A Reflection from “Education for Life” IBMO 2015

The IBAP Conference last week provoked a lot of thinking. I was sitting at the Macau airport this morning, too early for my flight, still thinking about the conference ideas the day after the last breakout session.

What we take away from a conference is often several exciting ideas, and it is always up to us to put them together, to synthesize our learning into something significant for our contexts. Michael Anderson, keynote speaker on the second day, talked about the need for 21st century learners to make meaning; that it is one of three essential pursuits of problem solvers and innovators in our era.

As I try to weave the threads of the conference concepts into a meaningful whole, I find more questions than answers.

Day 1 for me was about relationships in systems. Julia Gillard, former Australian Prime Minister and the first keynote speaker told us “Machines will never be creators and innovators. People need to do that.” The survey of current world issues relevant to fairness and development, globalization and sustainability, identity and relationships, scientific and technical innovation, personal and cultural expression that Gillard drew from in her keynote expanded our thinking to the concept of interconnectedness.

Systems, and the problems within those systems, are linked through contexts and through relationships. Gillard showed that research reveals there is an “unconscious bias against female leaders,” (Gillard, 2015, keynote speech). This bias did not suddenly appear; this bias has been embedded in our behaviors through reinforcement within a system of behaviors. What might we have done, in our systems, which produced this bias? How might the bias and the resulting behaviors have taken root, been maintained, been sustained through so many contexts? And what are our hunches on how we might educate to eradicate or move this bias toward extinction within our systems?

The interconnectedness of systems helps us to see the parallel between how we want to educate and why. In a world in which complexity is the chief attribute of our problems, perhaps our students need to approach learning with the complexity the world demands of its problem solvers. Engaging in innovation that is highly conceptual, so that it is transferrable across contexts. Engaging in interdisciplinary thinking illuminates these connections, so that the relationships between systems is part of the creative engagement. And perhaps, teaching our learners and ourselves that solutions must necessarily be sustainable and so they need to be adaptive, solutions that endure across and within systems, not merely technical solutions, which have short-term impact because they reduce a problem to an algebraic equation. Machines can exercise algorithmic reasoning to arrive at multiple technical solutions. But it will be people who can create the solutions that weave adaptability, sustainability and humanity into the systemic solution. We just have to find and provide the time to do the thinking that results in these types of solutions.

Day 2 was also about relationships, but it was about relationships in organizations. Ted Cowan and Richard Nies presented an appraisal system which is not an evaluative system. What struck me about their school’s appraisal system is that it is based on relationships between the people within it. Because their school has norms of collaboration, the seventh norm, “Presume positive intentions” allows a climate of trust to pervade the environment in which they learn and teach.

By Ironman11 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

By Ironman11 (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5-2.0-1.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

One thing can actually cause a massive change. If a butterfly flutters its wings in Macao, to what extent does it contribute to a storm in another city? Small things can cause large changes in systems. “Presume positive intentions” certainly has caused an organization to be more trusting so that they have done away with compliance in their system of teacher appraisal, and they have used the human capacity to build capacity and develop as the fulcrum of their system by which their community can leverage learning.

What might an organization have to be like, to be open-minded enough to embrace norms for collaboration? What might have to happen for people to pursue professional development in collaborative ways with colleagues, and not be threatened that colleagues have to observe their students learning or not be threatened by PD (because it might be a sign of teacher deficit)? What are our hunches about how the ways that Ted and Rich’s school built their systems and support the relationships in these systems has let emerged a culture of trust, or collaborative practice, of collegial learning that is focused on student learning? What might we need to move to a model of systemic relationships, which enact an organizational renaissance?

Day 3 was about person to person relationships. I enjoyed all the breakout sessions I attended over the three days, but the remarkable encounter that started the wonderful end of the week for me was with another participant at the session on inclusion by Jennifer Swinehart. As Jenn showed us some best practices of inclusive, personalized learning, she often gave us some processing time to turn to a neighbor and speak about ideas prompted by open-ended questions. When it was time to do that, the gentleman next to me listened attentively, paraphrased to show understanding, acknowledged my emotional markers, and used probing questions to clarify thinking. This happened several times during the session. Toward the end of the presentation, he turned to me again and asked me a probing question to continue our conversation, and I reached a cognitive shift.

A cognitive shift is when thinking moves from one place to a desired state. It’s illumination in that one becomes aware of inner resources to solve a problem or to move forward. The list of behaviors that the gentleman used to help another person arrive at a cognitive shift is from Cognitive Coaching SM an other-centered protocol of communication.

When someone truly pays attention to you, listens and shows their attentiveness to your thinking by paraphrasing; asks you probing questions to help you clarify your thinking or elevate it to a conceptual level so that you are thinking at the level of problem solving, it can facilitate a transformational moment. That gentleman at Jenn’s breakout session was busy filming the session for Jenn, but knew how to listen. He may not know that he caused a butterfly wing to flutter in Macao. Who knows what this small event might contribute to in the larger systems in which I participate and engage.

Earlier in the week I had told some workshop participants, “I am searching for butterflies, those beautiful transformative moments that facilitate learning.” Inspired by learning with IBEN colleagues, keynotes and breakout sessions by IB practitioners from around the Asia Pacific region, I left Macao this morning touched by butterflies.

How was your conference? Share your thoughts in the comments.


  1. Dear Alavina,

    Thank you for posting the reflection and sharing the learning which is so enriching to our minds.

  2. Dear Alvina,
    Even though we did not get the opportunity to attend the event, your reflection gave us the learning specially the cognitive shift real life situation. Being a TOK facilitator myself ,indeed this helped to see myself on the right path when I ask my students and co teachers the probing questions to clarify their thought for problem solving. I don’t tell them but ask , which helps them. Another point of being creative and innovators which is the need of the hour was a great thought to work on.
    Thank you so much for the reflection.

    Pushpaja Nambiar

    1. Dear Pushpaja, Thanks for your comment. I’m glad the ideas in this reflection resonated with you. Cognitive shifts are facilitated through cognitive coaching, an other-centered communication that sets out to convey a valued person from one state of mind to another, more desired state of mind. Listening to our students with this kind of complete attention might help them to reach cognitive shifts within themselves, increasing efficacy and personal significance of what they have learned and continue to learn.

  3. This is a fascinating post. That the smallest flutter can cause a ripple effect that travels far beyond the flutterer ever envisaged.
    That the global contexts are indeed deeply embedded in everyday world issues and a flutter there causes a ripple effect across the spectrum.
    This is the interconnectedness that underlies action everywhere.

    1. Dear Mayura, Thank you for your comment. That global contexts can be impacted by personal action is a worthwhile understanding for inquiry. As a teacher one should hope that facilitating learning that leads to action can cause butterfly wings to flutter and enact change in systems.
      Take care, Aloha

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s