If you can learn it, you can teach it


It is easy to be frustrated with a student, to cast blame, to express disbelief at what a student did or did not do.

“Doesn’t he ever listen?” “Can you believe she did that?” “He is so disrespectful!” “She was acting like a __ year old!” “I have told him over and over again but he still doesn’t understand.” “So irresponsible!””She doesn’t listen to me!”

Stop. Ask yourself, “What can I do differently? How can I help him learn the skills of listening, acting respectfully, being responsible, cooperating, and self-control?”

We weren’t born knowing how to be respectful, how to be responsible, how to cooperate. We learned those skills. And if we can learn them, we can teach them.

Imagine hearing this, “I tell him everyday to go and sit at the piano and play but he still can’t play Ode to Joy. He doesn’t play anything! He doesn’t listen!” That’s crazy. We would never expect a child to play the piano without being taught the skills. Yet everyday we expect children to know how to listen respectfully or show amazing self-control without ever teaching them what that looks like and sounds like.

Some children learn these skills quickly and easily, others need more practice.

Take the time, teach the skills.

Change this one thing…

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Don’t ask a child a question that you already know the answer to.

 “The objective of education is to increase possibilities for the child to invent and discover.” (Malaguzzi, The Hundred Languages of Children)

We know that curiosity leads to learning. As teachers, we want to sustain each child’s spontaneous curiosity at a high level. Yet, we kill it slowly, every day.

“What colour is that?” (when painting a picture)

 “What is the name of that insect?” (when looking at a bug outside)

“How many blocks are there?” (when building a tower)

“Is 5+6 really 12?” (when looking at a child’s error in addition)

In order to maintain the sense of wonder that children have in discovering, listen to them, observe what they do, and nudge them forward with thoughts, and statements of observation. Enter into the wonder yourself.

“Tell me about your picture.” (when painting a picture)

“Look! The caterpillar is munching on a leaf!” (when looking at a bug outside)

“That tower is tall! I wonder how tall it can get before it falls down.” (when building a tower)

“Can you explain your thinking here?” (when looking at a child’s error in addition)

Therefore, a powerful change to make in your interactions with children is to avoid the temptation of expecting children to give you back what you already know, i.e….

Don’t ask a child a question that you already know the answer to!

Stop! Sit! Go! Do! Eat! Don’t!

We were fortunate to have ‘Teacher Tom‘ at our school last weekend for an Early Years Conference. I  believe that everything we talked about that weekend applies to all ages. A topic that left a lasting impression on all of us was ‘The power of language.’

Imagine you spouse/partner/parent/child/friend commanding you : “Vacuum the carpet!” “Wash the dishes!” “Mow the lawn!” “Make dinner!” “Sit down.” “Eat your food now.” My reaction to that would be to turn around and walk away. You are not my boss! Stop commanding me.

Tom Hobson (aka ‘Teacher Tom’) told us that 80% of what we say to our students are commands. We are constantly directing them, “Do this. Now do that. Go there. Stop. Sit. Eat. Don’t.” etc. We say we want to raise responsible children that can think for themselves, but do we give them an opportunity to do so? It seems like we are always telling them what to do.

Here is something we can do to help us reflect on our own choice of language. Put four pieces of masking tape on your arm labeled “Directive” “Informative” “Questions” “Social Statements.” Throughout the teaching day, tally everything you say to the students.

Directive Statements: when you tell someone what to do.

Informative Statements: factual information (e.g. “It is Music class.” “John is sitting on the carpet.” “We all agreed to be kind to each other.” “We will use our Math notebooks today.”)

Questions: “What do you think?” “Where is your book?” “I wonder…?”

Social Statements:  e.g. How are you? Good morning! Thank you!


Reflect on what you are saying and how you are saying it. Can your directive statements be turned into informative statements?

Teacher Tom writes about the Language of Command  here.  It’s a good read.

Innovation…First steps

learning from experts

Paul Johnson, G4 teacher at our school, is modeling being an innovator during his class Genius Day. He wanted to learn how to make tortillas better. So he invited the experts in – a parent from a different class and her daughter – to teach him the secret to making better tortillas. While he did that, his students enthusiastically continued their own projects.

“The first step in teaching students to innovate is making sure that educators have opportunities to be innovators themselves.” -Suzie Boss, Bringing Innovation to School: Empowering Students to Thrive in a Changing World

George Couros, in his book The Innovator’s Mindset, defines innovation as “a way of thinking that creates something new and better.”

Don Wettrick, in his book, Pure Genius: Building a Culture of Innovation and Taking 20% Time to the Next Level has created an Innovation Class in his school and he did it by being an innovator himself. He insists that his students each have a mentor to help guide them through their projects. Learning from experts outside of the classroom is a key to success.

As teachers we need to facilitate the connections between students and experts – those who share the same passions.

How might we burst the bubble and create collaborative learning opportunities between students and experts?


wood cutting

movie makingpaper folding

Olympics vs NIS

Learning from Looking Closely at Experts

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Developing skills, checking with experts, trying again, improving skills, trying new ways, checking with experts…the cycle continues.

Our primary PE teacher, Jo Andrew,  posted powerful images. Look how the young athletes are well on their way to acquiring the skills of experts.

Whether it’s athletics, science, writing, the arts, or anything, learning from studying experts is influential.


Slow Looking = Deep Learning

Slow eating, slow reading, slow looking, slow learning. Children do this naturally.

Paul Salopek, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, started a seven year around the world walk in 2013. Slow journalism was introduced.

Harvard’s Project Zero created an online learning community to accompany Paul Solopek’s walk around the world. It is called Out of Eden.  (Youtube channel: Out of Eden Learn Project Zero). Check it out.

Their goals:

  • To connect young people with other young people from around the globe.
  • To expose young people to new cultures and perspective.
  • To encourage young people to slow down to observe the world around them.

Children have it figured out. Slow looking = Deep learning.