School as we know it

TEDx School as we know it needs a revolution if it is to retain any relevance in the modern world.

This morning I was reading an article published online at Huff Post by Will Richardson about the 9 Elephants in the Classroom that we are unwilling to face or even sometimes to discuss. I have to admit that kind of work we do at GME sometimes can feel rather futile as we wonder whether it’s even possible to have any long term impact on institutions where no one is really talking openly about at least some of these 9 Elephants, which include:  our knowledge that most children will forget most of what they learn, most children are bored and disengaged in school, the curriculum is an historical tradition (mostly Western) rather than a universal imperative and is very outdated, the way time is organised and spent serves efficiency more than learning, obsession with grades, testing and homework does not lead to better outcomes, and the most effective and lasting learning usually happens informally and often NOT in school.  One of my dear friends and colleagues said she would also add that we know school is not a place that doesn’t bring about children’s happiness and does not build the kind of community that protects children.  The institution more often works to protect itself and preserve those long-held practices that are now really holding us back from realising all our potential as individuals and as communities.  And even though we know all of this, we still keep finding ways to justify why we can’t do things differently, doubling down on the same old practices–sometimes holding on to them for dear life.   How do we get out of this dysfunctional space that on some level I think we all know we are living in?

Recently I was asked to give a keynote session at a conference for mathematics teachers.  The organisers requested that I focus on teaching practices that are responsive to learners.  As I worked to prepare the talk I realised that apart from things related to technology– there is very little I would say or emphasize now in 2016 that I would not have also said back in 1996–or that I have not also given numerous lectures, workshops and courses on during the past 20+ years.  Some ideas might be more nuanced now or organised differently, but our collective knowledge about what we should be doing in the classroom has not really changed much in all the time.  So the gnawing question is, “If we know what we are supposed to be doing (we do know a lot!!), why aren’t we doing it?”  And furthermore, “if we want to do it, how can we get ourselves to take real action and do it?

I believe that a fundamental step is to start talking more openly about these 9 Elephants and others and acknowledging our responsibility in all of it.  We adults involved in education as policy  makers, proprietors, board members, consultants, school leaders, teachers, parents, and so on–we adults have to own our responsibility in allowing these 9 elephants not just to exist, but to grow and flourish on our watch.  We have to stop making excuses for why we fall so short of our very good intentions.  We have to stop protecting ourselves from blame in the inadequacies of what is happening to our children in schools due to the choices and decisions we make for them as adults.  If we allow ourselves to dedicate time and resources to talking honestly about these issues, we might have a chance to actually change school as we know it.

GME Inquiry Institutes: Emergent Literacy and Arabic


We were so excited to welcome back FOUR colleagues from Ibn Rushid Academy, Amman, Jordan who attended our Summer Inquiry Institute last August and decided to come back for more!  Also, we enjoyed meeting SIX new participants from IPS-KSA.  We had a marvellous international conversation around Emergent Literacy and Arabic at this institute and we hope to possibly offer this opportunity again in the future.


GME August Summer Inquiry Institute News!

We are excited to report that the GME Summer Inquiry Institute was a great success August 11-12-13 at the Le Meridien Commodore Hotel in Hamra, Beirut!  

We hosted around 45 teachers and administrators from Lebanon, Jordan, and KSA. We were also pleased to have Margaret Banjo from ECIS main office in London attending the event as well.   Our team of 7 experienced workshop leaders led a fun and intensive 3 days of highly interactive sessions diving deeply into student-led inquiry.  We hope to offer this Institute again very soon as well as many more GME institutes!



Just “good enough” is not good enough in education.




I was recently talking to a primary school teacher who prides herself on being innovative and striving to engage her students in transdisciplinary inquiry on a regular basis.  She no longer uses textbooks as a main basis for instruction, but opts instead to engage students with more primary sources and to learn skills more in the context of doing inquiry.   Her supervisor approached her recently and asked her to stop “over working,” to lighten up a bit and maybe take up textbooks again.  The argument given to her was that if they ever had to replace her they would not be able to make the new person work as hard.  It was all too much effort, she was told,  no need to try so hard to get it right.

Her story reminded me of a personal experience years ago when I started a new University teaching job.  I was called in one day by a supervisor and told that some students were complaining that my course was too challenging and I was expecting too much from them in some of the assignments.  Without hesitating, I said, “So what I hear you saying is that you would like me to give the students a mediocre course experience.”  My supervisor immediately protested, “No no, of course I am not asking you to do that!”  I never heard about that complaint again.

The forces of conformity and mediocrity are strong indeed–in his wonderful blog, marketing guru Seth Godin referred to them as The Merchants of Average–but the funny thing is no one really wants to BE thought of as mediocre, right?   Does anyone really believe that mediocre learning environments are better?

My feeling is that when it comes to educating children we cannot afford “just good enough” anymore.  The great Italian Educator, Loris Malaguzzi once remarked that children are miracles and that we educators have to make learning environments worthy of miracles.  There is no place for mediocrity in the pursuit of building excellent learning environments.

The idea of getting away with “just good enough” may be a seductive one, but it is simply NEVER good enough when it comes to education.  I want to salute all those educators I know, both young and old, who realize this fact and who consistently see obstacles as opportunities to do more, not less.


Kiran Sethi: Catch the “I Can” bug!

Take time to view this inspiring talk by Kiran Sethi.  She and her students have shown that the “I Can” bug is contagious and it’s a bug we all need to catch.