A call for a happy leader

Image credit: Takashi Hososhima

The happy teacher, that’s what it’s all about. Feel passionate about your job, discover your talents and know how to inspire others. What makes you proud? Show yourself!

Open the doors of your classroom and invite parents and colleagues. Show them who you are, what drives you and what you find important in your work. You reflected on your classroom practice, you are aware of your choices. But also try to be open to feedback. Don’t be afraid of critical questions, because they keep you focused. Welcome feedback that helps you in your professional development. Because your development is important. You want to see your students develop themselves, so set an example.

Do not only set an example, but also try to engage your students in your teaching practice. Work together to make education more personalised, stronger and more innovative. Give them a voice in the group process, in their own learning process, but also in your learning process. Give them space and time to learn, but moreover, allow yourself that space as well. Ask for feedback, so you know what steps to take the next day.

Follow your students, they often have the answer. Is there a moment of hesitation and you don’t know how to help your student along? Just ask! Students know so much, first of all about themselves, what drives them, what they need, their motivation, their learning styles. Is something wrong in your relation to the group? Tell your students how that makes you feel and let them know you really need them to be able to continue learning together. Be open and honest, be yourself and your students will help you.

Students are your mirror. Dare looking into it and you will grow. The learning teacher, the enjoying, happy teacher. You. That’s what it’s all about.

On the day that the jury of the Education Cooperative (Onderwijscoöperatie in Dutch) decided who should be Teacher of the Year 2014, the above was my statement. It is essentially about all educational leaders. Not only teachers, but also school leaders and school boards. When I think about my own leadership, leading my students, then this is the leader that I want to be:

the happy leader, who enjoys his profession;
the learning leader, who continues to develop himself;
the honest leader, who is open and himself;
the listening leader, who listens without a hidden agenda;
the observing leader, who looks without prejudice;
the supporting leader, who coaches and helps;
the encouraging leader, who supports and compliments;
the trusting leader, who provides the necessary space;
the steering leader, who helps to watch certain necessary boundaries.

If I want to grow as a teacher I need my school leader in a way a student needs his teacher.

I long to be seen. Just some attention in the hallway. Come and have a look in my classroom. Not because you feel it is your task to do so as a school leader, to observe me. No, just because you are curious about what I do with my students.

I also need to be heard. I want to tell you what’s on my mind, what worries me, but also let you know what drives me, what I am good at, what my powers and talents are, so you know this, and in order for me to have the opportunity to use these talents in our school.

And I would obviously like to be taken seriously. I would like to participate in school policy, deciding what makes our school ours. Because the school is of us all. We do it together, otherwise our mini-society is unstable.

I do realise that I am a teacher who feels an unlimited passion for her profession. That I am a teacher who is always looking to do better, how to develop professionally in such a way that I can really connect to my students and will be able to give them more space, to find their own powers and develop their talents. I realise that I am probably part of a certain minority. Those teachers who read a lot, talk and write about education, which makes them feel energetic. Those teachers who don’t even realise how many hours they work. Who continuously look for possibilities and new challenges, who actively and constructively participate in the discussion with their school leader to keep looking for a way to better education.

But I am convinced that we can reach more teachers. They, too, can be open to change and willing to go for it. But you have to give them the trust they need and the time and space they need for their passion, their powers and talents. And also give them time to develop professionally and be able to adjust to new situations. To cope with certain structures or demands; things that are sometimes inevitable in a school organisation. But then make sure – to end with one of the principles of my heroine Maria Montessori –that you provide freedom, freedom within those necessary structures and boundaries.

This was my story at the NIVOZ conference ‘Leadership in Education’, September 24th, 2014.


Teacher: show yourself!

 Image credit: Jenny Downing

One of the topics at the Teachers’ Congress, organised by the Education Cooperative (in Dutch it is the Onderwijscoöperatie, the organisation of teachers, run by teachers, for teachers), October 2014, was the much discussed Teachers’ Register (in Dutch: Lerarenregister) . In 2017, all teachers will be obligated to register to prove their continuous professional development. Obligated. Again, this particular word that leads to the resistance of teachers. And that is a shame, because the Teachers’ Register can also be an opportunity to strengthen our professional branch. By presenting our professional development, we become stronger together.

The right to good education

The register is an opportunity to show that you are a professional. The professional who keeps developing himself, because our society keeps changing. The professional who knows that his teaching needs to keep developing too, because you prepare your students for the future. This means you cannot stand still. Indeed, you are indebted to your students to keep developing yourself professionally. They have the right to have a teacher who keeps himself informed and keeps looking for the knowledge and skills he needs, to be able to cope with new challenges such as Inclusive Education. They have the right to have a teacher who knows about the latest scientific insights and theories and tries to include new insights into teaching. Students can thus count on their teacher being able to connect to them and their educational needs. So that they can rely on being educated well.

In my statement A call for a happy teacher, I ask teachers about their passion, powers and talents. I encourage them to open their classroom doors and to show who they are, what they stand for and what they are proud of. Surely, are we not exactly the same as our children? They who love to show what they are proud of? They who grow when they get attention and then are encouraged to learn more and show even more of themselves?

Teacher: show yourself!

Be proud of your professional development. Show this to your nearest, direct colleagues, but also to other, indirect colleagues. We have such a beautiful profession. Together we can do so much more and strengthen our professional branch and make sure our voice will be heard. That is what we want, is it not? That people listen to us? That education is organised bottom-up and not top-down? But if we really want this, then we have to take responsibility. We need to be responsible for our own professional development. We need to ask for personalised training, training yóu need, to become a better teacher. Training that fits your personal and professional needs.

Because then you will be interested; intrinsically motivated. Then you want to learn. Then you have the knowledge to help yourself and your students develop themselves. And that leads to greater job satisfaction.

And then it takes no effort at all to scan your well-deserved certificate or diploma and upload it to the Teachers’ Register. In point of fact, if you are proud of what you have learned and achieved, you want to show this. And that is possible, among other things, in the Teachers’ Register. Oúr register, which will be a starting point for our professional branch to manifest itself. We will show ourselves!

This blog is a translation of the previously published blog Teacher: show yourself!

Digismart students help you to help yourself!

Image credit: Elizabeth Ann Colette

I have been wondering for quite a while now: is it not the time for a tenth intelligence? After the familiar eight and latest ninth – cosmic smart – I think it’s high time for digismart.
Teachers often feel that they are overtaken by mediawise students. And this feeling is justified, as it is often a fact. The mediawise young pass us by and they are smart. Digismart.

Since I have been experimenting with social media in the classroom, my admiration for our digismart students has only increased. They embrace ICT and social media and  immediately start using new tools: without fear and with an open, enthusiastic, curious and investigatory mind. They easily pick up a tool and dare to learn by doing, experimenting and consulting each other and pass you by. Well, in my class that is exactly what I hope will happen. Classmates are each other’s – and my –  ‘digismart digimates’. They help me to help myself in our digital world.

By experimenting together with your students, they feel challenged (competence). By giving them the opportunity to discover and try out new things on their own, they grow more independent and feel more responsible (autonomy). And by trusting them and pointing out that you need their help and feedback, the relation between students and teacher strengthens (relatedness).

I show students the basics of a certain tool. Then it is their turn to experiment in order to discover more possibilities. By learning together, using the computer/tablet/smartphone, and by presenting their digital discoveries, digital learning spreads like oil. And it’s not only students who learn from each other, it is me too! This joint learning process makes us proud! Examples:

  1. A boy offers to look into the privacy settings of Padlet, as I am not able to answer his classmate’s question immediately. Later that day, he explains the settings to us all, so that we can safely start using this beautiful tool.
  2. After showing the possibility of online collaboration with Google Drive, three girls dive eagerly into it and give a how-to-presentation a few weeks later.
  3. One girl really got the purpose of social media and posts positive tweets and compliments to others, including the teacher. More children follow her example.
  4. I started blogging on my new site and tell my students why I like it. Then I show them Weebly, a site that I expect to be easy to use if they would like to start blogging too. I don’t have the time to find out all the workings of Weebly, but some boys immediately sign on and go to work and a week later they are able to tell us the ins and outs of the tool.
  5. After some students have experimented with Scratch under the guidance of a parent, I appoint them ‘Scratch ambassadors’: in no time they have half the class starting to learn the basics of programming.

Children know so much and are able to do so many things. I learn from them, every day. By observing them, having lots of conversations with them and by asking their feedback. Also by using social media. I see hidden ‘digitalents’: ‘slower’ children that are digitally quick. ‘Silent’ children who show themselves through Twitter, Padlet or blogging. A group of music smart children who form a band and present themselves through social media. School and home become interwoven. Learning continues. With classmates, with me: together, by using social media.

All this takes place in a safe (digital) learning environment. Before diving into this social media adventure, I focused on media education first. Because media skilled young are not by definition mediawise. On the contrary. So allow ample time to learn about and focus on positive behaviour online (THINK before you post), privacy on the internet and citation. And still: we discuss media wisdom every day.

Social media are part of my teaching and learning. By using them, we collaborate, share and communicate. We started using simple tools; Padlet, Popplet and Twitter are already blended in our learning. But I’d like to try more and there are plenty of tools to be discovered. The main challenge is to get through this media jungle, pick tools that you think could help you achieve your teaching goals and experiment with them. Together with your students. Make them your partners in experimenting and learning. Enhance their involvement. Give them responsibility and learn from them and with them. By having faith in the power to learn, of both yourself and your students, you are able to embark on a beautiful digital adventure: experiment, learn and enjoy!

The film Social media in de klas, made by my class (@Groep67MN), shows students engaged in using social media.

This blog is a translation of the previously published blog Digiknappe digimaatjes.

A version of this blog has also been published in a book on innovation in education, called ‘Education heroes: 60x proof it is possible’ Onderwijshelden: 60 x het bewijs dat het kan.

The beauty of cosmic education

Painting by Anna Lorenz

I am always looking for new challenges, for both my class and myself. This is an idea that worked out just the way I hoped it would…I am proud to present our English spoken digital book: The life of Nelson Mandela in 31 paintings.

It was great to all work together on this project. The integration of history, human rights, culture, arts, English and ICT, makes this project a good example of the endless possibilities of our beautiful cosmic education.

Based on the book Madiba by Angela Machiel-Guépin, the children painted an important moment of Mandela’s life. I took photos and uploaded them to the app Explain Everything. Then the children could record their own voice, reading the supporting English text of the painting. Some children were appointed ‘pronunciation coach’ and helped others practise their lines.

One can make a digital (art) book on any subject. The beauty of a biography however, is that each child is responsible for his/her own part, but every part (child) is needed to make the book (the life story) complete.

The result is wonderful and I am very proud of my class!

Enjoy The life of Nelson Mandela in 31 paintings.

Paintings (acrylic) and voice-over by the children of @Groep67MN (9-11 year-olds).

Montessori and social media
: Challenges and treasures for a new age of learning

Image by mkhmarketing

How quiet it was, not using the internet, not having e-mail, not hearing my smartphone alerts when messages arrive. I am 34 years old and I am part of the pre-internet past. The first text on a computer written at the end of secondary school, my first e-mail sent when I was a student at the university of Nijmegen. And although I do sometimes miss that ‘quiet’ life, I remember my excitement about having e-mail: this will bring me closer to my foreign friends, closer to the world. The internet will enrich my life!

Learn and teach using social media

The internet has enriched my life and still does. Social media have enriched my life and I have just begun experimenting embedding them in teaching. This I know: personally I can easily reach out to my foreign friends and make it easier for me to be a global citizen.

Professionally it enriches my learning and teaching. For example, I continuously learn by using Twitter and MontessoriNet, following edubloggers and teachers, reading blogs and articles, participate in online discussions and sharing my ideas and using others’ to develop lessons. I am currently exploring the use of social media in class and I learn through experimenting and consulting the children, asking them feedback. My motto is: a good teacher is critical, reflects, learns every day and always tries to take childrens’ opinions into account. I am proud to be a Montessori teacher. A Montessori teacher should never stop learning, since we have to follow the child. That unique child, that tells us what it needs to develop and grow.

The role of a Montessori teacher is that of an observer whose ultimate goal is to intervene less and less as the child develops. Lynn Lawrence, executive director of the Association Montessori Internationale, emphasizes the child as an active learner, exploring until understanding:

“I am able, I am the actor, not the object. Children rely on us to take obstacles away and not be obstacles. The child is a builder of himself and a builder of its better and brighter future. The child is a teacher, the adult is the supporter, the guide. We have to unlock the thirst for learning, to give them the tools. The child earns freedom by showing ability to be in control. Both children and adults need to learn the art of the possible.”

Social media are amongst the tools that can be used both by the child for co-operative and individual learning and by the teacher to learn, share, teach and engage.

Montessori education, global citizenship and 21st Century Skills

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori

Maria Montessori was a pioneer 100 years ago and she would have fitted well in our 21st modern society. Maria Montessori was globally active. She travelled the world to train Montessori trainers, to give lectures, to observe children, to help people (help themselves). Global citizenship is important in Montessori education. Oxfam explains global citizenship:

“It aims to empower pupils to lead their own action. Along with the knowledge and values that they have gained from learning about global issues, pupils need to be equipped with the necessary skills to give them the ability and confidence to be pro-active in making a positive difference in the world.”

Global citizens need 21st Century Skills

The world has changed so fast the last few decades and we do not know what our future will look like, what jobs we’ll have, if our environment can handle the changes. Now, more than ever, we have to take more care of our world and each other by collaborating: with family and friends, at school, at work, local, national and global. This means being able to communicate well, being respectful, feeling responsible, being open to learn from others and being a critical learner.

Social media makes it easier for people to become and be a global citizen. The internet helps us understand the workings of the world. It helps us learning about other countries, other cultures, other beliefs. It helps us understanding other people, which leads to respect and value this diversity. The internet also helps us communicating with people all over the world, without travelling. We can help others, without actually being physically present. Help others help themselves, one of the main Montessori motto’s, has become easier through internet. Together with e-mail, social media such as Skype, Facebook and Whatsapp make communicating at a distance perfectly possible. Maria Montessori would have loved social media and she would have made use of them, to help even more people and learn about the world. But she would have still travelled lots. Because communicating face-to-face would still be her favourite way of getting in touch with other people.

When one looks at the 21st Century Skills one can conclude that Maria Montessori was aware of most of them already 100 years ago. She was a pioneer and her pedagogy and materials fit the skills children need today. Communication, collaboration, critical thinking and problem solving, creativity and information literacy, flexibility and adaptability, initiative and self-direction, social and cross-cultural skills, productivity and accountability, leadership and responsibility: it’s all present in Montessori education. Montessori ‘Madman’ Trevor Eissler made the needs of the 21st century child clear in his video Montessori Madness (2011). In this fast-drawn video he rightfully criticizes school systems that treat children not as individuals, but as one group. He criticizes learning when it’s all about preparing for tests instead of developing as a human being.

The one area that Maria could not have imagined 100 years ago are the skills needed for media literacy and technology literacy. No one could have predicted the immense changes in life and the riches that the internet and all new information technology has brought us. 
Barbara Nesbitt made a video about 21st Century Learning, already in 2007, in which the children of the 21st century cry for engagement. Nesbitt wanted to inspire teachers to use technology in engaging ways to help students develop higher level thinking skills. In my opinion, teachers nowadays are obliged to use technology in their teaching and encourage children to do so.

Montessori principles and media literacy

One of the main principles is a well-prepared environment. This means a mixed age-group, a trained teacher and materials. Materials nowadays have to include computers, laptops, tablets and preferably smartphones to complete the prepared environment. They are essential tools for learning and working in the 21st century. As pointed out before, Maria Montessori would have loved social media. She would have embraced the possibilities that we have today and see ways for social media enriching our Montessori teaching and learning. But she would also stress the need for guidance of the child, so as not to get lost in the jungle of (social) media.

A Montessori classroom offers many choices of work. Children learn to choose what they need to learn, what they want to know. To be able to make most of this, they need to be in self-control, to be self-disciplined, to be in control of their actions and to make positive choices that actually help them develop themselves, whether it comes to cognitive or social skills.
The internet on its own is a challenge for people, let alone children. The choices you have on the internet are endless. One has to know what they want, what they seek, to be able to find the way and not get digitally lost. Montessori children who are self-controlled should be able to cope on the internet, with the guidance of a teacher to teach them the needed skills. 
When it comes to personal behavior, social media forms an extra challenge: what do I use, why do I use it, whom do I want to communicate with, what and how do I communicate, what language do I use, how do I want to be seen on the internet, will I have different profiles, will I be me or supposedly someone else? Montessori children that are in self-control should be able to make positive, sensible choices when it comes to social media and profiling.

Throughout the four planes of development, the child and young adult continuously seek to become more independent. It is as if the child says: Help me to help myself. (Social) media in their turn, can help the child help himself. Throughout the planes the child and young adult also seek to be more socially engaged. Social media are a perfect means to increase social engagement.

Educational software and apps


Letters app by Montessorium

The young child (0-6) – the sensorial explorer – has a sensitive period for learning through using physical materials such as the golden beads. However, young children are also already sensitive for ICT-learning and the tablet is an intuitive tool as the fingers can directly touch the screen. Montessorium has taken to develop Montessori apps. My view is physical Montessori materials should be used and known first, before a child can practice further and apply his knowledge using the corresponding app. Good educational software and apps give children the opportunity for repetitive activity, an important aspect of learning during a sensitive period.

The older child (6-12) – the conceptual explorer – can still use these materials, but they develop powers of abstraction and apply their knowledge to discover and expand their worlds further. The use of internet and learning through software (e.g. applying mathematical strategies learned through Montessori materials) is a logical step. Good educational software and apps give children the possibility to challenge themselves and try more difficult levels. This is what the Montessori materials are also about: they are specifically designed for auto-education and contain the control-of-error. Good educational software, games and apps also include a control of error and / or immediate feedback for the child. This helps the child help himself, learn from its mistakes and continue on an appropriate level, preferrably calculated by the software (learning analytics). Needless to say, there should always be a teacher present to help and guide when asked and intervene when one observes gaps in learning.

Co-operative learning through social media

Then we have the humanistic explorer (12-18) seeking to understand their place in society and their opportunity to contribute to it. Seeking their place in school, in society and even in the world, will be inevidently done through the use of social media such as Facebook. When it comes to learning, children use Facebook, Whatsapp and YouTube to retrieve information and / or share materials. A school can use social media and/or develop a virtual learning community.

Finally the young adults (18-24) – the specialized explorers – seek to contribute through universal dialogue and now even more the internet and the use of social media are necessary means to contribute as a global citizen. They can discuss on forums, communicate through Twitter and use Skype to easily get in touch with people all over the world.

Using social media: challenges for teachers

It is a relatively new area for teachers to use social media in school. It is a challenge, but a necessary one. Because children today are using social media and they take an important part in their life and learning. And we have to be curious and learn as to understand and follow the child. We need to have faith in this child, just as we have to have faith in ourselves. Explore the treasures of social media and take small steps. Take them together with the ‘experts’: the experienced children that can help you to help yourself!

Montessori teachers can teach help children help themselves by flipping-the-classroom. Recording short lessons and sharing them through a website or QR-codes in the classroom. The teacher can set an example and start a Twitter account for the class through which children become more globally engaged. Both teacher and children can decide on who to follow and try and get in touch with people they would like to interview for projects or with other schools in other countries.

A wonderful and easy way to work together online, is Padlet. With Padlet one can create interactive walls to share. Thus, a child doing research on Nelson Mandela for example, could create a wall, share this and ask others to help sharing information. Children, parents and teachers can put comments, links and photo’s on the wall. A teacher could also create walls himself to introduce a cosmic educational theme, to activate prior knowledge or to share interesting links with the children. Even in the youngest elementary age-groups Padlet can be used very well. The teacher can use a wall to invite children to type words for a spelling category or can ask parents to help their children sharing information and photo’s, for example about holiday experiences or help children type their own words and messages.

When it comes to global citizenship, it would be wonderful to have your class get in touch with a foreign class, through e-mail, Twitter, Skype or Padlet. Sharing information about each other’s lives, about each other’s school and ways of learning and even work on a project together.

The 21st century child is a curious child. Offer him the knowledge, skills and tools it needs nowadays. As Lynne Lawrence points out: Our work is to recognize this curiosity and to fan the flame. Curiosity will then turn into passion, which will lead to lifelong love for learning. And that is what it is all about. A lifelong love for learning can turn any child into a loving, social, respectful, responsible, global citizen and this is what our 21st century world needs.

It’s not about what you know, it’s about what you do with what you know – Lynn Lawrence