Forget the ladder, bring out the teacups: teacher voice, power and wellbeing.

Is anyone listening? Is there a real, living and breathing person in my immediate working life who has the time, inclination and genuine interest to help me get my voice heard? This is not a post about spouting off our emotions on twitter and hoping for some heated reactions, nor is it a plea for help; rather, it is about what it is like to be a professional and experienced teacher, trying to get the job done as one only knows how, and finding that one has lost one’s voice.

Listening is fundamentally linked to voice; when the active intention of listening is there, and the safe space is created for it, one feels that one is able to speak. This is not the first time I have written about voice; in fact I have been preoccupying myself with it for quite some time now, as a teacher, researcher and as a colleague and collaborator in different networks. What prompted me to write the last post on this blog on teacher voice, published as a working paper for CollectivED, was that I have realised over time that not only do we need to focus on student voice, something also close to my heart, but we need to firstly take a look at the teachers. How can we guide students in ownership of their own learning, exercising their agency and learning resilience when we are are stuck in the starting blocks ourselves? Surely these times are indeed a sign that we need to start helping each other to take those first steps that might help us to get over the line, whatever and wherever that line may be? I am however in fact starting to worry that those that are sailing easily down the track are not pausing often enough to look back to check for those that are stumbling. If we are a teacher at the start of our careers, or if we are on training placements and have mentoring structures in place, then it is normal to talk about how we are coping and it is normal for others to listen. However, if we are years ahead of that, then somehow we are expected to cope on our own.

There is a gap in our knowledge about all of those professionals who are working against all odds, carving out their niches as they know how, working one-to-one with students on their own personal learning journeys, making a difference somewhere and somehow, and simply doing what it takes. So many of these voices are however not heard; they are silenced before anyone could even have had the chance to listen. Do we keep quiet for fear of exposing ourselves? Are we afraid of rocking the boat and coming into conflict with others? Are we weak if we are not used to shouting? Do leaders only listen to those who are the loudest?

We are in particularly extraordinary times where we need to use our professionalism to think quickly, react to changes, learn new skills and adapt to new ways of working. We need to feel that we belong to a community of people who are working towards the same goals, and who look after each other in our differences and individualities. We are all unique and we all need just that one person who is prepared to understand what it is that makes us tick, and how to help us to do our best in our own way. Not everyone shouts over others and can hold her or his own in a crowd. Not everyone feels brave enough to say what is on her or his mind. Not everyone feels comfortable going into a meeting not knowing what to prepare. Not everyone finds it easy not to care what others think.

In the end it is all about power. How can we raise our voice if we are feel we are silenced? How can we get our message across without shouting? Are we meant to shed our principles of moral and just behaviour in a bid to be heard? What we need is a system that nurtures our voices rather than blocks them. Such structures break down and dissolve hierarchies and consist of spaces that invite openness and honesty, welcoming constructive criticism without judgement. I can only compare it to sitting down with a warm cup of tea. When the teacups are out, the tea is brewing in the pot and the chairs are pulled up, I feel safe, at home, and ready to engage in a conversation. Anyone putting on the kettle for me is inviting me into a comfortable, trusted and welcoming space. This is how I envisage dialogue and authentic listening to feel.

Figure 1: Sherry Arnstein’s ladder of citizen participation (1969)

There are of course several models that could work as potential frameworks for thinking about voice. Arnstein’s (1969) ladder of citizen participation, as adapted in figure 1 above, has for example been used to inform and suggest different models of democratic or participatory education that recognise and work towards breaking down power relations. Roger Hart’s adapted ladder (1992), focuses in particular on student and children’s voice, and is divided up into valid and non-valid forms of participation. In my current preoccupation with teacher voice therefore, I wonder to what extent different types of teachers in different types of roles have access to the various rungs of the ladder, and how school leaders would explain the workings of their institutions in these terms. Do they recognise the type of people who they can manipulate and placate? Is their listening simply tokenistic? Finding myself as a teacher faced with such a metaphorical ladder, I would have to recoil at the idea of having to shout my way up there. If that were what it would take, then I would rather forget it. Bring out the teacups please; I will have a conversation my own way.


Arnstein, S. (1969) A Ladder of Community Participation. Journal of the American Institute of Planners, 35, 216-224.

Hart, R. (1992) Children’s participation: from tokenism to citizenship. Florence, UNICEF International Child Development Centre.

Who cares? The role of teacher voice in pedagogical relationships

Published as part of a series of working papers ‘Mentors Matter’ by Leeds Beckett University, April 2020


Experienced teachers in schools are often left out of discussions regarding mentors. Having established themselves within the profession, and having proved themselves capable of managing classrooms, developing curriculum and building up positive relationships with their students, it can all too easily be assumed that these teachers do not need a helping hand and an open ear to help them through times of transition and change. Perhaps teachers change roles within the course of their career, perhaps their line managers and members of leadership change, or perhaps they decide to improve their practice and contribute to the field of educational research by embarking on further education awards alongside their teaching roles. Such experiences are not without their ups and downs; they can certainly be unsettling, disorientating and lead to a feeling of having lost one’s voice. This is where a mentor is sorely needed. This contribution to the collection ‘Mentors Matter’ proposes that in order for teachers for be able to weather the storm of change, instability and in some cases a personal transformation as a result of academic engagement and inquiry, access to a ‘caring’ mentor should be normal practice. This will be discussed in light of empirical research conducted by the author as part of her doctoral inquiry, and a revisited framework for a Pedagogy of CARE will be introduced. The author believes that certain principles and attributes belong to such a framework that foregrounds voice and an act of ‘care’.

nothing is important unless the difference that it makes is an important one (Frankfurt 1988, p. 82)

Has anyone seen my voice?

This piece is about voice. It is about what happens when you feel you don’t have one. It is about only realising that you should have one when you become aware of the fact that you don’t. I have been a secondary teacher for the past seventeen years, and only now I am wondering where my voice went. Only now I am feeling alone. Only now I am missing what it feels like to not only be heard, but to be listened to. Only now I am aware of just how much mentors matter; not only for teachers new to the profession, but to those of us who have been here a while. Is there anyone there who cares? Is anyone listening?

Having the courage to love and to listen

One of the things that I have come to realise as a result of the process of my own doctoral inquiry and how I now feel teaching on the other side of its completion, is that ‘care’ is in fact fundamental to the structures, relationships and processes within schools and within teacher professional development, be those student – student, student – teacher, teacher – teacher, teacher – supervisor or teacher – leader. I would like to go so far as to talk about these relationships as an act of love, where love is a mode of caring (Frankfurt 1999; 2004); in our practice we find ourselves in a relational pedagogy in which our actions are given a direction and in which the actors are ‘linked together through a pedagogical dialogue characterised by horizontal and dialogical relationships’ (Fischmann 2009, p. 236). Such a pedagogy allows voices to emerge through a process of listening that is open, intentional and responsive. One is not simply given the opportunity to be heard, as part of a ‘functionalist’ (Fielding and Moss 2011) process of ‘box-ticking’, or meeting some ‘capitalist-friendly’ (McClaren, 2005), performative agenda of voice provision for teachers and students. Rather, such listening is based on what Fielding (2014; 2016) calls ‘democratic fellowship’; an ‘insistence on the necessity of human significance’ (2014, p.517), where a ‘dialogue of love’ emerges from ‘an act of daring, of courage, of critical reflection’ (McClaren 2005, xxx). If we reimagine the relationship between a teacher and their mentor, what could this kind of dialogue look like?

In order to address this question, this article draws on a framework for a Pedagogy of CARE that was developed as a result of my doctoral inquiry. However, due to the short but seemingly profound distance that now lies between the process of my data analysis, the creation of my framework, and the continuation of my teaching practice since completing my doctorate, I have begun to see this framework in different ways. At the time of our inquiry, and during the process of analysing and presenting the data as it was emerging, my preoccupation had been with student voice; what I had not predicted however was that the process would lead me to an eventual understanding of the necessary principles and attributes for participants in all collaborative relationships in schools. Writing this contribution after some time having tried to introduce the framework within the context of my school has allowed me the opportunity to step into very different shoes than the ones that I was wearing whilst pursuing my doctoral inquiry. Through reflecting on the framework, I realise, with the simultaneous loss of my voice, that it is applicable to teacher voice just as much as it is to student voice. Within the context of why mentors matter, revisiting the framework allows me to reimagine what ‘caring’ relationships between a teacher and their mentor could look like if the principles and attributes within the framework were acted upon. I wonder if, were that to be the case, I would be able to find my voice. At this point in time, I also find myself longing for the relationship that I had with my doctoral supervisor. She had the courage to care. She knew how to help me find my voice in a world of academia and practice in which I felt I was faltering. She knew what it meant to be a mentor.

The emergence of CARE: Team ‘ChangeMakers’ inquiry 

Over the course of one academic year, I spent time as a practitioner-researcher alongside a group of seven high school girls in grade 11 (16-17 years old) who had responded to an appeal to their grade to take part in my proposed ‘Team Change-Makers’ inquiry project. Influenced by my convictions about a methodology that provided for student voice (Mockler and Groundwater-Smith, 2015) and a practice that is driven by principles of democratic purpose and social justice (Cochrane-Smith and Lytle, 2009), my intention was to act as a teacher research partner to the students, in which I would mentor them throughout our inquiry journey, and in which we would all endeavour to act according to agreed ethical collaborative principles, or ‘rules of engagement’ that we drew up together. The topic area for our research was service learning; a ‘research based’ approach to community service activities, connecting what is learnt in the classroom with the needs of a particular community (IBO 2015, p. 20). Service learning was something that was being developed at the school, and something in which the girls and I were all engaged, for example through a ‘Personal Development Week’ (PDW) in which we all travelled to various locations across the globe to ‘help’ other communities, or through the ‘service’ component of their International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme’s (IBDP) Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) component (IBO 2015). My role at the time was CAS Coordinator at an international school in Switzerland, so the inquiry was situated firmly in my own practice. My own concerns about international service learning in particular as an ‘unethical’ act, serving privileged ‘White Saviours’ (Bruce 2016) from international schools the opportunity to look into the lives of others (Andreotti 2010;Cook 2012) and to feel a sense of ‘gratification’ (Mitchell, 2008), prompted me to appeal to all students beginning their IBDP with the prospect of working within a dialogic, participatory framework of inquiry into service learning that modelled my beliefs about ethical, responsible, critical practice.

Our work together over the year consisted of several group discussions and focus groups in which we used for example visual methods to capture reflections, such as a ‘fortune line’ (Wall 2017) technique, we learnt and practised how to conduct interviews and focus groups in an ethical way (Kvale 2006; SpeakUp 2013) or we practised constructing research questions using an ‘ice cream cone’ model (Brownhill, Ungarova and Bipazhanova 2017). At the start and at the end of the year, semi-structured, in-depth interviews were also conducted with each student, in order to capture their thoughts and feelings on an individual level, and to give me an insight into their own perspectives at two very different points of our inquiry journey together. In addition, I also kept a reflective journal in which I either wrote down my thoughts and feelings, or I recorded my voice with an application on my laptop.

Data analysis through both a series of feedback loops (Baumfield, Hall and Wall 2013) during the inquiry itself and through a system of coding after its completion, allowed me to identify emerging themes that had been present throughout different phases of our inquiry, and within the different collaborative spaces in which we had been working. Beyond our TCM as a group of inquirers, the students had had the chance to conduct interviews and focus groups with some of their peers, we had all worked with different teachers in some Professional Learning Community (PLC) meetings, and we had planned and taken part in a ‘pre-PDW forum’ in which the girls led a panel discussion with their whole grade on the topic of ethical service learning.

With voice clearly at its heart, and the stance and process of ‘caring’ as its backbone, the themes that emerged led to their conceptualisation and presentation in a framework of a Pedagogy of CARE for ethical, collaborative inquiry, envisaged as a pyramid model. The acronym CARE stands for the principles and attributes of Consciousness / Conscious, Action / Active, Responsibility / Responsible and Experimentation / Experimental.

A Pedagogy of CARE: reimagining the teacher-mentor relationship

The pyramid model (Figure 1) for a Pedagogy of CARE shows the interrelationship of the pedagogical principles and personal attributes that are fundamental to collaborative relationships in teaching and learning that are both ethical in their design and their process. The different principles and attributes of the framework are positioned in a nonhierarchical relationship to each other in a four-faced, three-dimensional pyramid model without any specific ‘top’ or ‘bottom’; this positioning is intended to reflect the nonhierarchical, democratic intentions of practice. Figure 1 shows the model in its ‘net’ form; it is the flattened, two-dimensional representation of a free-standing, threedimensional model. Through this model I therefore argue that every principle and attribute of the Pedagogy of CARE has equal importance, and that the different parts interact with each other to make the whole. Each principle and attribute pair of the CARE framework are described below, with the teacher-mentor relationship and teacher voice as the focus.

pyramid model

Figure 1: Pyramid Model for a Pedagogy of CARE


Consciousness / being conscious

We can find our voice if our mentor is a critically reflective, conscious being. The inclusion of the principle of consciousness is inspired by Freire’s (1970) concept of conscientização, or ‘critical consciousness’; a dynamic process of action and critical reflection upon the world in order to transform it. Being conscious is about being engaged in an ongoing process of critical reflection that allows us to see ourselves as ‘historically formed creatures capable of learning and transformation’ (Stevenson 2012, p. 148). It is about being aware of our place in the world and questioning the structures, systems, power relationships and status quo within which we find ourselves. The key to this principle is that reflection on our own positionalities and values can allow us to develop empathy and ultimately change our practice. We are not all the same. We have different subjectivities and fluid, changing identities that contribute to how we engage with others and how we strive to be heard on our own terms.

Action / being active

We can find our voice if our mentor encourages us to exercise our agency, or to be active. Action is related to consciousness as described above, however it takes those in the relationship beyond a mere process of critical reflection or ‘disposition of critical intent’ (Habermas 1972; Kinsler 2010) towards being able to exercise agency in a situation (Elliott, 2005). This agency is exercised through practice which is oriented towards an ideal, and which is dialogic in nature. A teacher and mentor who are active go through processes of collaborative inquiry that are geared towards fighting against the unjust practices or conditions that one uncovers through being critical. A school that practices action strives to bring about change and to achieve social justice through practices that are democratic and inclusive. In the process of action, democratic values are translated into democratic behaviour, and we are involved in ‘sensuous human activity’ (Bernstein 1971, p. 11) or praxis.

Responsibility / being responsible

We can find our voice if our mentor not only hears us but knows how to listen in a responsible way. Responsibility is fundamentally about listening; it is an act of reciprocity and ‘mutual affection and care for one another’ (Fielding and Moss, 2011, p. 48) and, as a relational principle, it is about acknowledging others in their individuality and alterity (Irigaray 2001; Levinas 1969). Driven by the act of caring, one listens for the intentionality of the other (Hoveid and Finne, 2015). Responsible practice is a ‘person-centred’ education (Fielding 2011; Fielding and Moss 2011) that is about the relationship between person and community. As Macmurray (1961) phrases it, the ‘unit of personal is not the ‘I’, but the ‘You and I’ (p. 61). Within responsible practice, traditional power relations are shifted, and space is created for active, intentional listening; a commitment to voice therefore becomes unavoidable.

Experimentation / being experimental

We can find our voice if our mentor is prepared to be experimental and push us past where we think we are capable of going. Experimentation is when there is a willingness to think differently, to take risks and to try out new ways of doing things. It is about a ‘venture into the not yet known, and not to be bound by the given, the familiar, the norm’ (Fielding and Moss 2011, p.44). It is also about a willingness to be resilient in the face of the consequences of our actions. This experimental attitude allows us to go beyond the stage of a spontaneous consciousness of reality, simply by being a human in the world, to a critical stage, where we search for deeper knowledge (Freire 1976). Experimentation is linked to risk-taking and being brave. It is about uncovering ‘unwelcome truths’ (Kemmis 2006; Mockler and GroundwaterSmith 2015) about oneself, one’s relation to others, or about the institutions in which we find ourselves. We have to be willing to put ourselves up for scrutiny, to open ourselves up to both critical self-reflection and to critique from others. If this critique is also complimented by responsible practice, then there can be no danger of it being damaging or harmful.

Where do we go from here?

So, bearing this rather utopian framework in mind, why is it that I am feeling hopeless rather than hopeful? Why have I lost my voice and what do I need to do to find it again? What role does a mentor play in the search and where do we go from here? The simple answer is that I have lost where I fit in and I need someone to help me find it again. The UK-based organisation Education Support (2020) suggests that in order for teachers to be able to produce good quality work, their wellbeing needs to be looked after. They recognise that the main factors that influence this are:

● Leaders who support employees and see where they fit into the bigger organisational picture

● Effective line managers who respect, develop and reward their staff

● Consultation that values the voice of employees and listens to their views

● Concerns and relationships based on trust and shared values

Comparing these factors to the CARE framework, there are many parallels; the words in italics are my additions to emphasise this. The word mentor is not mentioned in this list, but it is crying out for it. If just one person is listening, be it a leader, a colleague or a supervisor, and if that relationship is provided for and valued within the institutions in which we find ourselves, then we can begin to exercise our voices in the way that they deserve. If we know why we are doing what we are doing, where we fit into the school as a whole, and that what we are doing is appreciated and valued, then we will find our moment to speak and we will get our moment to be heard. Returning in conclusion to the themes of voice and care in this article, I would emphasise that if teacher wellbeing is considered to be important, and that wellbeing is connected with having voice, then the role of the ‘caring’ mentor is definitely something that needs to matter more; not simply to us that need them, but to those that provide the spaces within which they may operate.


Andreotti, V d O (2010) ‘Postcolonial and Postcritical Global Citizenship Education’, in Elliott, G., Fourali, C. and Issler, S. (eds.) Education for Social Change. London: Continuum, pp. 223-245.

Baumfield, V, Hall, E, and Wall, K (2013) Action Research in the Classroom. 2 edn. London: Sage.

Bernstein, R J (1971) Praxis and action: Contemporary philosophies of human activity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Brownhill, S, Ungarova, T, and Bipazhanova, A (2017) ‘Jumping the first hurdle’: Framing action research questions using the Ice Cream Cone Model’, Methodological Innovations, vol. 10, no.3, pp. 1-11.

Bruce, J (2016) (Beyond) the death of global service-learning and the white saviour undone. Available at (Accessed 27 March 2020).

Cochrane-Smith, M, and Lytle, S L (2009) Inquiry as Stance: Practitioner Research for the Next Generation. London: Teachers College Press

Cook, N (2012) ‘I’m Here to Help’: Development Workers, the Politics of Benevolence and Critical Literacy’, in Oliveira Andreotti, V. De and De Souza, L. M. T. M. (eds.) Postcolonial Perspectives on Global Citizenship Education. New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 124-139.

Education Support (2020) Looking after teacher wellbeing. Available at (Accessed 27 March 2020).

Fielding, M (2014) ‘Radical Democratic Education in Response to Two World Wars and Contribution to World Peace: the inspirational work of Alex Bloom’, FORUM, vol. 56, no.3

Fielding, M (2016) ‘Why and how schools might live democracy ‘as an inclusive human order’’, in Higgins, S. and Frank, C. (ed.) John Dewey’s Democracy and Education: A British tribute. UCL: IOE Press, pp. 114- 130 45

Fielding, M, and Bragg, S (2003) Students as Researchers: Making a Difference. Cambridge, UK: Pearson Publishing

Fielding, M, & Moss, P (2011) Radical education and the common school: a democratic alternative. Abingdon: Routledge

Fischman, G. E. (2009) ‘Un/Taming Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed’, in Apple, M. W., Au, W. and Gandin, L.A. (eds.) The Routledge International Handbook of Critical Education. New York, NY and London: Routledge, pp. 232-239

Frankfurt, H. G. (1988) The importance of what we care about: philosophical essays. Cambridge England, NY: Cambridge University Press

Frankfurt, H G (1999) Necessity, Volition and Love. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Frankfurt, H G (2004) The Reasons for Love. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press

Freire, P (1970) Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Seabury Freire, P (1976) ‘A few notions about the word ‘conscientization’’ in Dale, R., Esland, G. and MacDonald, M. (eds.) Schooling and Capitalism: A Sociological Reader. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, pp. 224-227.

Habermas, J (1972) Knowledge and human interests. London: Heinemann.

Hoveid, M H and Finne, A (2015) ‘’You Have to Give of Yourself’: Care and Love in Pedagogical Relations’, in Griffiths, M., Hoveid, M. H.,Todd. S. and Winter, C. (eds.) Re-imagining Relationships in Education: Ethics, Politics and Practices. Chichester: Wiley Blackwell, pp. 73-88.

IBO. (2015) Creativity, activity, service guide. Cardiff: International Baccalaureate Organisation.

Irigaray, L (2001) To Be Two (Rhodes, M.M. and Cocito-Monoc, M.F. Trans.). London: The Athlone Press.

Kemmis, S (2006) ‘Participatory action research and the public sphere’, Educational Action Research, vol.14, no. 4, pp. 459-476.

Kinsler, K (2010) ‘The utility of educational action research for emancipatory change’, Action Research, vol. 8, no.2, pp.171-189. Kvale, S. (2006) ‘Dominance Through Interviews and Dialogues’, Qualitative Inquiry, vol. 12, no.3, pp. 480-500.

Levinas, E (1969) Totality and infinity: an essay on exteriority. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press. Macmurray, J (1961) Persons in Relations. London: Faber & Faber.

McClaren, P. (2005) ‘Preface: A Pedagogy for Life’ (Macedo, D., Koike, D. and Oliveira, A. Trans.), in Teachers as Cultural Workers: Letters to Those Who Dare Teach: Paolo Freire (Expanded Edition ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press

Mitchell, T D (2008) ‘Traditional vs. Critical Service-Learning: Engaging the Literature to Differentiate Two Models’, Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning, Spring 2008, pp. 50-65.

Mockler, N., & Groundwater-Smith, S. (2015) ‘Seeking for the unwelcome truths: beyond celebration in inquiry-based teacher professional learning’, Teachers and Teaching, vol. 21, no. 5, pp. 603-614.

SpeakUp (2013) ‘Students as Researchers: Collaborative Inquiry Action-Research Toolkit’, in O. M. o. Education (ed.). Toronto, ON: Access Alliance Multicultural Health and Community Services.

Stevenson, N (2012) ‘Making Poverty History in the Society of the Spectacle: Civil Society and Educated Politics’, in Oliveira Andreotti, V. de and de Souza, L. M. T. M. (eds.) Postcolonial Perspectives on Global Citizenship Education. New York, NY: Routledge, pp. 140-157.

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Published online at International School Parent

Now, be it due to my British heritage or not, I sure do love a good cup of tea. I blame my Nana. Her tea was all anyone ever needed in a moment of uncertainty or unrest. So, in these changing and potentially disorienting times, I feel that it is necessary to ground ourselves, sit back and take stock of why we are here, involved in the business of learning and teaching.

We may all be in the process of taking a big, deep breath and readjusting ourselves to what might become a ‘new normal’ in terms of our approach to learning and teaching in these unusual present circumstances, but I find myself wanting to cling onto and celebrate that experiential, authentic and incredibly meaningful learning that goes on behind and beyond the scope of our classroom walls. It makes me happy. It’s like a good cup of Yorkshire tea in my favourite armchair. It makes me feel all warm and cosy inside. It reminds me of my Nana.

In my role as Experiential Learning Coordinator at the High School, at this time of the year I have the pleasure of being able to listen to our Grade 12 students reflecting on their own personal learning journeys in their final CAS and Service Learning interviews. I feel that it is important to share some of their achievements and advice with our community as a means of reminding us of their – and our own – capacity to be thoughtful, motivated and sensitive human beings who know what it means to do the right thing for the right reasons.

This short article will, therefore, capture two Grade 12 students’ experiences through the lens of one of the IB CAS and High School Service Programme Learning Outcomes, namely showing commitment and perseverance. This, in my opinion, is something that demonstrates how students can be resilient, independent and exercise their agency when given the opportunity. We don’t need to simply aspire to a mission that champions meaningful and authentic learning. We are living and breathing it in so many ways. So, if we keep our ears to the ground and our heads safely above water, we will discover that bitter taste and sweet aroma in no time. Come on, let’s wake up and smell the coffee tea!

I begin my account with Isaac. He is a student who makes me intensely proud. When he was in Grade 9 we sat together in an ‘alternative’ Service Learning Group that had been formed for those students who wanted to do something different, but weren’t quite sure what that was and if it would work. I was happy to support these students in their individual quests, and to help them get their ideas off the ground and put them into practice. Isaac had been involved a little in the Middle School with the website ‘7 Cups of Tea’ (an anonymous platform for young people supporting each other). He had got himself trained as a ‘listener’ with that organisation, and coming into the High School, he wanted to see if he could train some of his peers. Isaac’s humble idea three years ago turned into what is today a popular Service Learning Group with students from all grades in the High School, and he talks about it as one of the best things that he has done as part of his IB CAS programme. Whilst he sees his group ‘7 Cups of Tea’ as clearly fitting into the nature and aims of CAS, he began it purely out of his own personal motivation, and the fact that it is ‘CAS’ for him is a lucky coincidence. What Isaac values the most, however, is that the school gave him the opportunity to pursue his idea, and this is what he considers to be important. When asked by his CAS Advisor and homeroom tutor Zoe Badcock what advice he would give to students starting their CAS programme, he replied:

If you want to help people, if you want to do things that you can be proud of, if you want to have these accomplishments, you need to go and do them… you need to commit to them and show that perseverance is necessary to achieve what you set out to do.

Thank you Isaac for reminding us to make the most of the opportunities that we are given. It is, after all, what we do that counts the most, not what we talk about doing.

A second student who cannot be left out of this article is Isabelle. Sharing an office with her CAS Advisor and homeroom tutor Bob Sugden enabled me to learn that Isabelle had completed her interview and that I would be so proud of what I heard when I listened.

At the start of her interview, Isabelle says that the skill she gained the most was ‘perseverance’. Like Isaac, Isabelle expressed her wish in Grade 9 to pursue her passion of wanting to volunteer in an old people’s home for her High School service experience. She spent the whole year researching suitable old people’s homes in the local area, drafting emails to them in German and trying to reach out to them. The reason that Isabelle wanted to pursue this was, she explained, that she wanted to break down barriers between us, as an international school, and the local community:

I was really passionate about this issue and problem and that just motivated me to keep going.

At the end of Grade 9, she finally found a lady at a home who was open to the idea and, after some phone calls, Isabelle’s experience began. She continued going to the old people’s home throughout her time in the High School, and talks with passion and compassion about what her visits meant for her and the residents.

Isabelle also mentions in her interview that what she really liked about the CAS programme was that it allowed her to apply skills that she learnt in her classes to real-life situations. She was a fairly confident German speaker when she began pursuing the idea in Grade 9, but she was by no means fluent. She knew that, whilst the potential interaction with others in the local community would be challenging, it would push her German skills to a higher level. Asked how she felt about the balance between her academic studies and her CAS programme, Isabelle recognised that it was quite onerous, but in fact she gained from the time she put in on Fridays after school and on Saturdays:

Even though CAS is also work, it was kind of a work-life balance because it was more of an interactive type of learning.

Isabelle continued her commitment to the old people’s home because she could see and feel the benefits of it, and this gave her the motivation to carry on. In one of her written reflections during this year, she also recognises this, and talks about the specific ‘need’ that her project met:

I learnt that with this kind of service project, I am building relationships. A lot of ‘charity work’ is based on fundraising to meet some sort of goal, however this endeavour is based on an emotional response to needs within the local community. It takes a lot more time and effort to break down barriers between age groups than it ever took me to raise money by organising a bake sale. My eyes have really been opened to a new kind of service – one that not only helps me grow to be more socially aware, but also makes others wanted and loved. Loneliness is a problem that many people face in our society, not only the elderly. I believe that it is with these seemingly ‘small’ acts of kindness that we can change this.

Thank you to Isabelle for reminding us of this.

Isaac and Isabelle are certainly lovely examples of what commitment and perseverance look like and I am glad to have played a part in enabling them to find and pursue their own personal paths. I am proud of their resilience, independence and compassion, and I am sure that my Nana would have been just as proud too.

One final comment from Isabelle reminds us of the importance of student ownership over their own learning, and that we are certainly doing the right thing in providing opportunities for them to do so:

CAS just adds so much more to your experience as a learner. I think that a lot of educational systems are lacking something like this, because I think what is great about CAS is that it is student-directed. You can choose what you want to do and then you don’t feel like it’s work really because you are kind of like your own boss.

So, let’s all be our own boss and take a moment to sit back, reflect, and have a nice cup of tea.


Grabbing the proverbial bull by its digital horns: the start of my new professional digital competencies

Day 1: Sunday 15th March 2020

As a large part of humanity sits shellshocked in their homes as they observe how the new Coronavirus is shaping our realities and transforming our daily lives as we have come to know them, the educational world is on the brink of its own transformation. As an experienced teacher who has always tried to keep up with the times as much as I can in terms of my own pedagogy, I cannot help feeling that I am about to enter a stage of my career where I am forced to take notice of the many tools around me, in this case those of a digital nature, and figure out in no time what to do with them in a way that is both meaningful and effective. I am undertaking an unprecedented journey in which my ‘professional digital competencies’ (Engen, 2019) will be challenged, developed and ultimately improved in some shape or form. Having a clear ‘Continuity of Learning’ plan from my school in place, as well as hot-off-the-press guidelines from the International Baccalaureate Organisation (IBO, 2020) and many other fantastic resources to plough through, for example from the company In Thinking, I have decided that I am going to make the most of this opportunity to grab the proverbial bull by its digital horns and learn something about myself as a teacher. I am not sure that I have any choice in the matter, but as long as I am bound to this new virtual teaching space for an indefinite period of time, I am going to take the time to capture what happens as I ‘domesticate’ (Silverstone, 2006) technology; this will be ‘a process of adapting, integrating and redefining technology’ (Engen, 2019) within my own school and personal teaching and learning context. I am not pretending that the thought does not overwhelm me somewhat, but let’s see how far I get. Now where is that bull?!


Engen, B. K. (2019). Understanding social and cultural aspects of teachers’ digital competencies, Comunicar, 61 (27), 9-18

The International Baccalaureate Organization (2020). Online learning, teaching and education continuity planning for schools. IBO: Cardiff

Silverstone, R (2006). Domesticating domestication. Reflections on the life of a concept. Maidenhead: Open University Press


“Please, don’t make me reflect again!” Why reflection has become a dirty word and what we could do about it.

The sentiment in the title of this post sums up several utterances that I have heard from students in my time as an IB CAS Coordinator and MYP Service Learning Coordinator, and as a teacher within an international school. Particularly in relation to the Creativity, Activity and Service (CAS) programme, students are tired of being asked to ‘reflect’, and teachers are tired of chasing students to do so. This is not the first time therefore that I have come to the conclusion that we are getting it all wrong. ‘Reflection’ has become a dirty word and I am not sure how and when it happened.

What I do know however, is that if someone tells me to ‘do a reflection’ at a specified given time, every part of me resists doing it. This is because my brain is not wired up to ‘reflect’ when someone asks it of me, but rather it prefers to select the moments when something is worthy of being noted. Does this mean therefore that reflection is tied in with emotion? I would argue that there is not enough recognition of this in the literature and research on reflection, certainly not within international schools and the International Baccalaureate Organisation’s programmes. The process of reflection itself is that it is related to highly individualised experiences, yet if I am not sure of what questions I should be considering, my thoughts wander off and become vague, shallow and descriptive. So what I do know is that if the questions are good, the answers are good. Whether I pose the questions myself, or someone else probes my thinking by asking me, there is certainly always the need to be guided and pushed beyond the comfortable limits of what I think I am capable of thinking. What students do not need is a sterile online environment where they are forced to reflect when told to do so; this only makes the dirty word even worse.

On the basis of these thoughts, and the fact that reflection should be a valuable learning process within CAS, I propose here some questions for IB CAS learners and teacher mentors that will hopefully help to spark a process of reflection that feels less stale, monotonous and forced. The questions are based on the seven CAS learner outcomes that currently exist in the CAS Guide (IBO, 2013) and can be used at any stage of a student’s CAS journey across the two years of their Diploma Programme. I would argue that predetermined outcomes do actually stifle the potential of CAS to be a personalised journey of inquiry, but that is another article in the making! What we need now however is to be able to help students to see reflection as a stimulating and enjoyable process, and to make CAS something tangible and meaningful for them. At the same time, we also need to support each other as teachers involved with IB students by sharing ideas and resources; if we all remain within our bubbles, we will suffocate and despair! My suggested questions to guide reflection are to be found below; they are written from the perspective of the student, but could easily be posed by someone else.

Reflection on Learner Outcomes: Suggested Questions for Individual and Group Reflection

The following questions related to the CAS learner outcomes act as a guide for meaningful individual and group reflection on CAS engagement.

Identify own strengths and develop areas for growth

  • What have I found easy and / or difficult so far?
  • What skills and abilities have I been able to offer that have been helpful and / or useful to others?
  • How have I managed to apply and/or learn new skills?

Demonstrate that challenges have been undertaken, developing new skills in the process 

  • Where and when were there moments that challenged my previous convictions / beliefs / understandings?
  • Have I been taken out of my comfort zone in any way? How?
  • What was a particular personal challenge for me and how did I approach it and / or overcome it?

Demonstrate how to initiate and plan a CAS experience

  • Did I take initiative at any point? How did that work out?
  • Did I spend time planning for something and then carrying it out? Did this plan turn out according to my expectations?
  • Have I shown leadership in any way? How?

Show commitment and perseverance in CAS experiences

  • How have I shown that I am able to persist with something and not give up at the first hurdle?
  • How have I shown that I can be resilient?
  • How have I personally committed to something beyond the minimum that would be required of me?

Demonstrate the skills and recognise the benefits of working collaboratively

  • Can I give an example of how I worked with others in a team? (What was my goal? What were my roles? How did I work out who did what within that team?)
  • What did I learn from working with others?

Demonstrate engagement with issues of global significance

  • What global issues are connected to my CAS experiences? (suggested use of the UN goals as a guide)
  • How do my experiences link to the themes explored in my different subject areas?
  • How do any of my experiences relate to the concept of sustainability?
  • How can I continue to take responsible action as a result of what I have learnt about certain global issues

Recognise and consider the ethics of choices and actions 

  • Have there been any situations that have made me feel uncomfortable? How did I act and why?
  • Did I have to make any choices about how to behave? What did I decide to do and why?
  • To what extent do I consider the nature of my service learning experiences to be ethical? Why / why not?
  • Were there any times that I tried to act in a responsible way?
  • Did I make any effort to act in accordance with what I believe is right?

Whilst these questions may help somewhat to eradicate the sense of reflection as a meaningless, monotonous process, what really counts is that there is someone there to listen; learning without a listener is like cooking a meal without someone to eat it! Our role as teachers, mentors or advisors therefore is to listen, acknowledge, provoke and engage; without that human exchange, reflection may well just die a lonely death.

IBO. (2015). Creativity, activity, service guide. Cardiff: International Baccalauerate Organisation.





Alright Stop! Collaborate and Listen….

Vanilla Ice was right. That’s what we all need to do.

One of the things that we like to talk about a lot in schools is collaboration. Team work. It takes a village. The whole is greater than the sum of its parts and all that. Yet how often do we get to witness examples of what this really looks like on a daily basis? I am motivated to write a little something on this topic after having just returned from a high school music concert. It was the last one for our grade 12s, and so a rather special occasion. It felt like one. I am writing to share my thoughts with those of you that missed it. For those who like to talk about the importance of collaboration and who try to make sense of what that means in practice, but who don’t get to see the wonder of it going on right in front of us.

Making music is one of the most powerful collaborative learning experiences that there is. When you play as a group, a double act or in an ensemble, you are dependent on the others around you, and they are dependent on you. There is no room for ego or flying solo. There is no room for a momentary lapse. The music – making happens in the here and now, no faking it, no holding back. I often wonder at the capacity for human beings to be able to work wonders when we get ourselves together, and this concert was testament to that. Witnessing the catching of an eye, the changing of a tempo, a nod of the head, a smile; all of these make music-making unique. Who knew that the youths of today would choose to pay homage to some classic tunes from their teachers’ teenage years and that they would dress in outfits that look like something from a 90s episode of ‘Top of the Pops’? Who knew that a bunch of unassuming young people could entertain an audience for almost two and a half hours with their eclectic musical tastes?

I did know it actually, because I have been part of and witness to the efforts of music students for a number of years now. I have seen what music – making can do for those who choose it and stick with it. I have seen the different characters come together and find their own personal niche. I have seen how young people transform over the years, leaving school as a different self. Making music is really a gift that should be treasured. There is nowhere else where collaboration has a truer meaning. Come along next time. Take a peek into that world; better still, be part of it!

Feeling good about doing good

Walking through Heathrow airport towards the train into London, a woman heading in the opposite direction with an Australian accent and a large luggage trolley stopped me and asked me whether I was here on holiday or coming home. Whilst I felt in a bit of a rush to get the train, and my first reaction was to be a bit bothered by this intrusion, I immediately chastised myself for feeling this way as she reached into her pocket and offered me a still valid ticket for the hop-on, hop-off bus in London. She told me that she had wanted to find someone to give it to and would be glad if I would take it and use it. Even though I already knew in that moment that I wouldn’t need it, as I was heading straight to Cambridge for a conference, I took it and thanked her warmly for having been so generous and kind. Why I did that I only considered once I was sat on the train. I had wanted to make the woman feel good about having done something good. If I had been in her position, I would have also wanted to pass on this ticket and not let it go to waste. I would have also wanted to have felt good about having done something good. With the said ticket in my pocket, destined to fail in serving its intended purpose of letting someone ride around London taking in the sights, I felt compelled to pass it on as well. Standing on the platform, I sized up a few people and asked two different men who I had thought were on their own and might have looked like tourists. They turned out not to be, but were thankful all the same for my offer. Once inside the train, I spent a few minutes working out whether the woman sitting next to me might be a tourist, and, after having seen her suitcase and caught sight of her texting in English (hence she would understand me and not think me some crazy woman who was offering something incomprehensible, both linguistically and culturally), I offered it to her. She told me that she was actually here on business, but that she had no plans for the next day, and would be glad to take the ticket. Maybe that was true, but maybe she also just wanted to make me feel good in having done some good. If she had rejected it, she would have had to sit next to me for the next ten minutes having rejected my kindness. Who knows what actually happened, and whether the ticket got to fulfil its destiny. What I do know however, is that people can be strangely lovely, and it is moments like these that make me feel good to be human. It’s good to feel good about doing good.

Reflections on Youth Forum Switzerland 2019: Sustainability through Sustaining our Ability to Care

Since having experienced the student-led YFS event in my own school that simply blew me away in terms of its sheer professionalism, slickness and magnitude, I have been pondering on some of the biggest takeaways for me and what they now mean for our school community. Some things have certainly stuck with me and I feel that I would like to be able to articulate what they are so that we can look forward and consider what comes next. In my role as experiential learning coordinator, I see it as my duty to help students and teachers to come to terms with what just happened and to translate words into actions. We need to find an approach to everything we do that underpins the beliefs and hopes that we have seen emerging. How does the current, overwhelming sense of hope and anticipation for change become a reality? What does sustainability mean in our context? Is ‘sustainability’ the term that we are looking for, or should we be talking about a framework for global citizenship perhaps, where sustainability is just a part of a wider approach to our learning? How are we sustaining our ability to act as changemakers? I will try to answer these questions by focusing on some key words and messages from YFS 2019 and then conclude with a proposed framework for our pedagogy that could well offer some guidelines for ethical, collaborative, sustainable practice.

2.We need to get angry!

To get to a point where we feel motivated to change something, we need to have experienced a feeling of anger about it. Feeling angry means that we have recognised an area of injustice and we are moved by both our emotions and our reason to address it. Indeed, Oxfam recognised some time ago that a global citizen is ‘outraged by social injustice’ (Oxfam, 2006) and it is this outrage that can take us beyond a more passive stance of recognition and understanding to a more determined active stance. There was talk at YFS about young people becoming involved in democracy and feeling that their voices are heard, so yes, if we want our students to become more political, we have to enable them to discuss, engage and participate. Our role as teachers in this is to facilitate and support a space that is both safe and brave (Cook-Sather, 2016); if students are going to take risks, then they need to feel that they are in an environment that supports them in doing so. Debate, critique and dialogue with people with opposing opinions is a good thing, and we could all learn a little about what it means to experience this and get through the other side without judgement. As Trevor Downham from Genesis in South Africa said in his talk at YFS, “feeling glad, sad or bad is not enough; you need to get mad!” This is indeed something to consider when we think about the purpose and future of our exposure to and engagement with other communities through our service learning, both locally and internationally.

2. We should strive to be significant rather than successful

I wonder what this means to us? If we aim to be significant human beings rather than successful ones, what does this look like in terms of our own behaviours and actions? In hearing Trevor from Genesis South Africa speaking in the same session at YFS where he mentioned anger, his comparison between significance and success also made me think. In our world, we tend to judge ourselves and others in terms of our success if we have a well-paid job, a nice place to live and if we have managed to secure positions or achievements that we or society has placed upon us. Do we, however, ever stop to think about our own success in terms of the effect that we may have had on other people? Is success ever measured in kindness, patience or love? If we begin to think of our own personal behaviours and attributes and how we apply them in interpersonal circumstances, we may just begin to understand the idea of what being significant looks like, rather than measuring what we do in terms of success. If, like Trevor, we witness an individual dying of AIDS, and that moment is the one that changes everything we do and try to do, we may just be in a position to understand what significance looks like. I would say that as teachers, students and simply as human beings, this shift in our thinking could help us to address those same injustices that we might be acting against as a result of our anger.

3.Authentic student voice means authentic participation

In talking about youth and democracy, a grade 9 student advocated for the fact that it was time for young people to speak out and stand up for what they believe in. I am not sure that many people would argue with that; we have all seen what can happen when young people do not make it out to the polling stations. Yet I sat in the session entitled ‘Democracy is Fragile’ wondering whether there is a tendency to talk only about polling stations when we are talking about youth, voice and democracy. If there is indeed a need to encourage more young people to become more politically active and to use their voices, then surely there is a need for them to learn what democratic participation looks like. If we think about our general school practices, to what extent are we creating conditions for authentic student voice? Are we in danger, for example, of having a student council and claiming that this is our effort at incorporating student voice? To what extent could our efforts be said to be ‘tokenistic’ or ‘manipulative’, (Hart, 1992) suiting a very much adult-led agenda? Should we be having students involved in different committees or teacher working-groups, such as grade level or curricular teams or professional learning communities (PLCs) ,or could we have students sitting on a council representing different areas of the school, for example fundraising or PDWs? In addition, if participation is also about co-creation, to what extent do we allow student ownership of the way that our units evolve? If we were to take an inquiry-led approach that began with student assessment of what could be interesting or meaningful to them, or where there could be an authentic need in the community (this would be a service learning cycle of inquiry, Berger Kaye, 2010), then students would very much be able to experience what partnership looks like. I am sure that nobody would agree that students are merely vessels to be filled with information (Freire, 1970), but rather that they are individuals with rights to participation (UN Convention on the rights of the child, article ….). Therefore, if we want to consider what democracy might look like for the young people under our care, then we could start by considering how our structures and curriculum provide spaces for collaboration and democratic participation. We cannot advocate for voice if we are not providing and encouraging it; cliched or not, it still rings true that practising what you preach is the best way to get people on board.

A framework for a Pedagogy of CARE

In order to move towards a more ethical practice of collaboration and participation, with a sense of social justice at its heart, my own practitioner (teacher) inquiry undertaken just recently with a group of students led me to develop a proposed pedagogical framework of principles and attributes. Before YFS came into being, a group of seven grade 11 students, named ‘Team Change Makers’ worked together with me on a collaborative CAS project that saw us researching the topic of service learning and how it could be more ethical and meaningful in our school. As a result of our research and inquiry, and the implications that it could have for practice in our school and beyond, the ‘Pedagogy of CARE’ came about. In light of the thoughts about YFS above, I will give an overview of the principles and attributes of the framework here, including some food for thought about ways forward for our school.

The word CARE serves as acronym for four principles (consciousness, action, responsibility and experimentation) and four learner attributes (conscious, active, responsible and experimental). The principles are the values themselves and the attributes are these values in action. The principles and attributes are all intentionally underpinned by the stance and the act of caring, hence the intentional use of the acronym CARE. They all interact and connect with one another to form a complex, non-linear, non-hierarchical framework, which I envision as a pyramid model as shown below (figure 1).

pyramid model
Figure 1: Pyramid Model for a Pedagogy of CARE
In the model, each principle is joined by each attribute on each face, showing that it is possible to combine them all with each other e.g. one could engage in a practice of experimental responsibility or conscious action.

The following short descriptions give a very brief overview of the principles and attributes that belong to the framework, and make links to what could be a more ethical and sustainable approach to our practice in school as a result of the YFS event that took place.

1.Consciousness / being conscious

This principle is about being critical and aware of the ourselves and the world around us, and through this criticality, we are moved beyond a passive state to an active one. We develop a sense of responsibility and feel driven to take risks and experiment.

The inclusion of this principle is inspired by Freire’s (1970) concept of conscientização, or ‘critical consciousness’; a dynamic process of action and critical reflection upon the world in order to transform it. Being conscious is about being engaged in an ongoing process of critical reflection that allows us to see ourselves as ‘historically formed creatures capable of learning and transformation’ (Stevenson, 2012, p. 148). It is about being aware of our place in the world and questioning the structures and systems within which we find ourselves.

If we want to be able to sustain our ability to be conscious after YFS, I suggest that we work towards a critical approach to our community partnerships, where we identify genuine, sustainable needs and reflect carefully on the power relationships between us and them.

2.Action / being active

The principle of action is about exercising agency with critical intent. Action is related to consciousness as described above, however it takes the learner beyond a mere process of critical reflection or ‘disposition of critical intent’ (Habermas, 1972; Kinsler, 2010) towards being able to exercise agency in a situation (Elliott, 2005). This agency is exercised through practice which is oriented towards an ideal.

A learner who is active goes through processes of inquiry that are geared towards fighting against the unjust practices or conditions that one uncovers through being critical. An active inquirer strives to bring about change and to achieve social justice through engaging in a practice that is in itself democratic. Being active is the process of becoming an engaged, doing subject rather than a passive object. In the process of action, we translate democratic values into democratic behaviour, and we are involved in ‘sensuous human activity’ (Bernstein, 1971, p. 11) or praxis.

If we want to be able to sustain our ability to be active after YFS, I suggest that we assess our own behaviours and look for opportunities to make direct and lasting change in collaboration with others. We should not rely on others to tell us what to do, rather take initiative and lead from the front.

3. Responsibility / being responsible

The principal of responsibility is about listening; it is an act of reciprocity and ‘mutual affection and care for one another’ (Fielding & Moss, 2011, p. 48). Responsible practice is a ‘person-centred’ education (Fielding, 2011; Fielding & Moss, 2011) that is about the relationship between person and community.

A responsible teacher or adult listens to students and facilitates their voices being heard, guiding them in the process by being open, honest and flexible. A responsible school leadership team listens to the voices of teachers and responsible students listen to each other. Responsibility is also about respect, mutual understanding and an appreciation of individual subjectivities and perspectives; it is a two-way, reciprocal process.

If we want to be able to sustain our ability to be responsible after YFS, we need to evaluate our own relationships with other people in and beyond our school community and to ensure that we are providing for opportunities that allow for different voices to be heard. We also need to consider cultivating a sense of both environmental and social responsibility through being conscious and active.

4. Experimentation/ being experimental

Experimentation is when teachers and students, as co-inquirers and co-learners, are willing to think differently, to take risks and to try out new ways of doing things. It is also about a willingness to be resilient in the face of the consequences of our actions.

An experimental learner is willing to put oneself up for scrutiny and to open oneself up to both critical self-reflection and to critique from others. If this critique is also complimented by responsible practice, then there can be no danger of it being damaging or harmful.

If we want to be able to sustain our ability to be experimental after YFS, we need to continue to look for opportunities where we engage in critical dialogue with each other, even if this might mean that we come up against conflicting viewpoints. By first creating safe spaces where relational dialogue can involve problem-posing and critical self-reflection, we can ensure that brave spaces can also become part of our practice.


In conclusion, I propose that we see such an awe-inspiring event as YFS as a springboard to action, and that we continue to drive the cog wheels of momentum as much as we can. The key to making anything meaningful is this momentum and an investment in its sustainable nature. As I see it, caring is at the heart of ethical learning, hence the ‘Pedagogy of CARE’ outlined here. As teachers, we may begin from a stance of caring through personal experiences or emotions, and we want our students to experience and feel something similar. We may care about our students, education or certain social injustices, and we work towards sharing our passion with others. Ultimately, caring is the beginning, middle and end of an ethical teaching and learning practice, and, indeed, a human existence. Is this what Trevor meant have meant by being significant? I would like to think that it does.


Bernstein, R. J. (1971). Praxis and action: Contemporary philosophies of human activity. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Cook-Sather, A. (2016). Creating Brave Spaces within and through Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnerships. Teaching and Learning Together in Higher Education, Spring 2016(18).

Fielding, M., & Moss, P. (2011). Radical education and the common school: a democratic alternative. Abingdon: Routledge.

Freire, P. (1970). Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Seabury.

Habermas, J. (1972). Knowledge and human interests. London: Heinemann.

Kinsler, K. (2010). The utility of educational action research for emancipatory change. Action Research, 8(2), 171-189.

Oxfam (2006) Education for Global Citizenship – A Guide for schools. Oxford: Oxfam GB



Caring about education: An international high school teacher’s manifesto

Having just been through the highly emotionally charged process of defending my educational beliefs and research approach through my initiation ceremony (viva) into the world of educational academia, I feel brave enough to put this text out there. It forms the concluding chapter of my thesis, intending to portray my current thoughts and stance on education as a result of the practitioner inquiry that I undertook. I take my lead from the style of a ‘manifesto’ or Dewey’s ‘Pedagogic Creed’ (Dewey, 2013), where my writing is seen as a call to action.

For me, being heard and listening are vital to an education system that I dream of. Ultimately, when one cares about something, one wants to speak. When one cares about the person speaking, one listens. What follows is therefore my own manifesto for education. It is written from my own perspective as a teacher-researcher in an international school, calling upon others in the same situation to join me in my thinking. It is my voice, but, as I belong to a community of teachers, it is written to express what ‘I feel ‘we’, as a community need. It is not written in order to influence a political election campaign, but to interest anyone concerned with what an alternative education system could look like. You don’t have to be a dreamer like me to consider it worthy, but, having read the rest of this thesis (which my examiners had), you can hopefully understand where it comes from.

The Teacher

We need to listen to our students. We can all achieve things for ourselves, but if nobody is listening to us, there can seem no point. It is our job as teachers to listen to the students and to give them the opportunity to be heard. This does not mean that we simply ‘appear’ to be listening, but we act on what we hear, and show the students what happens to their opinions.

We need to listen to each other. A school is not a playground where different cliques play off against one another. It is a place where our colleagues are valued for the contribution that they can make. We may not always agree with what others care about or are trying to achieve, but we respect each other in the process, and allow voices to be heard. We do not see each other as competitors, but as fellow humans with values similar or different to our own. We all have a shared goal of believing in the power of education and we all play our part in our community in our own way.

We need to see ourselves as learners. We should not pretend that we are owners of knowledge and that we have something ‘finished’ or ‘complete’ to deliver. We should be open and honest about ourselves as inquirers and we should present ourselves in this way to our students and colleagues. There is no room for ego. We are not in the teaching profession so that we can wield our power over others and speak the loudest, drowning out others’ voices.

We need to see ourselves as mentors. We are not deliverers of knowledge or merely facilitators of learning. As teachers, we are mentors, role models and guides for our students. We are guardians of learning, able to recognise the potential of our students and to draw on what they are capable of.

The School

We need a school that listens to us. This means that those in power should not see themselves as untouchable, all-knowing individuals who are above others in the school community. There should be no holding on to power for fear of being exposed. Every person in the school community should feel that there is a way of contributing to a discussion or a decision, even if they are not the ones who speak the loudest or whose face fits.

We need a school that listens to our students. When individual teachers listen to our students, this is not enough; we need others in the school community to do the same. Leadership in a school should not be a ‘top-down’ approach, but rather one that commits to engaging with students in genuine, ongoing and trustworthy relationship. Decisions should not be made on the whims of people in power who sit hidden away in offices, but by informed professionals who have reached out to the student body to hear what they feel and want.

We need a school that lives out its own values. We need to believe in our school. We need to know and understand the values of the school we work in and see them as part of everyday school life. We need to see ourselves as part of a school community and not lone, isolated voices. If our school does not respect its own values, then we will not respect them, and in turn the students will not respect them either.

We need a school that is not afraid of change. Holding onto policies and guidelines just because time was invested in them is not a successful way to work. Times change, people change, the world changes. A school is not an institution that is set in stone, but a moving, growing, ever-changing place of learning.

We need a school that values inquiry. High school teachers are so caught up in the demands of their subject area (s) that there is no time or opportunity for them to realise that teaching is a process of inquiry. Teachers should not inquire for the sake of it, as a result of someone else’s agenda or fad, but they should be given the opportunity to plan for inquiry if this is what they desire. They may not know they desire it however if the school does not encourage and support it. As long as a school ultimately views teachers as being accountable for grades, and not for the learning processes that go on in and outside the classrooms, then there can be no hope for teachers in the role of inquirers.

The Community Partners

We need reciprocal relationships with local and international communities. We have something to offer others and they have something to offer us. We need our school to be less of an island and see it as part of a local and global community. This means that we need to reach out to others and establish relationships with them. These relationships need to be built upon mutual understanding and respect, and not seen as a one – way learning opportunity.

We need to understand the historical, situational and political nature of ourselves in relation to other communities. We need to address the nature of ourselves in relation to others and consider the role that we may play in keeping the status quo. We must look beyond dehumanising discourses and allow authentic, indigenous voices to be heard.

The Research Community

We need to listen to the research community. We should not be afraid of research. It should not be put on a pedestal as something alien. There should not be a fear of ‘academic’ knowledge as something only accessible to those working in universities. We should open ourselves up to educational research and welcome and encourage it. ‘Theory’ is not an ugly word. ‘Academics’ should be invited to work with teachers on their professional development, and should be seen as learning partners for teachers. Our schools should support access to literature and give us time engage in discussions informed by it.

We need a research community that listens to us. We should be respected as professionals with experience in our field, and as people that are willing to learn. Our practice as teachers, our in-situ experiences, and our capacities as learners should be acknowledged and celebrated. We have knowledge of education that people who are not teachers do not possess. We should be made to feel empowered by this knowledge and welcomed as professionals. The educational research community should work with us on our agenda and not only theirs.

The Student

We need active, questioning students. We do not want our schools to churn out students who will simply succumb to being part of the capitalist economy. We want students to question the structures that they are part of and make those in power accountable for what they do. Rather than students expecting to be told what to do, they should be given the opportunity to figure out for themselves what should be done.

We need students who are informed. We are all entitled to our own opinions, but they are most effective when backed up by knowledge. Students need to know how they can support their opinions by evidence. This means that they learn how to consult or involve others through the process of inquiry. Bringing this kind of knowledge to the table strengthens their voice and helps them to developed informed perspectives and opinions.

We need students who feel empowered. We want students to believe in the strength and weight of their voices. School should provide students with the capability to contribute to society and make changes.

We need students who are not afraid to fail. Taking risks is an exciting part of life. We want students to feel their own hearts beating in trepidation and adrenalin as they embark on something new. A risk is such because success is not always guaranteed.  If success is seen in the risk taking itself, then one does not set oneself up to fail. Life is about ups and downs, and students need to recognise and accept this.

We need students who are allowed to dream. The future is never certain for anyone, but we want to feel that we are able to dream of one for ourselves and others. If our students are not encouraged to imagine what might be possible, then they their creativity is cut short. Imagination is part of living, and it is something that keeps us going in the face of adversity. If we let students dream, possibilities are opened up, and hope emerges in place of fear and anxiety. Students should not be afraid of pursuing their dreams, and we should support and encourage them in finding out what they are and how they could be achieved.

These principles are, in my opinion, how I imagine education to be; they are the manifestation of my educational imaginings and what I have come to learn through this inquiry. Such an education system is where one is listened to, whether as a teacher or as a student. What one cares about is respected and validated by others. It is a system where being professional is about being informed, and being informed is what makes us professional. It is a system where hierarchies are dissolved and relationships are at the forefront. It is a system that both starts and ends with caring.


Dewey, J. (2013). My Pedagogic Creed. In D. J. Flinders & S. J. Thornton (Eds.), The Curriculum Studies Reader (4 ed., pp. 33-40). New York, NY: Routledge.




Remembering the good stuff

As I return home from my fourth full school day after my year’s sabbatical writing my thesis, I have now finally remembered what the good stuff in education looks like. I am more than relieved to say the least. I was beginning to lose hope just a little.

The first week back at school, before lessons started, had involved so much talking and administration that I almost ran for the hills on a couple of occasions. After a year of freedom and so much time to read, reflect and write about education, was doing it going to be how I imagined it, or at least how I have come to imagine that it could be? Were the hopes and dreams that I discovered, nurtured and developed throughout the writing of my thesis going to simply disappear into thin air, never to be seen or heard of again? Was I going to be disappointed that the reality of school and classroom teaching would not look the same as the imaginings that I have had over this year? Was there a place for democracy and student voice? Would it be realistic to believe that spaces could be created where students could be both safe and brave? What I will tell you is that I have found my groove again and I have been reminded why I love this job so much. The reason for its rediscovery has been, unsurprisingly, due to the students.

One of my roles at school, alongside being a German teacher, is to coordinate service learning; a form of experiential learning through engagement in a service partnership with a local community (Annette, 2015). This week, as an introduction to service learning, I have presented to the students in my high school about what I understand to be the good stuff in education; the opportunities that are given to us to learn by doing, to come to know who we are and what we can contribute, and to work with others for the good of others. What is interesting is that I never quite know how much the students have taken in until they begin to approach me with their own ideas for group projects and initiatives within the school. There was one specific moment this week however when I did understand that something had resonated with someone, and it made me truly fall in love with my job again. I will mention this moment here.

After one of my presentations about service learning, three boys came to talk to me about their idea for a collaborative student project. They talked about how they think there is a need for a space where boys can get together and feel comfortable creating more emotional and supportive bonds with one another, as this is something that does not happen in regular classroom settings and within the culture of a school. This idea was genuine and it came from the hearts of three students who were brave enough to suggest leading something that they cared about. I was moved. These boys had understood and responded to my emphasis on choice, voice and individuality, and that all of us are different, yet we all have something to give. They had understood that there was a potential learning space for them that was at the same time ‘safe’ and ‘brave’ (Cook-Sather, 2016); they would be supported in their own individual choices by me and in doing so, they would in fact be being pretty damn courageous.

Reflecting on this moment, I had to write it down. I am on my own learning journey all of the time, and this year I have certainly learnt how writing about practice is such a powerful way to shape and change it. Recognising this moment as significant has certainly helped to reignite the hope that I have felt whilst being out of the classroom for a year. The hope that we can be ethical in a practice that starts and ends with caring. The hope that we can encourage and nurture student voice and choice. The hope, ultimately, that we can inspire students to be brave by letting them know that they are safe in doing so.


Annette, J. (2002). Service Learning in an International Context. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, Winter 2002 (VIII)

Cook-Sather, A. (2016). Creating Brave Spaces within and through Student-Faculty Pedagogical Partnerships. Teaching and Learning Together, Higher Education, Spring 2016(18).