What a Teacher Leaves Behind

For Bill Powell, gone so soon

On the Adriatic Sea in the summertime the light on the water is like diamonds at midday. Without shadows the clean blue hues’ incessant sparkling hits the eye and may elicit tears.

We lost someone recently, someone who has worked with teachers and schools to support generations of self-directed learners, people who believe in others and believe in themselves. This writing will not capture all that he was; to know Bill Powell you have to know all the other people whom he has valued in his life as a teacher, administrator, mentor, and friend. I was fortunate to have known Bill. Conversations with Bill over the years have taught much long after I left the cognitive spaces we shared.

Lessons from conversations with Bill now eddy and flow within, this sea on which I float tinged with sadness , and the coordinates of my destinations made clear by the lessons’ resonance within. Fragments from T. S. Eliot’s The Four Quartets, Bill’s favorite poet, and one of his favorite poems, appear like driftwood. I pick them up and show them to you.

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Help people learn, and not by evaluating them.

In their book Teacher self-supervision: Why teacher evaluation has failed and what we can do about it, Bill and Ochan Powell comment, The distressing truth is that no one can compel learning in another person.

We expound on the value of self-directedness, and we search for ways to create the environment and processes which allow our students to go after learning through inquiry; to self-monitor and self-modify as they self-assess through reflection. Yet in many of our schools, we still subscribe to teacher evaluation systems, giving teachers external judgments of practice and expecting that this external judgment will ignite the inspiration, motivation and empowerment necessary to transform the thinking that goes into creating environments and processes which will facilitate learning for both the teacher and his or her students.

In external, judgment-based feedback within teacher evaluation systems, there is

Only a flicker
Over the strained time-ridden faces
Distracted from distraction by distraction
Filled with fancies and empty of meaning
Tumid apathy with no concentration
Men and bits of paper, whirled by the cold wind
That blows before and after time

Learning comes from choice, a self-directed turning of mind toward something that inspires and presents an anticipation and pursuit of something meaningful. This turning of the mind is what we desire in our students as we provoke thinking in the classroom, as we give our students their heads, as we remove the reins and yokes of our own choices of canonical content, and allow our charges to chase after learning because it is meaningful to them.

Self-evaluation for adults is just as important as we deem it is for our students through reflection. The leap we make between the environments and processes we create that allow for self-directed learning is made with an assumption, a positive presupposition that people generally want to get better at what they do.

People want to learn to get better at what they do. This optimism is borne from a personal choice, a choice to honestly self-evaluate, to let go of the fixed mindsets perhaps learnt through experiences, and to become open to growth. It requires humility to reach this peak of wisdom, for

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility; humility is endless.

The optimism of wanting and going after growth is endless in its reach, for it creates a world of what is possible—what is possible after all in a classroom is gifted by the diversity of individuals with whom a teacher has the privilege to spend an entire school year. The optimism blooms in our practice as teachers when we embrace the wonderful diversity of people in our care. As many different learners as we have in our classrooms, we receive with each one the gift of becoming a better teacher of each, and

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive at where we started
And know the place for the first time.

In the ways we discover how each person learns, we grow as teachers. Beginning with this assumption that teachers want to get better at what they do, we are on our way to creating environments and processes, which allow for self-directed learning for adults and young learners alike.

We open the gates of consciousness to improve our craftsmanship and flexibility as teachers. Awareness is the mother of other states of mind.

To arrive at where you are, to get from where you are not,
You must go by a way wherein there is no ecstasy.
In order to arrive at what you do not know
You must go by a way which is the way of ignorance.
In order to possess what you do not possess
You must go by the way of dispossession.

The birth of awareness began with excavation for me. I had always thought, for instance, that I was a good listener. Until I learned, that first Cognitive CoachingSM  seminar with Bill and Ochan, that I listened primarily so I could solve things for whomever was speaking with me.

Spending the last five years digging through the debris of old layers of self– those layers of being which in conversations did not help but rather hindered growth for the other and then discarding the layers of ineffective listening like so much sloughed off skin—has expanded consciousness and increased other resources of mind.

I learned that

In order to arrive at what you are not
You must go through the way in which you are not.
And what you do not know is the only thing you know
And what you own is what you do not own
And where you are is where you are not.

In a teacher, consciousness reaches realms of being that embrace balance. Looping through the infinite balancing of polarities between rigor and inclusiveness, for instance. The flexibility of thinking that allows for polarities to co-exist, simultaneously, helps the teacher to recognize and address the experiences and reality of each learner. Each one has a claim on rigor. Each one has a claim on being included as he or she is, and the trajectories that each might traverse is not the teacher’s experiences and reality. We learn that we cannot teach the way we learn; we humbly accept that we must listen more than we speak, and that each learner may instruct the instructor on how learning can happen.

And in another instance, holding on one palm the delicate, complex self of a person and in another, her goal orientation, listening only in order to value both, and in the discipline of complete attentiveness, convey the person to a state of resourcefulness. In this disciplined attentiveness, one is fully present but also absent. Attentive to the other and detached from self. In this I learned to be less so the other might be more.

As Bill used to say, “I have more friends now.”

Be deliberate.

To learn, to teach, to live with self-directedness, one needs to be deliberate. One can be deliberate with choice of words and choices of silence in a conversation for the purpose of conveying the other to a more desirable state of mind. Speech is more poetic than might be previously thought, when we consider that our pauses allow for deep thought to occur, and are meaningful parts of messages we send to others.

In the deliberate use of silence as of words, we command our attentiveness and perhaps sidestep the chasms of miscommunication that endanger our relationships, and we summon the thinking that allows bridges to build across minds. We may avoid

Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l’entre deux guerres
Trying to use words, and every attempt
Is a wholy new start, and a different kind of failure
Because one has only learnt to get the better of words
For the one thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which
One is no longer disposed to say it.

The discipline of thought, that being deliberate requires, cradles the positive presuppositions that value another.

There is no competition—
There is only the fight to recover what has been lost
And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions
That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss.
For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business.

We are not the same people today as we were yesterday.

Every day is the day of a phoenix. Our interactions, our conversations change us as they change our thinking. If we are fortunate, we will meet someone who inspires trust, and we choose to learn from and with this person. We can become open-minded to the possibility that any other we meet and interact with is a teacher and a mentor outside of the choreography of a formal workshop or course; we sit at the table and dine with those who teach through conversation.

And this changes us. When we choose to learn, we transform. And if we choose this every day, we eschew a static self. We sleep and awaken new people.

You are not the same people that left that station
Or who will arrive at any terminus,
While the narrowing rails slide together behind you;
Watching the furrow that widens behind you,
You shall not think “the past is finished”
Or “the future is before us.”

For most of us there is only the unattended
Moment, the moment in and out of time,
The distraction of it, lost in a shaft of sunlight.

Every one has value.

I walk through places where systems have failed its citizens, and the faces floating past mine are sometimes so easily moved to contempt. It is not easy to be in places where many have been disillusioned by decades of communal, enculturated mistrust, and hence closed to learning from someone who might present novel ways of being.

Yet in the dim light I am reminded that context is a persistent and damning comfort; context holds people in its clutches and perhaps it is difficult to see how to let it let go when context has not presented any other possible existence than what is known.

I forgive context, and I dig deep within the discipline of attentiveness to find positive presuppositions: we protect what we know because it helps us to feel safe.

If you came this way,
Taking any route, starting from anywhere,
At any time or at any season,
It would always be the same: you would have to put off
Sense and notion. You are not here to verify,
Instruct yourself, or inform curiousity
Or carry report.

The person, after all, is what matters. Deep within the layers of who we might be because of where we are, we are oceans of humanity, deep and layered with tempers, battered by storms, calmed by movements of moons and other, more intangible forces.

We cannot think of a time that is oceanless
Or of an ocean not littered with wastage
Or of a future that is not liable
Like the past, to have no destination.

We cannot think of “Not making a trip that will be unpayable/For a haul that will not bear examination.”

In the optimism and discipline of attentiveness to others, we listen for their footfalls across the tundra they might have to traverse to find the thought that renders them open to growth. We paraphrase their words to illuminate their own thinking; we pause and give them deliberate time to envision ways forward.

And we must do this because it is about learning. Life is about the shift from that undesirable state of walking the endless loop of suffering, to a state of being ingenious within ourselves, and that capacity is the ongoing conversation with self that we are all privileged to enter.

I must say goodbye to the man, but not to the mentor. His legacy continues in the work of so many colleagues all over the world, whom like I did, had productive conversations with Bill.

Dawn points, and another day
Prepares for heat and silence. Out at sea the dawn wind
Wrinkles and slides. I am here
Or there, or elsewhere. In my beginning.



Eliot, T. S. Four Quartets. Retrieved from on July 11, 2016.

Powell, W. and Kusuma Powell, O. (2015.) Teacher self-supervision: Why teacher evaluation has failed and what we can do about it. Melton, Woodbridge: John Catt.


The Learner in Charge

Learning is scalable.

The fractal of how we learn transfers into smaller versions of the full design—such as the specific process of learning how to write from personal significance, with a personalized process, seeking our own audiences and feedback to get better at writing. These patterns also transfer into larger-scale systems predicated on assumptions that people have the capacity for self-directedness. Approaches to learning, for example, could be a system-wide approach to using metacognitive strategies.

By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Romanesco broccoli fractals By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Because learning is scalable, we can infer patterns in the larger expression of a fractal, say a culture of self-directedness, from the iterations of behavior in smaller sections of the fractal, like individual self-directedness. In other words, individuals together behaving in certain ways make up the concerted behavior of a whole community.

So how do we enact a culture of self-directed learning?

We might begin with what’s happening with the individual learner.

In their collaborative work The Art and Science of Portraiture, Sara Lawrence- Lightfoot and Jessica Hoffman Davis (1997) engage in a dialog on the value of a self-portrait as a form of learning process and product.

They suggest that the creation of a self-portrait “is an intentionally generous and eclectic process that begins by searching for what is good and healthy and assumes that the expression of goodness will always be laced with imperfections.” If we ask ‘what is good?’ we are “likely to absorb a very different reality than one who is on a mission to discover the sources of failure” (Laurence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997, p. 9).

The generosity of this developmental self-portrait hinges, it seems, upon the assumptions that people want to seek what is good and start this inquiry from a stance of positive intentions and aspirations. Considering assumptions about self-development consider that “Not only do portraits seek to capture the origins and expression of goodness, they are also concerned with documenting how the subjects or actors in the setting define goodness” (Laurence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997, p. 9).

The process might be more concrete if we thought about the self-portrait as a portfolio.

In developing a documentation of learning and achievement, which is the basis for a portfolio, the learner becomes participant in this inquiry and dialog on What is good, how do we find it, and what expressions might be exemplars of this search and its discoveries?

The portfolio becomes an ever-transforming map of growth. As the learner curates his or her own documentation of growth, the reflective nature of constructing this self-portrait facilitates and sustains the inquiry. This is a pattern of the self-directness that we consider a significant cornerstone of transformational learning.

How does this individual pattern influence the larger patterns in the places where we facilitate learning?

Lawrence-Lightfoot and Davis (1997) suggest that the self-portrait is a conversation. In this sense they are also “acts of intervention” (Laurence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997, p. 11) in that within the process of creating self-portraits we engage others in conversations about what is good; we engage in acts of transformation; we provoke thinking and reflection. “This is provocative work that can disturb the natural rhythms of social reality and encounter” (Laurence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997, p. 11).

In her book The Good High School; Portraits of Character and Culture Lawrence-Lightfoot (1983) suggests that the actors within a school context “create conversations and find shared meanings, the significance of the voice of teachers, and the crucial importance of local context as well as the commitment of a scholar to truth and solidarity” (in Laurence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997, p. 11).

The conversations about what is good propels our inquiries into constructions of criteria for best practice within the contexts of our schools. In these co-constructions; we seek our mentors and teachers in our peers and in our networks; and we revisit again and again a common ownership of learning.

We influence the story of our school’s focus on learning.

From conversations and patterns of self-directedness emerges a narrative. The resulting narrative tells the story of the landscape of transformation for the individual as well as the group. Together, our portraits of growth collectively “document the human behavior and experience in context.” (Laurence-Lightfoot & Davis, 1997, p. 11).

So it may follow that culture is influenced by individuals creating portraits of best practice.

In the conversation between practitioners, we find a similar idea to Eudora Welty’s distinction between the storyteller and the one who listens to a story. Lawrence-Lightfoot and Davis (1997, p. 12) suggest that “The latter is a much more active, engaged position in which one searches for the story, seeks it out, is central to its creation.”

In this inductive inquiry, we may recognize the “persistent irony” that “as one moves closer to the unique characteristic of a person or a place, one discovers the universal” (Lawrence-Lightfoot and Davis, 1997, p. 14).

Discoveries of the universal within the personal suggest that learning is scalable. Individuals in self-directedness make up the human landscape of a self-directed organization. By putting the learner in charge of his or her learning, we cultivate resonance within our selves and our organizations.



Lawrence-Lightfoot S. & Hoffman Davis, J. (1997). The Art and Science of Portraiture. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Lawrence-Lightfoot, S. (1983). The Good High School; Portraits of Character and Culture. NY: Basic Books.

Photo By Becks – Windvane, CC BY 2.0,

Photo Romanesco broccoli fractals By Jon Sullivan [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

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.





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 (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

By Ironman11 (Own work) [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or CC BY-SA 2.5-2.0-1.0 (, 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.

Engaging conceptual dialog through lesson design

A student’s reflection recently illustrated how performance of understanding can emerge as a conceptual dialog between teacher and student.

In this Arts inquiry, the Key concept is creativity and the Related concepts are expression, boundaries, narratives. The unit’s Global context is Identities and relationships, framing the learning around building expressive skills for performance, requiring the actor to discover his center, his essence and thus supporting a better understanding of self. In studies of drama performance, the ensemble requires that the actor ‘give up’ their identity to the ‘group’ when working together. The fostering of relationships in the ensemble is of paramount importance. The lesson focus was to introduce the concept of neutrality through use of the neutral mask (see Jacques Lecoq, The Moving Body, Routledge, NY, 2001), with the objectives to develop expressive skills for performance, increase awareness of how actors use their bodies and gesture not just voice, to communicate (Whitaker, personal communication, November 20, 2014).

White neutral mask. Found on

White neutral mask. Found on

The specific inquiry in the series of lessons using the neutrality mask was to investigate the tools of the actor preparing for performance (voice, body, mind, imagination). The student, Gavin Liu writes, “Putting on the neutral mask puts the actor in a state of “neutrality” when acting. A neutral mask is a mask that everyone wears to hide emotions on the face, and it requires the actor to use their body to convey the emotions. In the past classes, we have been wearing these neutral masks and practicing conveying emotions with the boundaries of not being able to express our emotions through our faces but through body movement.”

The teacher intended for the neutral mask to be ” the start of a journey. It produces a physical sensation of calm. The neutral mask opens up the actor to the space around them, creates a state of discovery” (Whitaker, personal communication, November 20, 2014). Dialog in the class revolved around the intention to form conceptualizations of creativityneutrality, boundaries, and expression.

The students used two exercises with the neutral mask. Gavin describes one of the exercises, “Farewell to the boat.” “Farewell to the Boat” allowed us to express our emotions using only our body, without any narrations to the audience of how we felt when a friend leaves on the boat. Personally I found it really challenging because I speak a lot at school and having that boundary really challenged me to explore what I might express with my body. It used more creativity because we have to act like being water using the neutral mask. It adds more challenge to the activity and there is no right or wrong answer because anyone can interpret water differently, making it very creative (Gavin Liu, reflection).

The teacher reflects, “When students shared responses, what emerged was a sense of freshness, of new beginnings. The mask creates balance, calm and economy of movement, which the teacher will use as a point of reference for later work with expressive (Commedia) masks” (Whitaker, personal communication, November 20, 2014).

The depth at which the student experiences conceptual understanding emerges in the reflective dialog with the teacher. In Gavin’s reflection, he writes, “The reason we are doing these activities is that it is essential not to only rely on your facial expression to show emotions, sometimes you have to rely on your body to show those emotions when your face can’t. Therefore, having a neutral mask can explore creative aspects of our body because we are forced by these boundaries to think creatively more than usual.”

Gavin has achieved concept attainment in the few lessons at the onset of the unit, underpinning the importance of discovery through learning engagements designed to engage students in internal and interpersonal dialog and active inquiry into the concepts.

The depth of Gavin’s understanding emerges in this dialog. He writes, “This has helped me realize that sometimes there are things in life where there are boundaries that we can’t change. We have to work with what we have and try to convey the same intention we wanted to convey without the boundary. This helps me focus on what is most important, which is to convince the audience without saying a word and be creative about how to convince them into believing what you really believe.”

A valuable lesson suggested here is the student’s opportunity for metacognition and transfer, which were facilitated by the conceptual design of the lesson.


Thanks to Gavin Liu, Concordian MYP 4,  for permission to use his reflection in this blog post and to Clynt Whitaker for permission to study his lesson design!

Thinking about our thinking

Use these questions to reflect on your first line of inquiry. Post your reflection as a comment to this post by Sunday, Feb 3 at 9.00 pm.

• What did you learn about yourself as a learner?
• How did this compare with your predictions?
• What strategies did you use?
• How could you use these again?
• What are you most proud of? Why?
• What would you like to strengthen and improve?
• What would you do differently if you were to use this approach, again?
• What didn’t work?
• What would you say to yourself next time?
• What would you advise others?
• Why did we do this? Why are these skills useful?
• What if we hadn’t made our thinking visible?


How does an idea change another idea?

Last week we spent time looking at our unit concepts through different AOI.

Reflect: How does the AOI change how you look at concepts? Specifically, think of the concepts your group chose because they ‘fit’ the AOI.

Post a comment to this blog posting reflecting on the question above. Make your comment concise, and provide evidence for your claim(s). This is a formative assessment which will address Criterion A, Content.