Friday, 30 December 2016

How to Make a Cup of Coffee

This blog has been devoted to learning, however, this is just too important not to share. It could be considered a science lesson perhaps. Key concepts such as change, perspective or function could drive the inquiry. ATL clusters such as self-management and social skills could be taught, but the real motivation is to pass on something very special. Most of the following was taught to me by Grandmaster Kevin, of Xi'an community fame.

The Beans

Firstly, the beans. You need to find beans that have been recently roasted. Beans roasted within the past three days are ideal. Stay away from what the big names call dark roast. This means burnt beans. You are looking for the likes of the beans below, brown in colour with that yellow line down the split. Big chains will be using beans that could have been roasted a month ago, or longer! Now that you have your beans, you need to take out your tools: a coffee grinder, electronic scales, paper filters, funnel and jug. A small investment in the best cup of coffee ever!
Beans courtesy of TN Coffee Roasting Factory Xi'an

The Ratio

A ratio of 16:1 of water to beans is ideal. When you take into consideration the water that gets trapped in the beans, this should be increased to 18:1. On your scales, measure out your beans. 35 grammes of beans makes two mugs of coffee. If you use 35g of beans, then you need to measure out and boil 630 grammes of water (35x18). The water temperature should be 93 degrees. Experts such as Grandmaster Kevin use a thermometer to measure the water, but if you leave your electric kettle to cool down for a minute after boiling, this will suffice. 
Measuring the beans to water ratio

The Pour

It is important to rinse your filter paper before putting in the coffee. This washes out the paper taste. If you doubt this makes a difference, try it and then take a sip of the water! After you put in your beans, you may do, "the first pour". Cover the coffee evenly with a very thin layer of water and then stop. This allows the carbon dioxide to leave the beans. The resulting shape of the beans is known as, "the first bloom" as it will look...beautiful. After the water has drained, continue to pour the remaining water over the beans, slowly and evenly, pausing to allow it to drain through. Stop when the measurement of water runs out. 
The early bloom from the first pour over
Now, pour the coffee from the jug intermittently between the two cups. This ensures an even distribution of the coffee. Finally, enjoy and, believe me, it is worth it!
The drip

Saturday, 26 November 2016

PYP Authorisation

This past year has been a great learning experience for me. One of the highlights of the year came on Saturday the 10th of June when our principal sent out a message saying that we had become an authorised IB PYP school. This was something that our primary team had been working towards for years and something I became very much invested in when I became PYP coordinator. In this blog post I would like to share some of the learning in this journey, in order to hopefully help other schools work towards their verification visit.

The Standards

As you prepare for authorisation it is important to be very clear about which standards the visiting team members will be measuring your school on. There are about 111 standards and practices in the PYP. Each of these standards must be addressed in your self-study report but not in a school's initial authorisation. There are about 30 standards to be met for authorisation. It is of the utmost importance that the pedagogical leadership team and at least the PYP coordinator (PYPC) clearly understands what these 30 or so standards are. This information may be clearly found in the document, "Guide to school authorization: Primary Years Programme (2010)". Knowing exactly what these standards are make the process much clearer and much more easily attainable.

The PYP Guide to school authorisation shows standards that must be in place.
The Consultant

A PYP candidate school is provided a consultant from the IB. The experience of this person is a big factor in the success of the authorisation process. Fortunately for us an extremely knowledgeable, caring and experienced lady by the name of Di Fisk became our consultant. She was one of the main reasons behind the success of our program. Other important factors are: the commitment of teachers to the program, support of the pedagogical leadership team and the organisational and communication skills for the PYPC. The consultant communicates with the school via an online portal called Basecamp and through Skype. I would strongly advise the PYPC to communicate with the consultant as much as possible. This is your most valuable source of guidance.

The Consultancy Visit

As part of your consultancy process there is a visit. This serves as a chance for the consultant to see first hand what stage the school is at and to provide the school with a detailed report. It is also a chance for the school to have a practice visit in order to prepare for the real one. Your consultant would also be a visiting team member (though of course not for your school) so this is a good chance to plan as this were the real thing. Some useful tips are to personally pick up the consultant at the airport, provide a car and driver for him/her to and from a nice hotel, as near to the school as possible. A nice meal at the end of the visit and parting gift is always a nice touch. This would not be appropriate for the official visit but it is important for a young school to spend as much time as possible with the consultant as they should be a font of PYP knowledge for you. Remember this person has a good relationship with the IB and it is a small community! At the end of the visit the consultant will provide the school with a "traffic light report". This will show you the standards you are meeting, are not meeting and the ones that are in progress. The standards you are not meeting must be addressed immediately, and well before the verification visit.

The traffic light report shows standards that were not in place.

School Leadership

It is of the utmost importance that the school leadership is on board. Some standards that will show this are standards B1, B2 and C1. One immediate way to know if the leadership is on board is whether Standard C1.2 is a priority. Collaboration meetings should be timetabled throughout the week. An agenda for these meetings should be kept and be saved for the visit team. It is obvious from the class timetables as to whether the school leadership prioritises collaboration or not. In 2014 I wrote my thesis on PLCs and found that meetings after school are not nearly as effective as meetings timetabled during the day.
Sample agenda for the visit.
The Verification Visit

The visit is a two day event, when two IB educators come out to see if you are meeting the standards. There are a lot of documents that need to be uploaded to a site called IB DOCS prior to the visit. Ensure these documents are filled in accurately and thoroughly. Have a room prepared with hard copies of any requested documents prepared. I would also advise appropriate snacks and drinks to be prepared in the room. Ensure that the interviews with key stake holders such as the Head of School, parents, students and teachers have been carefully planned. Expectations should be clearly explained. A very important part of preparing for the visit is to have regular information sessions for parents like the ones I blogged about here.

Best of luck on your journey. It is a great learning experience!


IBO, 2010, Guide to school authorization: Primary Years Programme, Cardiff.

Lalor & Abawi (2014) Professional learning communities enhancing teacher experiences in international schools, International Journal of Pedagogies and Learning, 9:1, 76-86, DOI: 10.1080/18334105.2014.11082021 

Wednesday, 23 November 2016

Parents Learning the PYP

One of this things I love about the PYP is the emphasis on community learning. Personally I am continually developing in my understanding of the program and am fortunate enough to be in a place now where I can pass on what I know to others. The teachers in my school are learning all the time and sometimes when I see the lessons they do I am blown away. In the past two weeks I have seen lessons varying from students dissecting organs to a music provocation where classes visited an organ being installed in a concert hall. It should go without saying that the students are learning, but this blog post is to share the success of the learning journey our parents have been on.

I remember when I took my first PYP coordinator job a couple of years back. We were in the process of authorization and our incredible consultant Di Fisk advised us to create a newsletter and to schedule regular parent information sessions. We got to work and I did what I knew to do, created lovely presentations and presented to parents about the history of the program and used the resources available from the Digital Toolkit. These were a wonderful resource!

Later after I had been to my second workshop the penny finally dropped that the work shop leaders were modelling how to teach in the classroom. And, I can tell you I have studied under some of the best of them. A shout out to Kathy & Kathy! It was during their PYPC workshop that they explicitly told us we could use their strategies in our classes and staff meetings. I immediately started to change my staff meetings to be more collaborative but it was not until later that it carried over to my parent information sessions. 

Over the past couple of years I have led parent coffee mornings on the five essential elements, concept based curriculum, ATLs and assessment to name a few. My own learning and development can be clearly seen in the way these meetings played out, from that first presentation in the auditorium to the most recent workshop on the five essential elements. During this session I started with the provocation, "What do you want your child to learn?" I had the parents share this in groups and provided large sheets of paper and pens for them to draw with. I told them that afterwards they would need to present in any language or in any form. I did not get any singers yet!
Their combined responses, some of which are below blew my mind. From those early days when parents were asking me for more homework and if there was a textbook they could photocopy:) to this, the development is incredible. Themes like: "learning how to learn", "appreciation of art" & "care for the environment", really showed me that we are starting to get it. Not that they are starting to get it, that we are starting to get it. I am so proud of my students:)

So here is a suggested way to plan a parents coffee morning. Send out the invitation to all parents and ask for RSVPs. Also ask them that if they have any questions about the programme to include them. I have had turnouts of 2/3 parents so DO NOT LET THAT DETER YOU! The numbers will grow over the years you invest in your community. Have the tables set in groups as a class would be and have large sheets of paper and markers on each table. I start the meeting at 9:00 am but tell parent they are welcome for coffee anytime after 8:30. During this time you can chat and it is very interesting what comes up. Any principal will know how valuable this is;)
For the first few minutes I sound like a salesman for the PYP and I joke about that, as I introduce the 5 essential elements or whatever the theme is. After that I have a provocation. During this meeting I asked parents the question, "What do you want your child to learn?" Then give as much time as is necessary for parents in groups to share their thoughts and write them down. If you are in a school with a large number of parents who do not speak the language of instruction then have a translator at their table to help out. This last time, this part of the workshop was incredible and is what I mention above. Next I ask each group to present and reinforce their awesome points, like "We want our children to learn how to learn." I kid around too by going over to someone if they are talking and say sorry but which of our ATLs do you need to practice? The communication skill of listening. After this I do my teaching but always coming back to their ideas and connecting them to the theme of the workshop.

I cannot stress the fact that where we are at now did not happen over night. It has been two years. If I can be of any help getting your community going with the PYP don't hesitate to ask and.....keep learning!

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

IBPYP Category 2 Workshop – Teaching & Learning

This past week I participated in an in-school workshop called, Teaching and Learning. My school chose this workshop because we were told it is a good one to do after the Category 1 workshop, Making the PYP Happen. We invited an extremely knowledgeable workshop leader by then name of Sally Wen. The workshop was delivered bilingually, which was highly beneficial in our context.

Sally modelled for us what a PYP classroom looks like. She shared a number of strategies for delivering dynamic lessons. Here I would like to share some of them with you:
Shapes for Grouping
1. The constant themes of the workshop were ‘grouping and regrouping’ & ‘learners socially constructing meaning’. As each participant came in the door on the first day they were asked to take one of the 25 coloured shapes on the first table. We were asked to get in groups according to our colour. (This also served as a covert way to take attendance.)
KWL Chart
2. A wonderwall was posted. This contained three columns: 'Know', 'Want to know' and 'I have learned'. Sally was able to see what we wanted to know after this activity and changed her plans accordingly. This was a good example of constructivism.

3. In order to bring the group back together we learned that holding up your hand was very effective. You then wait for everybody in the group to raise their hands. This reaches learners who are kinesthetic, audio and visual. You should not make eye contact when doing this.

4. We were asked to line up in different ways. An example of this was to line up silently according to your birth date. It is then easy to number off learners for the newt group activity. Other variations could be: height, years teaching or length of your hair.
Concentric Circles
5. We learned concentric circles. This is a good group activity that allows you to get a group to focus on four aspects. In out case the first circle was your name, then a learner profile attribute that best describes you, then what would make this workshop worthwhile and finally something about you that not many people know.

6. Another grouping strategy we learned was called, ‘Gourmet partners’. This is similar to clock partners but food is used instead of numbers. We would be asked to pair off with our ‘pizza partner’ for a pair activity. Sally always had us say thank you to our partners.

7. A differentiation strategy we learned was to change the colour and font or our slides. Key words are underlined. All of these strategies make it easier for non-mother tongue students to easily find the main message.
8. Sally also modelled questioning for us. This is a very important part of the PYP. Sally used an image of turtles in a fridge then asked us for our thoughts. She would skillfully ask questions to deepen and question our assumptions. Questions like: “Why do you think that?”, “Can you share what you are thinking right now?” and “Can you tell me some more?”. Paraphrase and then move on.
Tool Kit

There were a number of other topics covered during this training but in this post I am just sharing some of the inquiry strategies. The complet list is aboveI learned a lot!

Saturday, 10 September 2016

The Principal's Training Center

This summer I had one of my most epic learning experiences to date! I know that is quite a statement, but it was hands down the best professional development I have ever had. What was it I hear you say? The Principal’s Training Center. The courses are filled with the cream of the crop of educators from top international schools; the kind of people who want to give up a week or more of their summer holidays to learn. Oh, it was something else!

The Principal’s Training Center is an organisation that provides professional development geared at international school teachers, counsellors or leaders. In this blog post, I will be focusing on their principal’s training. In order to obtain their certificate in international school leadership, you need to complete a total of four courses. The courses should be selected from the following categories:

Category 1 - Take one of:
Category 2 - Take one of:
Category 3 - Take one of:
Category 4 - Take one of:

The course I took was Leadership and Team Dynamics. This year, as I was moving into my new role of primary principal, our incoming secondary principal, Daun Yorke, suggested we take the course together. This was an excellent idea and something I would advise any international school leadership team to do. It was an opportunity for Daun and I to get on the same page, get to know each other, plan our upcoming teacher orientation and learn about team dynamics together.

Photo courtesy of Twitter @tricia_mowat

The course was led by Chris Bowman. Chris was a principal at the age of 26 and has some incredible stories to tell. The techniques and experiences he shared have really helped me in my first year as principal. Just today, as a parent threatened me, I reached back into Chris’ bag of tools and got through the experience in a professional manner. I really cannot recommend this course enough.

Each day, there was a small group time as well! During this time, each participant got the opportunity to share a real life leadership problem. They would explain the problem to their group and then turn their chair around. The rest of the group then discussed the problem as though the person was not there. It was an incredibly valuable learning experience! And, what is said in the PTC, stays in the PTC!

The word on the course is that the lady who created and runs the organisation, Bamby Betts, only teaches the PTC 101 course in Miami. I hear this is very good. The others that I have heard highly recommended are PTC 301 and PTC 302. The courses take place over 7 days in London or Miami. They cost a small fortune of about 3000 USD, but are worth it.

Sunday, 5 June 2016

How to #pypchat

I love learning! About 3 years ago I was introduced to Twitter and its power as a professional development tool. I wrote this post about that time. It will get you started on Twitter if you are not on there yet. It also highlights the power of Twitter in education. If you are living in China you will need a VPN to access Twitter unless your school has an internet line to Hong Kong like this one.

Two years ago I started working in an IB World School. I immediately started connecting with IB educators around the world via Twitter. This supportive community accelerated my learning exponentially. About one year ago I stumbled upon #pypchat.

Twitter from a mobile device @brianlalor

#pypchat is a one hour discussion that is hosted every two weeks in different regions around the world. The Asia Pacific chat currently meets on Thursday evenings from 6:30 to 7:30pm Hong Kong time. Each week, has a different topic and educators in the region come together to collaborate and share best practices.

In order to follow the conversation you will need to search for the hash tag #pypchat. Having a hash tag is simply a means of grouping all of the tweets together so they may be easily followed. This tool TweetDeck is very helpful to use for Twitter chats because it can be set up to show the #pypchat tweets in one column. 

TweetDeck from @brianlalor

How it works:

At 6:30pm a moderator will start the event and ask everybody ''out there'' in cyberspace to introduce themselves. You must be following the #pypchat hash tag at this time in order to see the tweet or have your TweetDeck set up. I would advise this to be done well in advance. The moderator will then begin posting questions in order to stimulate discussion. An example would be: ''Q1. How do students at your school have input into the development of UOIs? #pypchat'' 

When answering a question it helps others following the conversation if you indicate which question you are answering. A possible answer to the above question would be, ''A1. Students, parents & teachers are invited to the PYPC's office to provide input #pypchat.'' Always remember to add the hash tag or nobody will see your answers, unless they are your followers.

#pypchat is very fast paced and there are often multiple conversations happening at the same time. It has been for me the best source of information on the PYP. Truly the more you give the more you get. We are all at different stages in our journey as inquiry teachers, but we all have something we can learn from one another. I hope this helps you get started.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Approaches to Learning in the EAL Classroom

This article highlights practices that address the development of ATL skills—communication and social—in an EAL lesson.

In our school context EAL (English as an additional language) refers to students who require support with the school’s language of instruction. We determine whether students need support in two ways. The first is through an exam called the W-APT. This exam measures a students listening, speaking, reading and writing proficiency at grade level.  The second way we determine if EAL support is required is through observation. Students are pulled-out of class for EAL lessons and the EAL teacher also pushes-in to classes to support the students learning. 

According to the IBO (2008), language development is a process of constructing meaning in which there are three phases: learning language, learning through language and learning about language. Cummings (1979) speaks of two phases of language development:  basic interpersonal communicative skills (BICS) and cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP). BICS is the social language a child needs to communicate with his/her peers and teachers. Students may function at this level within two years, in their second language. CALP is the phase when learning through language is taking place. Attaining this level can take up to seven years. It is the goal of our EAL department to help our students reach the BICS stage as quickly as possible so they can communicate in the classroom.

The lessons in question focused on the two social skills of group decision-making and cooperation. They also focused on the communication skills of listening and writing. At the start of the lessons the students were asked what they wondered about. All of these wonderings were pasted on our class wonder wall.  This is a living area of the classroom that changes regularly. According to Vygotsky (1978), in order for learners to move into a zone of proximal development where new learning can take place, prior knowledge needs to be taken into consideration. I have found that the wonder wall is a good way to determine students’ prior knowledge as well as determine their interests in order to motivate learning.

Wonder Wall

The students used their writing skills to document their wonderings. After this they used their group decision-making skills to decide which story they would write and how many of the wonderings could be incorporated. Some of the decision-making strategies we have been learning in class are listening, voting and playing scissors, stone, paper. In this context listening refers to, listening to the ideas of others then discussing them.

After deciding on the theme of the story students continued to use their group decision-making skills and their writing skills to plan their storyboard. A sample of a storyboard the students made for a story about the ocean may be seen below. It is encouraging to see them working in groups, using their communication and social skills, supporting each other to write the text.

Story Board

Finally a template is given to the students with space for a picture and with lines to write on. The students were supported to create a correct sentence and then draw a picture. After they had finished we traced the text and pictures with a black felt tip pen. The pages are then photocopied and bound. We read the finished book twice or three times in each lesson. This way students who may not be reading yet have the chance to learn the words off by heart and experience success when they take the book home to read.

By teaching the above mentioned ATLs in this manner students can be scaffolded to not only learn in the BICS area but also in the CALP area of learning about language. Students can be introduced to various linguistic genres such as narrative or argument at an early stage of their language development. By creating the books collaboratively I have found that students learn to cooperate and communicate. Parents have reiterated that students have brought the books home and read them confidently. Some students have described the production process to their parents in their mother tongue.


Cummins, J. 1979. “Cognitive/academic language proficiency, linguistic interdependence, the optimum age question and some other matters”. Working Papers on Bilingualism. Number 19. Pp 121–129.

International Baccalaureate Organization. 2008. “Learning in a language other than mother tongue in IB programmes”. Cardiff. Pp 4-5.

International Baccalaureate Organization. 2014. “Language and learning in IB programmes”. Cardiff.

Vygotsky, LS. 1978. Mind in Society: The Development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, Massachusetts. Harvard University Press.