Fractals by Aloha Lavina 2012

Finding patterns

Recently at an Adaptive Schools® Seminar, the cohort was invited to think about fractals, which represent the patterns of being and behaving that construct the organizational behaviors of a group.

These invisible fractals are the calculus of the architecture in and through which we build our relationships and collaboration in organizations. Fractals are repeating patterns, wherein the resulting geometry is composed of the repeating patterns of the original pattern, but in more pronounced complexity.

When we think of the invisible fractals forming the patterns of an organization, we might find that as these patterns are constructed:

  • We add things that we value
  • We multiply the things we believe and that we assume are good for ourselves and our organization

Our beliefs, values and assumptions are the woof and warp of the organizational identity we weave.

We always weigh our actions and decisions against the assumptions we hold about learning and relationships in which learning is undertaken.

We may not do this deliberately. We may not do this by design.

If we did cultivate a deliberate architecture for the relationships that hold up learning in our schools, we would see…

  • That we value relationships in how they support learning and meaning-making around learning.
  • That we continually seek to improve the ways we communicate – listen and speak both verbally and nonverbally – so that our communication respects and values all perspectives and allows a balanced participation within our community, not just of the extroverts and those who process by talking
  • That we presume positive intentions and seek to understand the contexts and personal learning trajectories of all individuals
  • That we are open to the examination of our assumptions, beliefs and values as they pertain to and impact the ways we learn and teach.

The analogy in schools’ work

Each iteration of the ways we communicate and treat one another becomes a part of the patterns of our community.

When we have a pattern of talking over each other, we begin to groove this unproductive way of communicating into the very expression of our organization. When we allow ourselves to hold meetings in which advocacy rather than inquiry is the default stance, we create a culture of debate, of winners and losers, of one-upmanship instead of creating a culture where all ideas are valued and there is a healthy, balanced cognitive discourse where ideas may be shared, tweaked, challenged, evolved, co-constructed.

Patterns of being are great teachers. Wellman (2013) suggests that “Patterns are the ultimate teacher.” When we are not mindful of the ways in which we create the invisible fractals of our organization, what might we be teaching those who are members of our organization?

When we have a pattern of talking over each other, we might be teaching any or all of these:

  • That only some ideas are valuable
  • That idea generation is competitive
  • That you, my colleague, have to try to beat me by talking over my talking, to be heard
  • That this is a place where the loudest person can triumph
  • Introverts need not apply

Imagine the new person who comes into this situation. How long before they begin to either withdraw from the conversations, or begin to compete for air time? How long before they experience frustration with this dynamic of communication? The answer might be: immediately.

What an exhausting and unproductive fractal. Repeat this pattern over and over, and the results might be a tangle of ideas and communication wherein few ideas reach shared understanding, few ideas evolve beyond the initial expression by whomever is loudest. There might have been other iterations of the ideas, more effective iterations, but these are already lost in the silence of those who are drowned by the loud. There might have been intended shared understanding, and perhaps there might be resulting coherent practices among the group, but this potential for coherence and consistency has not had the opportunities to emerge because members are busy competing to be heard, but the listening is missing. Perhaps one take-away we might have from this illustration is the importance of examining our intentions in the collaborative work we do, and choosing congruent behaviors to make that intention happen through the actions we choose. Perhaps to communicate well, we must seek to understand the fractals of our communication.

Why patterns are important

Although we have evolved to be social beings, we are not naturally able to get in a group and collaborate effectively without learning, without rehearsal, and without feedback. Just like all learning, we need design and planning, design and instruction, feedback from assessment.

If we are mindful that the architecture of our small meetings affect the overall patterns in our organization, we might find that deliberate study of the ways we talk and form relationships ultimately teach our community the ways we become.

And if we are the adults, what might we be teaching the children?



Key concept Change

“There is always a need for anyone that can do a simple job thoroughly.”

Charles Eames penned the statement above as part of his advice to students, and opens Maria Popova’s birthday post to the artist/designer. Eames, with his wife Ray, portrays interdisciplinary creativity in the ways he and Ray approached design. They made modern furniture, changed perceptions about design, made educational films and wrote about ways to change learning by integrating arts and the learning of arts with other disciplines. They advanced the idea that artistic creativity is not just about self-expression, but also about problem-solving.

Taking a page out of the Eames’ philosophy, let’s think for this moment that just as they redefined what creative design was, we might also expand our thinking about what it means to create.

Related concept Creativity

Creativity can be a lone process, inspired by mood, enacted as the exploration and expression of idea, driven by problem-solving.

But creativity can also be a collaborative process. The intersection of ideas in collaborative problem-solving creates a tension, a critical massaging of the ideas through different perspectives, so that what emerges is a new synthesis, new ideas.

A manifesto for creativity for those who believe in holistic, integrated and constructivist learning might be that “…creativity is a combinatorial force: it’s our ability to tap into our mental pool of resources — knowledge, insight, information, inspiration, and all the fragments populating our minds — that we’ve accumulated over the years just by being present and alive and awake to the world, and to combine them in extraordinary new ways. In order for us to truly create and contribute to the world, we have to be able to connect countless dots, to cross-pollinate ideas from a wealth of disciplines, to combine and recombine these pieces and build new ideas.” This is Maria Popova’s manifesto on Brainpickings, and is perhaps an apt description of why we collaboratively plan and reflect in MYP, and why it is one of the ATL skills clusters important in nurturing the IB Learner as Communicator.

Anita Wooley’s research into effective collaborative groups highlights the collaborative intelligence that can arise in collaboration. The researcher points to the importance of “social sensitivity,” expressed in behaviors such as taking turns in conversations (Woolley et al., 2010). This intelligence is not a simple sum of the IQs of each person in the group, but an intelligence resulting from how the group works together (Powell & Kusuma-Powell, 2013). It’s organizational IQ, the ability of a group to combine cognitive surplus into creative problem solving (Powell & Kusuma-Powell, 2013).

Perhaps there are patterns to how effective teams function, suggested to us in lists like this article by Christian Jarrett. Collaboration is a multi-layered concept, visible in ways that might not be so visible through the senses, but seen through an observant and critical mind’s eye. Collaborative groups’ thinking can be seen through documentation of the dialog, through artifacts of thought distributed and evolving such as transcripts, meeting minutes, notes, correspondence, mindmaps among others. Like this blog.

Related concept Perspective

This blog has been a lone effort up to now. All it has up to now are the thoughts of one author. Sometimes readers comment, and there is a brief dialog. Once in a while, I receive a note from someone who has read the blog, and the dialog I have with that person sustains a conversation, a sort of space where we are thinking together.

Key concept Change

Lately I’ve been thinking of transformation. A long, reflective period that began with a cognitive shift in the IBAP Conference in Macau last March has nudged a sense of urgency for change. The engaging dialog I’ve had with many colleagues over the past months has convinced me that the dialog on ideas about learning to learn on the MYP Toolbox should not hide in the intermittent emails or conversations on Skype. We can bring the dialog to life, by changing the environment in which it occurs. So to change this Toolbox as an environment for learning, we have increased the number of voices on this blog.

Instead of just one voice, there will be a team that will bring you a wider set of perspectives here on the MYP Toolbox. We come together to grow and make visible the dialog on learning how to learn, and we hope you will join the conversation.

Would you like to contribute to the MYP Toolbox? Send me a message on aloha [dot] lavina70 [at] gmail [dot] com.


International Baccalaureate Organization. (2014). MYP: From Principles into Practice. Geneva: Author.

Jarrett, C. 9 Facts every creative needs to know about collaborative teams. 99u. Retrieved from on June 17, 2015.

Popova, M. Happy birthday, Charles Eames: The iconic designer on creativity, the value of the arts in education, and his advice to students. Brainpickings. Retrieved from on June 18, 2015.

Popova, M. “Sincerity, honesty, conviction, affection, imagination, and humor” : A profile of Charles Eames, 1946. Brainpicking. Retrieved from on June 17, 2015.

Powell, W., & Kusuma Powell, O. (2013). The OIQ factor: Raising your school’s organizational intelligence; How schools can become cognitively, socially, and emotionally smart. Melton, Woodbridge: John Catt.

Wooley, A., & Chabris, C. F., & Pentland, A., & Hashmi, N., & Malone, T. W. (2010). Evidence for a collective intelligence factor in the performance of human groups. Science (29 October 2010), 330(6004), 688-688. DOI:10.1126/science.1193147

Image used:

Lavina, A. Sunrise, December 26, 2014.





Stretching learning through action

The IB Global News, recently emailed to Coordinators and Heads of Schools, held clarified definitions of action in the continuum. Key to the MYP definition is this statement, “Through responsible action, tightly connected with sustained inquiry and critical reflection, students can develop the attributes described by the learner profile” (IB Global News, 2(7), 2014).

This statement holds many implications for an MYP programme. Attitudes or dispositions inherent in responsible action continue to impact how students manifest the learner profile in the MYP. (These dispositions might be more visible in PYP programmes, and perhaps might need to become more explicitly revisited in MYP programmes.)

Attitudes for the PYP Minion by Yuri Halushka.

Attitudes for the PYP Minion by Yuri Halushka.

Here are a few suggestions.

  • To perform responsible action, MYP students need curiosity to spark and sustain their inquiry into a need in a community.
  • Students need commitment and enthusiasm to plan a course of action to address a discovered need in a community.
  • They need to practice the attitude of cooperation so they might work with the community as they take action.
  • As they take action, they manifest respectful and tolerant attitudes. They might also experience empathy and exhibit integrity in their decisions as they take action.
  • Certainly taking action requires independence and confidence.
  • They may also gain confidence and strengthen their commitment as they reflect on learning.

In the above definition of action in MYP, a key to independent inquiry in MYP seems to hinge upon how opportunities for action are “tightly connected to sustained inquiry and critical reflection” (IB Global News, 2(7), 2014).

Service as action in the MYP gives students open-ended opportunities to pursue both sustained inquiry and critical reflection. When students are given an open-ended opportunity to inquire into service as action, they might naturally follow pathways to sustained inquiry. Curiosity is personal, and personal curiosity fuels itself, driving the manifest creative and critical thinking processes that learners might necessarily draw upon to investigate a problem that does not seem to have a readily apparent answer.

Beginning a line of inquiry for "healthy choices," MYP3 student.

Beginning a line of inquiry for “healthy choices,” MYP3 student.


Questions from MYP3 students.


Service personalizes learning. A question from MYP3 student.

Service learning presents opportunities for students to engage in cyclical, iterative  learning; critical thinking and reflective practices within the inquiry cycle manifest as student sustain authentic inquiries. Service learning personalizes a student’s learning, presenting the student with a key to sustained, meaningful engagement.

The phrase “tightly connected” deliberately prompts reflection for MYP educators. “MYP has a lot of moving parts,” our MYP-DP librarian Kelsey Hedrick once said. Implementation for us means taking all these moving parts in MYP and co-constructing their integration.

Perhaps we might witness this integration within the students’ inquiries into service as action. In the photo below, we see students classifying their questions according to ways of approaching research.

Ways to approach research in service learning by MYP3

Ways to approach research in service learning by MYP3

They rehearse their understanding of research approaches collaboratively as they classified their questions into a whole-class chart.

Ways to approach research by MYP3.

Ways to approach research by MYP3.

Service as action is “tightly connected” to approaches to learning. A few ATL skills made visible in these photos might be research skills, collaborative skills, thinking skills. But we also anticipate the rehearsal of many more skills that students might draw upon as they pursue their inquiries into service as action. These anticipated skills that students might draw upon hinge on their attitudes or dispositions.

They must persist (ATL skill) and commit (attitude) to be inquirers (Learner Profile attribute). They need to be mindful of others (ATL skill) in order to be tolerant and respectful (attitudes) as they demonstrate principled action (LP). They practice academic honesty (attitude) through sound research skills (ATL skills) in order to continually be the critical thinker (LP) they need to be in this protracted, authentic inquiry.

MYP 3 students stretching in the middle of their service learning workshop.

MYP 3 students stretching in the middle of their service learning workshop.

Service as action and the ways we give students these learning opportunities allow us to stretch learning in the MYP. Perhaps our students find continuity as they engage in the language and action expressing attitudes and dispositions. Maybe it’s following a sustained inquiry into something they discover holds creativity and passion for themselves. Certainly it stretches the reach of each element in the MYP, allowing our students to design learning that rehearses their skills in ways that nurture lifelong attitudes; creates tangible manifestations of how personal learning might become significant and meaningful to others; and expands the learner’s physical and cognitive learning environment beyond the text, the paper, beyond episodic performance into the possibility of sustained action.

Many thanks to Melinda Henson and her Community Project team for inspiration triggering this reflection, and  to Concordian MYP3 students for permission to use their work to illustrate this post.