Highlighted Articles

Discovering the DNA of Learning: How the CGC Cracked the Learning Code

September 3, 2020


Introduction

In a previous article we looked at how the Common Ground Collaborative (CGC) set about creating a complete, connected, Learning Ecosystem, using Four Guiding Questions. The first of these, ‘What is Learning?’, the CGC’s ‘Define’ question, has provided an answer far more powerful than we anticipated. Now read on…

What is learning and how do we do it?

When we set out to re-engineer learning, it felt like common sense to start by defining it. We’re all in the learning game, so wouldn’t it be sensible to decide what learning actually is before we start trying to make it happen? 

Of course, there are lots of statements about learning out there, some of them presented as ‘definitions’. Eventually, though, as our own definition of learning evolved, we realised that it was ‘different’. Rather than cozy generalizations about, for example, ‘lifelong learners’, ours was a practical definition of the actual learning process, designed to drive the teaching process.

Developing experts

We worked backwards from an understanding of the behaviours of experts, based on the common sense notion that an expert has probably learned well. We determined that experts have a deep understanding of the ideas of their domain and the relationships among them and that they are highly competent in the skills of their domain. We were also committed to the importance of developing expert human beings, with strong, positive values and dispositions. 

With this in mind, we felt our definition needed to address the learning of ideas, skills and personal traits. Since we are also committed to simplicity, we turned this raw material into the powerful, memorable CGC Learning Definition, known in all our member schools as ‘the 3 Cs’: Conceptual, Competency and Character Learning.

The reason for separating out these forms of learning was not just to give us a simple, memorable definition. We knew we needed to think differently about building learner capacity in conceptual understanding, competency and character because the pedagogy required to build each of these capacities is different. 

From learning process to teaching process

Knowing this, we unpacked each form of learning into a clear methodology that is simple enough for large-scale applicability in multiple school contexts, yet deep enough to genuinely drive learning. For example, we believe that inquiry-based learning is fundamental to building conceptual understanding but we were wary of over-complicating inquiry-based methodology or falling into the trap of presenting one inquiry-based process as dogma. Our own approach is to strip things down to their essence, making them, in the words of Einstein, ‘As simple as possible and no simpler than that’. Hence our take on building conceptual understanding as a process of Connect-Construct-Contribute. For Competency Learning: Deconstruct-Identify-Practice. For Character Learning: Consider-Act-Reflect.

Having built our learning definition we set out to ensure that it drives our learning model. We developed learning standards for each of the 3 Cs, each with their own, simple sentence stems, as follows:

  1. Conceptual Learning: I understand that…
  2. Competency Learning: I am able to…
  3. Character Learning: I am becoming more…

These standards drive all CGC Learning Modules, so that the learning definition shapes the learning goals and the teaching methodology. Within this ecosystem, teachers plan, teach and assess for conceptual, competency and character learning. When students self-assess, they do the same:

  1. I used to think that, now I understand that….and here’s my evidence
  2. I used to struggle to, now I am able to…and here’s my evidence
  3. As a person, I am becoming more…and here’s my evidence

Just as we had hoped from the outset, we had found a ‘process’ definition that shapes everything that follows. We realized, of course, that our definition is, like all ‘curriculum’, simply a human construct. We realized that, with any kind of authentic learning, any and all of our 3 C’s may be in play, although one or other may be more dominant, depending on what is being learned. We saw each kind of learning, not as a cycle, returning to its original starting point, but as a spiral, constantly evolving, one step leading to the next, throughout a lifetime of learning. 

The DNA of Learning

The idea of three spirals, constantly interacting, evoked a powerful image.  The 3 C’s as a living construct, a triple helix, the DNA of learning. It’s a bold claim, to claim to discover a learning DNA, and it’s obviously purely a metaphorical one. But the metaphor works. It works to explain, and to remember, what’s happening when we’re learning, and to remember to plan, teach and assess for what matters. It brings teacher clarity and collective teacher efficacy.  It helps in our quest to build our young learners into experts, with deep conceptual understanding of important ideas, high levels of competency in key skills and strong, positive moral character. We think that matters.

In the next in this series, we’ll extend the metaphor. A DNA doesn’t live in a vacuum. It shapes a body. So we’ll be asking questions about the 4th C: Content…a body of knowledge that really matters.  We’ll be asking, ‘What’s Worth Learning…and Why?’

This article was submitted by Kevin Bartlett. Kevin led international schools for over 30 years in 4 different locations, while working on a number of fronts to systematize international education. This work included designing accreditation systems including ACE, leading courses for the Principals’ Training Center, initiating and leading the IB Primary Years Programme and co-founding The Next Frontier Inclusion and the Common Ground Collaborative.

www.thecgcproject.org
kevin@thecgcproject.org
#CGCKevin




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Highlighted Articles

SAME GAME, NEW PLAYBOOK

August 13, 2020


The Common Ground Collaborative (CGC) is re-inventing the learning game as one simple ecosystem. In this series of articles we’ll unpack the CGC story, sharing our work with ISC readers.

A few years back, the CGC team looked at the current state of play in ‘the learning game’ and saw too many things that didn’t make sense to us. Where there should be connections, we saw gaps. We saw gaps between what teachers wanted to do for their students and the ways in which they were obliged to spend their time. Gaps between students and what they believed was worth learning. Gaps between mountains of standards and the time available to teach them. Gaps between parents and schools, between disciplines, between departments. Ultimately, a major gap between what we promise and what we deliver. We looked at it all and thought, ‘We’ve had it with that!’.

So we set out to change it. To bring clarity to schools confounded by complexity. To work with schools constrained by compliance to co-create contexts where teachers and leaders could follow what they believe, instead of jumping through someone else’s hoops. We set out to transform the learning game into one where we teach learners how to play. We re-imagined learning as a game where every child feels like the M.V.P. every day, where every parent is a player, where every teacher is a coach. The only game in town where everybody is a winner. We imagined the game as one connected ecosystem and we set out to write a new Learning Playbook.

But where to begin? We identified four key questions for getting learning systematized, and then we gave each a name, and the system emerged, like this:
Define: ‘What is learning?
Design: ‘What’s worth learning and why?
Deliver: ‘How do we build our learning culture?’
Demonstrate : ‘How do learners show what they’ve learned?

These 4 D’s provide a clear, connected framework for a coherent Learning Ecosystem. We knew that if we answered our questions faithfully and provided practical learning solutions for smart, hard-working professionals we would achieve our goal.  We would find the elusive ‘holy grail’ of the articulated curriculum and we would co-create learning cultures in which that curriculum would thrive.

We would move from silos to systems, increasing learning while reducing stress. We’d have learners and teachers feeling that their work had purpose and their energy was well spent. We’d have replaced common nonsense with uncommon sense. We’d have redefined the learning game, for the benefit of all learning stakeholders. We liked that idea. So that’s what we’ve done and now we’re ready to share…

In the next article in this series we’ll share the DNA of Learning, a simple, shared definition of the learning process that is transforming learning conversations around the world.

This article was submitted by Kevin Bartlett. Kevin led international schools for over 30 years in 4 different locations, while working on a number of fronts to systematize international education. This work included designing accreditation systems including ACE, leading courses for the Principals’ Training Center, initiating and leading the IB Primary Years Programme and co-founding The Next Frontier Inclusion and the Common Ground Collaborative.

www.thecgcproject.org
kevin@thecgcproject.org
#CGCKevin


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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight #40: Amber Acosta (A teacher at the American International School in Egypt)

August 28, 2019


Every so often International School Community is looking to highlight one of our members in our Member Spotlight blog category.  This month we interviewed Amber Acosta:

Tell us about your background.  Where are you from?

Hi! My name is Amber Acosta. I grew up in Connecticut, but when I am back in the United States, I call Vermont home. I have a bachelors degree in business from Fordham University and a masters degree in teaching from Sacred Heart University. I have taught grade 2 for the past 5 years at the American International School in Egypt (West Campus) and am excited to start a new position this year teaching lower elementary technology, using my certification as an Educational Media Specialist. My professional interests outside of technology are STEM education, library, and makerspaces. I recently became certified in STEM and am looking forward to using my skills this year, as well as creating a makerspace at my school. I have a husband and an 11 year old son. My husband is a teacher, too. He teaches economics and business at the same school.

How did you get started in the international teaching community?

I did not really plan to teach internationally – I fell into it and ended up loving it! I taught in Egypt for one year after college before starting my masters, but did not necessarily intend to come back. However, my husband and I decided to move to Egypt (where he is originally from) in 2011. I contacted a previous administrator and found they had an opening for me at their school. The rest is history! I knew I would continue to teach internationally after that, especially after my husband joined me in teaching as well.

Which international schools have you worked at?  Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.

I have worked at Global Paradigm International School and American International School of Egypt (West Campus), both in Cairo. Global Paradigm was in its second year when I joined, so there was a lot of room for me to be a part of the accreditation process and really help build the foundations of the curriculum. I enjoyed the challenge! Also, we had small class sizes and I loved feeling like my students and I were a little family. At the American International School of Egypt, we have a large student body and staff. I have really benefited from meeting so many teachers from around the world and learning from them through discussion and observation. Another great thing about AIS is that we not only have professional development in our staff meetings, but also have the chance through our stipends to take classes or attend professional development anywhere we wish. I have had the chance to grow so much in my time at AIS, as well as have fun! Our Seuss-themed Literacy Week is a blast for both students and teachers. Also, it is fantastic to take my students every year to the pyramids- where else can you do that?

Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.

My son has grown up with both Egyptian and American cultures and we also travel internationally for many of our vacations. He has developed such a broad perspective of the world and a curiosity about different cultures. I think one of the best cultural encounters anywhere is always trying the food in a new country!

What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?

My husband and I would absolutely love to teach in and explore a new country in the near future, so we have been thinking about this recently. It is very important to me that the school is progressive, has opportunities for professional development, and values teacher-input into curriculum. I would also like for there to be emphasis on project-based and real-world learning. My husband and I started and currently run the school gardening program, in which students grow, pack, and sell produce, so we would love to work somewhere that we could still be involved in gardening or eco-initiatives. 

In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?

Teaching around the world – awesome!

teacher

Thanks, Amber Acosta!

If you are a member of International School Community and would like to be our next member spotlight, contact us here.  If we choose to highlight you, you will receive one year free of premium access to our website!

Interested in comparing the schools and comments in Egypt. Check out our blog post here.

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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight #39: Rachel Owens (A veteran international school teacher)

July 31, 2019


Every so often International School Community is looking to highlight one of our members in our Member Spotlight blog category.  This month we interviewed Rachel Owens:

Tell us about your background.  Where are you from?

Hi my name is Rachel Owens! I am an elementary school teacher and have taught pre-k, kindergarten, grade 2 and grade 3! 

I love teaching in the elementary school because the kids are so excited to learn and their energy is contagious! 

I grew up all over the Midwest in the United States. Born in Ohio, raised in Michigan and Illinois and then back to Michigan for college. 

When I was in 3rd grade, I started figure skating. It became my life. When I was 16, I was fortunate enough to join an elite group of synchronized skaters from Dearborn, Michigan called The Crystallettes. It was with this team that I learned the value of traveling. Being one of the three top skating teams in the country, I was able to represent our country in two international competitions- in Prague and Berlin. It was when I arrived home from those competitions that I realized I’d caught the travel bug. I couldn’t wait to grow up and see the world. 

My husband and I are both elementary teachers and have now lived and taught overseas for 7 years. We have two little boys who were both born during our time abroad. Jonah (3) was born in Kuwait and Eli (1.5) was born in Jordan. 

How did you get started in the international teaching community?

During my student teaching year in 2011, I started looking into what it would take to be an international school teacher. I come across the Counsel of International Schools (COIS) website and they happened to be having a job fair the following week. I booked a ticket on a bus to Chicago for $1 and made my way the Windy City. When I arrived at the fair, I was in way over my head.

I was surrounded by seasoned educators with years of international experience. What I thought was surely a small group of people interested in leaving the United States to teach in distant lands ended up being a whole community of teachers that I am so glad to be a part of today. After 7 interviews of hearing I needed experience before I could come to their school, I finally heard my first yes; which is how I started my international teaching year in Kuwait.

Which international schools have you worked at?  Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.

My husband and I have taught at 2 international schools.

The first school was The American School of Kuwait. It was a great place for us to start our teaching careers. The school was already establishing programs such as Lucy Calkins R&WW and Responsive Classroom long before a lot of more prestigious schools were. It was also a great place to start our family. All the teachers live in two apartment buildings on a small compound which meant I had a built-in community of friends for ourselves and our little one. What made this school a unique and fun place to work was the staff that worked there. There isn’t much to do in Kuwait besides shop, go out to eat, and hang out at the pool (gosh that doesn’t sound too bad actually!) so you develop really deep and lasting friendships with your colleagues.

Then we moved to Amman, Jordan and worked at American Community School (ACS). We loved living in Jordan! It really has the perfect climate- mild and short winters, warm springs and hot summers. There is so much to do for both kids and adults there. The Dead Sea is just a 45 minute drive south and 45 minutes north is forests and mini mountainous areas for hiking. The school was wonderful! It is a smaller school, which we found we prefer and love because we got to know all the kids from multiple grade levels, knew all the staff well, and it truly felt like one big family. We grew so much as educators during our time at ACS. Being trained in Adaptive Schools, working with Paul Anderson for NGSS science, and working with Tim Stuart for PLCs were all experiences that we will carry with us to our next schools. Something unique and fun about ACS is every year at the end of the year the teachers make a End of Year Staff video that is shown to the students to kick off the summer. This year’s video was one of epic proportions as we took on legendary Queen! It turned out amazing! Here it is > https://youtu.be/MYybe0QmXzs

As for where we work now… well that’s what we are wondering too! Back in Dec 2018, we were hired to work at the Anglo-American School of Moscow. We were thrilled to begin working at an IB school where we knew we would grow exponentially as educators and where our children would thrive in their first classroom experiences. Unfortunately, due to political strife with Russia, our work visas were denied and the school had to cancel our contracts. 

Newspaper article link

AAS has been very supportive in our process of figuring out what comes next for our family- but we are still disappointed that Moscow isn’t going to be our next home. For now, we will be living in Fort Collins, Colorado, where we will continue to search for jobs overseas that will be a good long term fit for our family. We are excited to see where we end up next!

Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.

This summer while staying with my sister-in-law in Michigan, my 3 year old son heard us talking about some upcoming workshops she was attending, including one on masonry. My son asked “what’s masonry?” and he was told it is when you build things with stone. And his immediate response was, “Oh, so like the pyramids in Egypt?” In that moment I knew we were doing the right thing by raising our kids overseas. The cultural knowledge and appreciation my 3 year old already has is well beyond what most kids (and even adults) in the United States have. 

What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?

First and foremost we look for a location that is going to be safe and has a good quality of life for our children. Having both of my children born overseas, this life away from extended family is all they know. So we want to make sure that if they don’t get to be around grandparents and cousins, they need to be in a spot where they can still thrive, have friendships, be safe, and be happy.

Professionally, we look at the what programs/standards are being used by the school (Reader’s and Writer’s Workshop, NGSS, etc) and what professional development opportunities there are. We also look to see if we think this is a school where we can grow either in our teaching practice or in leadership opportunities. 

I also think that the ability to save money is important. If we are choosing to take our children and ourselves away from family, then I’d like to be saving a bit of money to prepare for our kids’ long term futures.

In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?

 The. Best. Way. To. Teach

teacher

Thanks, Rachel Owens!

If you are a member of International School Community and would like to be our next member spotlight, contact us here.  If we choose to highlight you, you will receive one year free of premium access to our website!

Do you think you have what it takes to be a veteran international school teacher like Rachel Owens?  What character traits does it take?  We have an article on our blog that discusses this very question. It is called the “Top 10 Character Traits of a Seasoned International School Teacher“. Read the whole article here.

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Member Spotlights

Member Spotlight #38: Tareq Hajjaj (A teacher at The American School of Belo Horizonte)

September 11, 2018


Every so often International School Community is looking to highlight one of our members in our Member Spotlight blog category.  This month we interviewed Tareq Hajjaj:

member spotlight
Tell us about your background.  Where are you from?

I very much consider myself a third-culture kid despite living 25/31 years in Western Sydney. This area is the most culturally diverse area in the southern hemisphere and I grew up experiencing both Australian and Arab cultures.

Born in Kuwait, I spent the first four years of my life there before migrating to Australia. Throughout my life I frequently travelled to Jordan to visit my extended family. My family originates from Palestine before it was partitioned. And previous to that, we have routes in Egypt.

My schooling and tertiary education were completed in Sydney. When I was completing my high school studies, I was considering teaching as my profession. Although, I decided to study a Bachelor of Commerce first knowing that obtaining a Masters of Teaching would only take two years of full-time study on top of that.

Throughout my tertiary studies, I worked in a variety of education and community welfare jobs. At that time, I never thought I would be embarking on an international teaching journey. I was very much a typical guy in his 20s in Australia. I loved Rugby League, Touch Rugby and cycling and all my travels with friends via domestic trips. By the time I graduated, I was ready to experience a life-changing international journey.

How did you get started in the international teaching community?

During my last semester of university, I attended a job fair organised for the post graduate students completing educational courses in my university. At the fair were some recruiters looking for teachers to work in the UK and I immediately was interested. The process was straight forward. The recruiter organised an interview with herself and then a principal within a school. They liked my enthusiasm and how I was looking forward to the adventure and willing to learn about the UK curriculum. From there I had to collect documentation such as police checks, and I was helped to apply for a Youth Mobility Visa. Before I knew it, I was offered a short term maternity leave contract for a Grade 5 class and a few weeks after graduating, I was ready for a September start in the UK.

Before going to the UK, I took a detour to visit a close friend of mine in Shanghai for one week. He was about to begin his 2nd international teaching post. It was a wonderful visit which opened my eyes to a new culture.  It wasn’t long before I was back there teaching kindergarten.

In my first year of teaching I was extremely lucky to have had the opportunity to have completed six weeks of casual teaching in Australia, a semester block as a Grade 5 homeroom teacher in an East London public school, and being the first teacher to open the one of two new kindergarten classes (a first for the school). My life was very different; I met so many new people, learned how to speak basic conversational mandarin, enjoyed a diverse lifestyle in two major world class cities and grew a lot as a teacher.

member spotlight

Which international schools have you worked at?  Please share some aspects of the schools that made them unique and fun places in which to work.

I have worked in England (Brookside Junior School), Egypt (Cairo English School), China (Shanghai United International School, Fudan International School and Guangdong Country Garden School), and Brazil (The American School of Belo Horizonte.) In this time I have had the opportunity to teach Canadian British Columbian, UK National Curriculum, American Common Core Curriculum as well as the International Baccalaureate. All schools were fun places to work.

Cairo English School stands out as the school with a stunning campus. It had over 1500 students and chaotic hallways but the students were always cheerful and there were always many extravagant events going on around the school.

An even bigger school was Guangdong Country Garden School. They had over 4500 students! It was impossible to even meet all the students. I worked in the kindergarten. I remember the play times with over four hundred 3-5-year-old students running around in many directions. It was a boarding school, and it was common to see even kindergarten students still having lessons in the evening.

member spotlight

Both Fudan International School and The American School of Belo Horizonte are smaller schools with approximately 350 students from K-12. I was the Grade 5 homeroom teacher at both schools so I was given a lot of freedom in planning a lot of the curriculum according to the American Common Core and IB syllabi, and the school’s scope and sequence.

It is still hard to decide whether I prefer the larger schools or smaller schools. They both have their advantages. Every school was unique in its own way.

Describe your latest cultural encounter (or reverse cultural encounter) in your current placement, one that put a smile on your face.

I have been in Belo Horizonte for two months now. My impression is that Brazilians are very social and love to enjoy themselves. Every weekend there is loud music coming from different places in my neighbourhood and many social gatherings within my apartment complex. Just about everybody greets you in a friendly manner and people are usually excited to hear where I am from and speak of their desires to visit there.

Belo Horizonte is considered the Brazilian Belgium. It may not be known for having beautiful beaches like the other places in Brazil, but it is known for producing beers of good quality such as Krug Bier, FalkBier, Backer, Küd, Wäls and Artesamalte. To complement this you will find the popular night spot of Savassi heaving every weekend complemented by music festivals.

Whilst Belo Horizonte seems to be unknown from the outside world, it is the third largest city in Brazil. It boasts the most bars per capita with over 12,000 bars in the city. Most of these are informal sit down spots where you can enjoy an informal meal. Beagá (the city’s nickname which is its initials in Portuguese) also boast a fine arts culture with beautiful street art sprawled around the city. It is definitely a hidden gem (and ironically the mining capital of the country).

member spotlight

What are some important things that you look for when you are searching for a new position at an international school?

It is very important to be responsible and choose your employer well. That means finding out as much as you can about the position and the school, where you will live and information about the country you will be living in. After you have found out as much as possible, evaluate what is really important to you.

For me, as I have moved around a few times in my 7 years of teaching. Now I am more inclined to look for supportive school that will offer me 2-3 year contracts and ongoing professional development so I can take my teaching pedagogy to the next level.

member spotlight

In exactly 5 words, how would you describe the international school teaching experience?

An amazing and unforgettable experience.

teacher

Thanks, Tareq Hajjaj!

If you are a member of International School Community and would like to be our next member spotlight, contact us here.  If we choose to highlight you, you will get a coupon code to receive one year free of premium access to our website!

Do you think you have what it takes to be a veteran international school teacher like Tareq Hajjaj?  What character traits does it take?  We have an article on our blog that discusses this very question. It is called the “Top 10 Character Traits of a Seasoned International School Teacher“. Read the whole article here.

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