as a dynamic learning environment.


“We are facing not only a public health emergency with COVID-19, but also an economic and climate emergency… I can’t vote for another five years, and neither can my friends, but my family, teachers and politicians can invite more of us into their conversations about how we envisage our world. So, before you ask us the question “what do you want to be when you grow up,” ask us the question, “what kind of world do you want to live in.” We need everyone, adults and children in this fight for a better future and the only way to do that is together.”  – Jeremy. Grade 8 TEDx speaker


“Perseverance has become almost like a ‘hello’ part of our daily conversations. But contrary to its usual connotation, our constant need to persevere has shown us that we can transform it into creativity, wellbeing, and fulfilment. With our speakers and audience spread across the globe last year, we took on the challenge to host an online event. Despite the physical distance, it brought us as an organising team closer, and showed us how we can transform our stress and fear of the unknown into a movement for empowering student voices and learning. We turned our resilience into passion, which has, in turn, become a part of our well-being.” – Katarina. Grade 12 TEDx leader.


In our High School, a Design in Service (DIS) student group has been working with the leadership team to redesign the outdoor spaces of the campus and to purchase new furniture. As part of the refurbishing of the High School, a sample classroom was set up and students and teachers tested furniture and gave feedback. Their feedback was the basis on which the final decisions were made.


Student leadership and voice in strategic planning

In 2016, in the process of creating the WAB 2017–2021 strategic plan and envisaging our innovative education strategy (later named FLOW 21), students across all school sections were already quite articulate about what kind of school experiences they would like to see. They wanted greater control over what, when and how they learned; they wanted their work to be meaningful and relevant, and they wanted passionate and engaged teachers.


Five years down the road, in the midst of a global pandemic, and with the complexity, disruption and grief it has brought, we feel an even deeper urge to engage our students in interdisciplinary, transformative, creative and joyful learning that will help them better understand and navigate a complex world. However, isn’t it presumptuous to think that we are the ones who can help students understand the world around them? Maybe they are the ones who can help us understand it better and discover what we need to learn and do to help our students “find their voices to create a world as it could be, should be, might be, what we hope it will and what we hope it won’t be” (Steve Sostak, Inspire Citizens).


Guided by that thought, from being only one of the voices in our strategic planning five years ago, this time around our students are leading WAB 2021 strategic planning and engaging the whole school community – their peers, their teachers, their parents – in designing ‘Portraits of WAB Alumni’. They are change-makers that will leave WAB with a sense of agency and empathy, voice and confidence.


Giving students voice and choice can be uncomfortable as we cannot predict what student voices will raise, what choices they will make, what disruption will happen in some of the ways we approach teaching and learning. Nevertheless, at WAB we firmly believe that the synergy between student agency and our school mission, and our willingness to listen and learn together, are our best guarantee that WAB alumni are future-ready.


What do you think about the points raised in this article? We’d love to hear your feedback.



Dr Marta Medved Krajnovic is Head of School and Stephen Taylor is Director of Innovation in Learning and Teaching at Western Academy of Beijing.
Connect with them on LinkedIn: Dr Marta Medved Krajnovic and Stephen Taylor.