Lessons Learned

Instructional Technology - International Education - Wellness

Category: Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) (page 1 of 2)

Virtual School Pedagogy – Oldies but Goodies

Note: My international school is just starting virtual school for the current school year so we are now just experiencing what many schools have been doing for most of the year. I posted the following to our Wellness blog.

I hung up my instructional technology hat a ways back so I can’t offer the latest tools, tips or techniques that many of our staff are using in their delivery of virtual learning. What I can offer are pedagogical strategies that have worked in the past and can definitely be supported through technology to enhance learning in virtual school.

Concept/Mind Maps

Concept/Mind maps help students make their thinking visible especially when representing connections between ideas, events, topics, etc. Concept maps also can be used as collaboration tools.

A wonderful way to use concept maps for virtual learning is to use an online provider like Mindmeister. Students can share their Mindmeister concept maps with you to provide access to their thinking especially for formative assessment of their understanding as the unit of study progresses. Here is a mind map template for essential questions that one teacher provided his students. Virtual collaboration is supported if you decide to partner students or place them in groups to work together to use mind maps for multiple purposes. Take a look a blog post describing how students used concept maps to answer the essential questions for their units of study at a couple schools.

Learning Activity Types via TPACK

Several American professors came together in 2010-11 to organize learning activity types (LAT) into nine subject areas supported by technology. They published articles about their efforts. Here is one. The provide research supported pedagogies in their Learning Activity Types website hosted at the College of William & Mary School of Education. They apply the TPACK construct for planning purposes. Look to access their website going to the left side menu to select from the nine learning activity type disciplines. The supporting technologies are from 2011 so adapt ones that still exist today and/or find the latest iteration or replacement tool that best supports each pedagogy. Image Source

Multimedia Essays (Media Mashups)

Writing essays is one of the most very valuable skills that we teach our students. But sometimes our students can benefit from an alternative learning experience and assessment that engages the full range of their ICL skills. We can differentiate and add complexity to the normal writing process by having students create multimedia essays where they “mash up” various sources of media to communicate their thinking. A William and Mary doctoral student at the time describes her work with multimedia essays in this podcast. Image Source

Personalized Learning System (PLS)

Students (and teachers) use technology to access information, to make meaning, to create and communicate their learning via a personalized set of resources for learning… a “go-to” 24/7 technology and information access toolkit – a Personal Learning System (PLS).

We guide our students to work as architects designing and maximizing their “learningflow” (think of the term workflow) while also engaging time management techniques to increase efficiency and purposeful productivity. Self-directed and growth minded students use devices, apps, Web tools and information sources putting themselves in charge of their learning. Here is a web resource describing what a Personal Learning System can look like along with a planning document for students to work with. Image Source

Sketchnoting (Visual Note-Taking)

Our students live in a media rich world. They think in images, video and sound while constantly making neural connections. The creation apps on phones, tablets and computers offer students pathways to draw, audio record, insert images/video and embed hyperlinks to information sources all in a very personalized way. This is where visual note-taking comes in. We can expand note-taking choices beyond just text recording into multiple modalities by guiding students to use mind maps, colors, shapes, images, digital grouping by dragging and dropping objects, and using connecting lines to record their thinking. Image Source

The Six Thinking Hats

Edward de Bono created this approach to decision-making and problem-solving that guides users to think in terms of types of thinking and perspective. We can apply them for individual and groups of students to use as they process information. Here is a helpful overview and a teacher’s application in her classroom. Image Source

Thinking Routines

In the book Making Thinking Visible, Ron Ritchhart, Mark Church, and Karin Morisson help readers understand the power of thinking routines to help students process big ideas to then make their thinking visible. Teachers routinely use the thinking routines in their regular face to face classes. One can also choose from a variety of technologies to also use them in virtual school. Here is a web resource that is dated in the supportive tools that one can use. However, the application of the routines is sound. If you are new to the routines, you can review an article by Ron Ritchhart and David Perkins entitled Making Thinking Visible. Also look to go through the Harvard Project Zero Thinking Routine Toolbox. Image Source


WebQuests are a natural pedagogy for virtual school because they’re already web-based. They connect inquiry and research skills to students working in teams using their communication skills to present their findings. WebQuests are online research expeditions built by teachers that put the students into roles to find information from selected sites and other resources as they attempt to solve a real problem and/or answer a question. The students working in teams analyze, curate and then use the information to create a learning product to demonstrate their understanding. WebQuests are NOT internet scavenger hunts with students just going through a list of links. True WebQuests have the students performing in the authentic roles of historians, economists, mathematicians, etc. The culminating project is usually a performance task in which the students present their findings while playing their roles or apply the learning to produce a product. Image Source


A big wellness connection for these pedagogies is that they engage students in PERMAH while exercising their Character Strengths. The process of creating definitely has students applying their strength of creativity within the pillars of Engagement and Accomplishment. Collaboration amplifies Relationships with students using their strengths of kindness, leadership and teamwork to name just a few character strength applications.

So how do we take these oldies but goody strategies and other current innovative and effective practices to spread them throughout our virtual school? One approach would be to form a virtual school design team at each division who become busy bees finding out what’s happening in virtual classrooms elaborating on ideas and making connections to new approaches. They then cross pollinate throughout the division and potentially between divisions. 😁

Album Cover Image Source

VS – Coming Out the Other Side

A Hybrid Approach

What will our world be like coming out the other side of the COVID-19 crisis? At every level from the planet as a whole to individual nations to communities to individuals, this is the question we are starting to ponder. At the moment we cannot really start to see the picture until we get some more data on the processes that nations might follow in trying to take the initial steps out of lockdown life. It looks like China will be our first model to learn from.

Looking specifically at education, what are the pathways forward first in reopening and then moving into sustainable delivery of services at the start of the next school year? An obvious adaptation is that schools must be prepared for a future of providing virtual schooling. This is something we bought into fully at HKIS when we reopened after SARS. Each year we would run a week of practice virtual school in which teachers moved their instructions and learning materials fully online.

Yet there is more to the picture than being either fully opened or virtual. There is an in-between hybrid approach that schools could be providing. Looking specifically at international schools in August, there is the possibility that some parents simply are not going to want the health of their children to be at risk by sending them to regular school, if schools do in fact open normally. There is also the case of families and staff who cannot return due to visa and/or lockdown restrictions.

So what does this mean? It could be that some international schools adapt to this stakeholder group by offering ongoing virtual school. Without going too in-depth on this, we need to look at the possibility for elementary schools, for example, to have at least one teacher at each grade level who would be the virtual school teacher. In discussing this with a colleague we concluded that it is just too much to expect teachers to manage their regular classes all day to then facilitate the learning of virtual students.

The specialists teachers from PE to the arts to the librarian also would be providing instruction. But there are not enough of them in my school for example to designate some of them as full-time virtual teachers. This challenge will need some thought. Perhaps some international schools might share virtual specialists?

Another hybrid possibility is with the students who are flourishing during virtual school who really benefit from having more control over place, pace and path which many identify with personalized learning. These self-reliant and independent students are also sometimes the more quiet students who find a voice in blended and virtual learning environments. Perhaps schools might offer a pathway for these students that involves virtual learning of core subjects with their coming to campus for the arts and PE classes, life skills and afterschool co-curricular learning opportunities.

Another angle on this hybrid model is that it gives schools the opportunity to offer more flexibility and a broader offering of services especially in the competitive world of international education. We are hearing stories of lower tiered international schools that have been cutting wages of staff leading to low morale and/or dealing with parent groups unhappy with their virtual school offerings. Those schools in a capitalist market should see fewer applications for the coming school year. The stronger schools that provide quality virtual school learning should find more demand for enrollment with the understanding that across the board the lower economy might decrease the overall size of the applicant pool. It will become a reality that some of the local parents will need to move their students to public schools. And there is also the case to be made that some of the lessor schools with lower tuition still might pick up some transfer students from the more established and higher cost competitors with cost being the primary driver for some parents.

Another possibility is that the schools that offer a dual track approach offer parents a choice when the potential threat of COVID-19 cases growing occurs. The parents with students in school could move their children into the virtual school track as the school remains open if they are not forced to close by the government.

Lots to think about and there are probably many other permutations as international school leaders look at how they will adapt and compete for students in the coming school year.

The Humanity of Schools

I was talking to a teacher who is moving on to a new international school next year. It is a school that also interested me in reading about their approach to teaching and learning. They call their teachers “designers” which is the term that I have used over the years in describing teachers as architects designing and facilitating learning.

I explained that I will be interested to learn how her school which opens in August will prepare for virtual school. Will they focus on the tools? Will they see pedagogy coming first to be supported by the right tools for the task? But mainly, will they see virtual school preparation being about designing ways to support and connect the humanity that is at the center of our school learning communities? I am intrigued to learn how a community of designers forming a new and vibrant school will respond to the possibility of school closure just as they are opening up for the first time.

We will see.

Not a Normal Start

Getting back to the question of what will things look like for international schools coming out the other side of the pandemic, I am thinking a great many of the stakeholders in schools will not be where they usually are energy-wise at the start of the new school year. The social and emotional toll of going through the loss of normalcy in teachers’ personal and professional lives cannot be ignored. The students and their parents will have gone through the process of changing roles and the fatigue of home isolation and seemingly never ending virtual school.  The emotional piggy banks for so many are low at this point with big questions of what summer travel will look like, if it takes place at all.

A parallel storage area of a sorts is our capacity to pump out adrenaline that so many have needed to call on again and again to work through the challenges of the moment during virtual school. I think of the medical practitioners who drained their energy banks and survived on the adrenaline and last vestiges of their hope and care for others. As we head into the fall and a new school year, our teachers and support staff will, I think, struggle to push through the weariness and fog of mental and emotional fatigue, if lockdowns continue and virtual school is in session.

With the possibility that summer travel could be curtailed due to travel bans, many might not be able to return to their home countries to be with their loved ones. They will also miss out on their normal summer recharging rituals (e.g. going to the beach cottage, attending baseball games, special summertime meals, etc.). The effect of so much loss will be deep.

This makes me feel that international school leaders need to take a very realistic look at their expectations for the start of the new school year. What comes to mind is the need for a huge focus on the normal class community building that occurs with the start of the school year. Emphasis needs to be placed on doing activities that are fun and energizing that help build bonds of connection between students and teachers. I can see the need for taking on fewer academic learning outcomes building in more time for students to work on tasks with depth that help build their confidence and connection with others.

A reality is that the coronavirus might return in full strength in the fall. With this in mind, we need to be very intentional about recharging everyone’s batteries which will probably be lower than normal coming in. A focus on wellness will need to be front and center going forward which can be supported by having a wellness focus group come together to design both short and long term small initiatives to help design a “wellness toolkit” for individuals, teams and the community. A main tool of the wellness toolbox can be creating and implementing personal wellness plans. The plans can be based on engaging the character strengths within the PERMAH pillars. Staff members could find partners to coach each other in following their wellness plans. A full menu of self-care strategies should be put together with some designated for the individual to provide for him/herself and others provided by the school (e.g., gym memberships, on campus yoga and fitness providers, flexible virtual teaching from home or school, ongoing personal wellness PD, etc). And of course there should be a focus on team wellness with support strategies in place.

An additional support effort can be offered by counselors in partnership with whoever manages the professional learning at one’s school. I can go on and on about “personalizing PD” away from the old sit and git one size fits all but I won’t as we covered it a few times in my old podcasts. The bottom line in wearing my instructional technology cap would be to design a useful needs assessment mechanism as in surveys to team meeting check ins by admin and counselors to having wellness partners taking each other’s “well-being temperatures” especially around mental health. From this data and that of individuals’ knowledge of Positive Psychology, a menu of learning and self-care opportunities could be developed for face to face and online truly personalized for individuals’ needs.

This preparation and ongoing efforts hopefully can delay and offset to some degree the eventual fatigue that we have seen arise these past few months of virtual school. I can see the normal week of PD for returning and new staff focusing less on curriculum and logistics and more on making time to get people together to have fun and to nurture our social connections. I also can definitely see a daily afternoon sporting event for interested players with cheering onlookers. Fun and light games like cornhole, bocce ball and  croquet along with beverages and food should become a mainstay way to end each day.

The need for frequent and transparent communication with parents and staff is more important than ever especially with low batteries and potentially declining morale. The parent communication is a given these days with schools activating their crisis management plans. Our leadership has one voice and has very clearly communicated messages to parents. Just the simple numbering of the emails is a value added protocol.

Staff will need to know where things stand with enrollment, travel restrictions and other factors that can affect their contracts. My experience in Israel during the first Gulf War, Saudi Arabia with a terrorist attack and again in Hong Kong during SARS was that the administrative team worked diligently to create and communicate contingency plans so that staff knew where things stood with their contracts and options.

Admin and staff obviously need to be on the same page with a feeling of trust and a realistic understanding of expectations balanced by individual needs of staff and their families. Flexibility and putting the humanity of the community first need to be the guiding mantra. The last thing a school community needs is a vacuum of information and rigidity which opens the door to rumors and an “us vs them” attitude. 🙁

Learning Support

I continue to be so impressed by the professionalism and dedication of the staff at my school. From the business office to the support staff to the teachers to administration, I find myself constantly pausing and being thankful that I get to work at such a wonderful school.

The same goes for our students who accepted the challenge of virtual school. They have grown their character strengths around being independent, problem solvers and hard working. Between the teachers and the students, a lot of wonderful teaching and learning has taken place. Our parents also have been incredible taking on new roles in their homes.

Yet we must face that our students are not learning as well as they would in face to face school. With many international schools having large EAL populations where English is not spoken at home, we must face this reality that at the start of the new school year many of the students will have lost ground not only in their language acquisition but probably in some of their subject areas as well as in their social development.

Coming out the other end of the pandemic, what will the start of the new school year look like regarding remediation to bring students up to where they would have been pre-pandemic? And how to balance these academic needs when I just wrote about the importance of SEL and community building? Thankfully I am not an administrator possibly trying to juggle these two outcomes… 🙂

A second factor to think about with international schools is that there will probably be a good amount of turnover of students changing schools. At least in my location, there have been schools that have excelled in providing virtual school while others have brought on the ire of their parents for supposedly not delivering the goods. Something tells me there will be some families trying to move up the hierarchy of schools especially knowing that virtual school could happen again in the coming year.

So how will stronger international schools needing to keep their enrollment up handle the possible influx of students coming from schools with lesser programs. In speaking to a colleague, one approach would be to possibly have summer school that offers language and other subject learning remediation for new students. This is predicated on the hope that summer school can be taught face to face. If not, we know that virtual schooling cannot match the learning in regular school so a virtual summer bridge program would be limited in its viability.

An additional approach would be to offer EAL standalone homerooms in the elementary division. Our current approach is to mainstream all students with one EAL teacher at each grade level for push in and some pullout support. But if some schools are bringing in students at lower English levels than they might normally accept, they might need to adapt their program to provide intensive English learning provided by an EAL trained homeroom teacher at each grade level possibly with the additional support of a dedicated EAL specialist.

As I know very little about the field of language learning, I am doing my usual throwing out a bunch of ideas to think about. 🙂 I would be very interested to hear from administrators and EAL staff as to how they would develop a hybrid program that continues their regular push in EAL support while also offering a pathway for students needing a more full on English learning program.

Tying things together here, who knows what the new school year will bring. I know that the administrators at my school continue to be proactive as they are looking at multiple contingencies. I am not connected in anyway to the managing of our virtual school or involved in planning for the future so please understand that these ideas are my own as I continue to look at challenges as opportunities for innovative and adaptive thinking.


Photo Credits:

Tunnel- Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash
Hands Up- Photo by Jaime Lopes on Unsplash
Car Charging- Photo by Andrew Roberts on Unsplash
Students- Photo by Rachel on Unsplash

VS – Parent Workshop on School Tools

I ran across an old document where I listed possible parent workshops for one of my previous schools. Here is one topic that could not be more needed around the world…

Understanding Your School’s Tech Tools: Your children during and after school interact with learning portals, adaptive web-based skill development tools, research databases and all sorts of apps and websites. How can you support your children in using these learning tools? How can you better interact with your school’s learning system and website to receive information? This workshop partners you with your child to learn together.

Virtual School Design Team

I mentioned in my Virtual School during SARS post that we formed a leadership team for our virtual school at HKIS that included green hat thinkers. I also wrote about the grade level teams dividing up the work by the various strengths and talents that the team members presented. While our VS Leadership Team at HKIS did all the organizational, logistics and curriculum design work, I am now thinking of a new approach to separate leadership and curriculum design into two teams.

Elementary schools have leadership teams made up of administrators, grade level team leaders, a leader for the specials, possibly a representative for other groups and of course the instructional coaches. This can add up to a lot of people. While performing their normal duties this works just fine and it can work for running of virtual school with all stakeholders having a voice while receiving information back from the leadership team.

What might be unwieldy is the curriculum collaboration design work that needs a special skill set from its members. This is where a portion of the overall VS Leadership Team could provide the nucleus for a VS Design Team. The VS Design Team not only provides ongoing curriculum development but also works as a skunk works for longer term research and program design especially if virtual school continues over the long term. Additional members would be the teachers who have the  strengths of creativity, curiosity and zest along with a good understanding of using technology effectively. They would need to be especially creative regarding pedagogy. The tech background doesn’t have to be a prerequisite as the instructional technologist can lead out on how to make the instructional strategies viable for virtual delivery. This is where school leaders who really know the talents of their staff can review their profiles to construct the VS Design Team.

The instructional coaches would be the main communicators working with the grade levels and specials teachers. They would be the busy bees gathering the learning outcomes from the teams bringing that information to the VS Design Team to then do their design work. This would especially be the case for the transdisciplinary units of study.  The team’s work would go into a lesson database (curriculum mapping tool or Google Docs for example) with the coaches returning to the teams to unpack the strategies and fine tune for delivery.

The value of this approach is that the VS Design Team would not only come up with delivery approaches that could be used across grade levels but they also would cross-pollinate by curating and iterating the ideas that come in from the teams. It is important to note that there must be trust and buy in from all the teams to hand off some of their design work.  One cannot have the VS Design Team coming up with instructional strategies that are then ignored by some teams.

An additional design approach is to nurture the real innovators on staff to let them do mini-pilots playing a bit in their virtual sandboxes. This approach is supported in the School Retool “hacking mindset” approach to redesigning school cultures to be more nimble and innovative.


It is important to remember that the first couple of stages of virtual school mainly deal with setting up systems (i.e., delivery, communication, etc.). The next phase has the teachers in a more comfortable place where creativity and innovation really can come into play as they deliver their math and literacy curricula. The longer virtual school lasts, the more important it is to find ways to strive for helping students move up Bloom’s Taxonomy aiming for concept learning while building in collaboration for learning and for social-emotional support. And the longer virtual school lasts, the more the grade level teaching teams need to teach the units of study. So if your units of study involve inquiry, project and problem-based learning, look to your VS Design Team to find age appropriate ways to support these pedagogical approaches.

To balance the big ideas and efforts to try small pilots look to bring in your learning support teaches to fine tune your design efforts. They specialize in individualization breaking learning down into concrete step by step processes. Just as we naturally differentiate for content, process and product in face to face learning, we need to do the same with our virtual instruction. Some students will only need a little explanation while others will need lots of scaffolding especially when working in teams on project work. Count on your learning support teachers to help with this process.

There is one more member of your VS Design Team- the counselor or as I say, the Wellness Coach. The longer students are away from the normal social-emotional supports of being in school with their classmates and teachers, the more they need very intentional sharing of information and strategies to support their well-being. I would add wellness as a subject area for teaching teams to incorporate into their lessons. The Wellness Coach is the person to find out what teams are already doing regarding wellness to then share their activities across grade levels. The Wellness Coach can curate those activities and add new ones to have a central database of lessons to help students learn about their wellness while also providing activities for each of the PERMAH pillars guiding students to engage their character strengths.

One final thought is that we don’t need virtual school to bring innovators together to create, craft and share powerful instructional and assessment strategies. If our schools are truly innovative learning communities, we of course find ways to nurture and cross-pollinate our ideas also during regular school. 🙂


First Image Source

How Might An Educational Services Company (ESC) Support International Schools?

What advice would you give an educational services company (ESC) that wants to break into the international school market? When I lived in the U.S. I consulted with a couple providers who offered afterschool activity programs so my experience is pretty minimal. But I can put on my instructional technology hat to think as a designer looking at challenges and opportunities to then develop some plans moving forward.

I am reminded that the first step to support clients is to determine their needs. My son Sam adds to this point that the ESC should not look at the client’s needs only within the scope of the services that they can provide. They should be ready to say “we don’t have the know how to help you with the difficulty but we can help find someone who does”.

With international schools it is important to focus on their mission and values at the center of one’s services. We need to recognize that schools in general are pretty conventional places so starting with making things run better comes first followed then by helping school leaders feel comfortable with new ideas.

I am reminded of a talk that Daniel Pink gave our staff at one of my schools. He said to be very careful in using words such as “innovative or cutting edge” in describing new programs. Even progressive minded parents who want their children to develop their thinking skills want pretty much the same experience that they had when they were students.

The elephant in the room for some international schools is that their students are so managed and over-scheduled outside of school. Some students miss out on the normal developmental learning opportunities of unstructured play and making independent choices. Having free time and opportunities to make decisions to become more independent is a problem that some schools are taking on through their parent education outreach. It is a subject that an ESC should seek to learn more about. I am guessing that the ESC could combine Outward Bound style activities along with unstructured times giving students more “real life” experiences.


My approach here is to list needs and support strategies for the stakeholder populations of international schools. The themes of personalization, coaching and accessibility as well as self-discovery and personal growth run through the strategies and constructs. As stated previously, the first step is to find out what the needs of the stakeholders are to then design the programs to meet the needs. The needs will vary depending on factors such as what programs are already offered, locality and school culture (i.e., school mission) and school leadership mindset (i.e., static “That Is The Way We Have Always Done It” vs a growth and openness to possibilities mindset).

The following are ideas that I have written or podcasted about that could be developed by an ESC to offer as services for their clients. The following strategies and program offerings cut across, in several cases, the student, staff and parent stakeholder populations.

Resource Websites/Portals: Challenge> Students, teachers and parents need access to valid information to support their roles as learners, teachers and parents. Students- Libraries often provide a good listing of databases for general research but too often students turn to search engines for their schoolwork. Teachers- Many teachers prepare learning modules posted in their school Learning Management System (LMS) so they often are looking for new resources. Parents- Some international schools have some form or other of a parenting resources web page or two but that doesn’t mean they might not need consultation to improve them. Another needed resource list for parents is orientation support not only to the school but to the community and country as a whole.

ESC Services>

Students- Work with interested staff to build out the current LMS information resources portal for skill and subject specific content or develop a separate resource website, if needed. My Web Resources for Learning is an example site that was not created for one specific school so it is a bit general and some of the links need updating. There are plenty of web resource sites that an ESC can draw from to connect to the teaching and learning needs of their client schools.

Teachers- There is a teacher section of my Web Resources site that can be used as an example. Connecting to personalization, teachers need specific books, videos, instructional strategies, web resources, etc. to improve their day to day teaching and units of study. I am thinking that the ESC either has resource finders on staff or hires independent contractors (think Etsy model). I wrote about this in my Information Brokers blog post.

Parents- Parents don’t always have access to parenting books in their native language so they need valid information in their language on parenting along with other topics such as orientation to a new school and country, school calendars, events, parent workshops, etc. Parents also can be supported by helping them connect with one another.

In the early 2000s, Justin Hardman designed and built a multi-faceted community sharing and learning portal for Hong Kong International School (HKIS). It was called the myDragonNet. Justin was way ahead of his time with the myDragonNet Learning Management System (LMS) because it provided space in the portal for parents and the greater community to connect to one another. It had a social networking feel to it as groups could set up their mini-portal within the system. I don’t know if current commercial LMS providers offer modules for community members or not. So I can see an ESC working with the current LMS to adapt functionality to do so or to build a separate portal for parents and community groups. To give you an idea of what Justin created, you can read the article we wrote about it. Helping schools design and construct a parent portal would be high on my list of services offered. An added component would be to offer face to face and online courses for parents to help them construct their parenting toolkit.


Personal Learning Plan: Challenge> We want our students to be engaged and taking ownership of their learning. However, as students progress through the school divisions they sometimes become passive and reactive to the high stakes programs like AP and IB. They learn to play the game of school. Thus, how then can we give students more agency, engagement and control over their learning?

In the U.S., students who have documented special needs by law must have an Individualized Education Program (IEP). I have heard of some schools with leadership who realized that all students could benefit from personal learning plans so they create them for all students.

Teachers- See Personal Teaching System response below as teachers can benefit from having a professional learning plan to improve their Personal Teaching System. Too often schools bring in consultant PD providers who offer a one size, sit and get delivery experience. Teachers, just as their students, deserve a differentiated approach that hopefully involves some individualization.

Parents- The often used line is that parents don’t receive a how to parenting manual with the birth of their children. Fortunately we have a wide range of authors and websites that can help us create our parenting toolkit.

ESC Services>

Students- I cannot see the ESC coming in to help design learning plans for all students for a number of reasons. But I can see them consulting and coaching providing a template and menus with learning strategies to draw from. My big take is that the students should be at the center of the learning plan design process working with their teachers and parents as coaches to design and follow through on their plan. Each student should have a learning plan as part of his/her portfolio.

Here are a couple related blog posts.

Parents- I think one of the first steps parents can take in designing how they will raise their children is to construct a family mission statement. Over time we bring our children into the mission statement development process to redesign our statements with the byproduct of helping orient our children to the process of understanding one’s values and how to act with them in mind. I can see the ESC providing face to face and virtual workshops to give parents the blueprint to then work with their children to create their family mission statement.


Personal Teaching System: Challenge> Many international schools provide lots of ongoing professional learning opportunities for their teachers. This doesn’t sound like a problem. The difficulty can be with teachers feeling overwhelmed with instructional strategies, assessment techniques, etc. The reality is that good teachers really do develop their personal “teaching toolkit” to design and deliver learning experiences for their students. Teachers choose from approaches such as Project-based, Problem-based and Inquiry while creating activities that help differentiate the content, process and products for flexible grouping of students. Fortunate young teachers have mentors and Personal Learning Communities (PLC) in their schools and Professional Learning Networks (PLN) that also help grow their teaching system.

ESC Services>

Teachers- I wrote about this topic in a blog post where I noted a place for consultancy companies to be like an information broker but for finding thought leaders and practitioners for teachers to follow via Twitter, blogs, podcasts and other conduits to improve their teaching. An ESC could provide mentoring and coaching in person and also virtually, possibly starting a network of retired teachers interested in coaching teachers new to the profession. As mentioned earlier, I don’t think bringing in consultants to deliver a one size fits all PD experience is as effective as guiding teachers to personalize their PD by giving them a menu of podcasters, bloggers, authors and other experts to include in their Personal and Professional Learning Network (PLN). When you add in the process of being coached to develop a learning plan with goals and activities, I think our teachers really take ownership of their PD which then has more follow through in the classroom. Here is our Edtech Co-Op podcast show on the topic of personalizing PD.


Personal Life Plan: Challenge> Children and adults face an information overloaded world with ever increasing expectations for performance in school and at work. This is leading to growing levels of anxiety and declining well-being in our populations. Students and Teachers- The overlapping with Personal Learning Plan and having a Life Plan seems pretty obvious. We don’t just plan for and learn at school. We learn for life so a pathway forward is helpful.

ESC Services>

Students- Just as with the Personal Learning Plan, the ESC would work as consults and coaches to help schools design and implement this program. The Personal Life Plan would encompass the whole child with sections dedicated to life skills, character development, wellness to include physical and mental well-being, etc. In other words, take a look at the Positive Education model with its six pillars and supporting character strengths in designing the plan template for your students. A possible helpful connection would be to also design a process for students to create their own mission statements with the learning plan providing actionable strategies to living the mission statement values.

This is where the coaching services come into play. I can see an ESC especially in MS and HS providing one to one life coaching services for students. In the Elementary School, the ESC consultants could partner with the school counselor (life coach) and the teachers to develop a robust wellness program. Looking at the physical, intellectual, emotional and social needs of the students, the students could use a number of learning systems (e.g., portfolio, personal planner) along with goal-setting to map out their plan to be well and to thrive. Here are a few blog posts on wellness and the counselor as life coach.

Teachers- I can definitely see the ESC providing life coaches to help teachers design and implement individual wellness plans including the writing of individual and family mission statements.


Personal Learning System: Challenge> Back to the stress and information overloaded world we live in, students, teachers and parents can benefit from a framework that harnesses technology and learning hacks to support their learning.

ESC Services>

Students, Teachers and Parents- With technology being so intrusive into our lives and at times managing us, I think an ESC could work with instructional coaches and teachers to help students manage the technology to support and enrich their learning. I write a lot about this at the Personal Learning System page of  Web Resources for Learning. I can see the ESC offering workshops for teachers and parents along with coaching services to help them find the apps, websites and other resources to be more efficient and productive and hopefully more “digitally” well in their lives. The ESC could offer online courses at the parent portal not just for developing a learning system but also for other needs as requested by the parents.

There is the overlap with technology in life planning, life coaching and the personal learning system. The focus point is using technology to enhance lives which means developing a technology/media use plan that supports balanced living and well-being.

The themes of personalization, coaching and providing web-based resources run through these programs in some form or another. Schools have been working on “personalized learning” for some time now especially as it supports individualization and differentiation while also connected to inquiry and student agency. The teacher and instructional coaches work as designers who coach students to own and guide much of their learning. It is similar in the adult world with life coaches.

When I was living outside of Washington DC I spoke to many many driven, on top of their game people. I noticed that several of them had a personal chef, a financial coach, a fitness coach, a life coach, etc. My experience with international communities is similar in that I meet lots of very driven people. Sometimes people who are busy and have the funds want to be as efficient and productive in covering their needs as possible while working towards actualization with their personal growth. Coaching brings expertise into their lives. Thus, it makes sense for international schools to see how they might adapt to provide the coaching model in how they support their stakeholders. It seems like an excellent opportunity for educational services companies.


Offer Afterschool Activities (ASA)-

While this post is aimed at what an ESC can offer international schools, it is also the case that schools can go in-house, hire co-coordinators and build their own programs as in afterschool programs. This is in fact what schools do. Hopefully these ideas especially on ASAs make some sense for school leaders as I believe that ASAs offer a huge opportunity for international schools to further meet the learning needs of their students and parents while supporting the mission of the school.

My first advice to an ESC with afterschool activities is to see what some of the big dogs of Asian international schools are offering. Here is what I found for Hong Kong International School. This doesn’t mean you are going to find groundbreaking approaches. I see a huge opportunity to the bringing of fresh eyes and some unconventional thinking to view how international schools do afterschool activities. A couple starting points in rethinking afterschool programs would be to look at the needs and interests of the students and also the mission of the school. We then work backwards as designers to come up with an overall plan while at the same time piloting some classes to gather data in developing our overall blueprint.

Thinking beyond elementary school, an ESC can also look to the Middle and High schools to offer skill-based afterschool enrichment and mentoring for student-led clubs. Here is a listing at the Shanghai American School offering 100+ clubs for their students. While probably a great many of those clubs are student-initiated and student managed as they should be, I can see lower level international schools needing consultation and coaching to offer clubs connected to the school’s mission and student interest. They also at times will need outside expertise for mentoring with clubs especially ones looking for community outreach and real life experiences. And something tells me that some schools need athletic coaches as well.

I could see when developmentally applicable to offer “junior versions” of MS clubs as David Perkins says of activities that work for older students and can be redesigned for younger students.

One challenge for elementary schools is to ask teachers after long days of teaching to then offer afterschool classes. I am not sure where the big schools are in making teachers teach afterschool classes but I do remember seeing lots of outside contractors coming into the Upper Primary at the end of each day when I was at HKIS. I have a few ideas listed below that can take teaching afterschool classes off the plates of our teachers.

When I consulted a couple years ago with an ESC specializing in afterschool classes, we spoke about developing and documenting their curriculum so that new teachers could walk in and access the web-hosted lessons. This also meant that the Educational Services Company was not as dependent on the individual interests and talents of their teachers. Of course this didn’t apply to specialized classes like instrumental music or upper level painting but for most lighter content offerings it could work.

With the curriculum ready for new teachers, I can see international schools supporting their teaching assistants to teach the afterschool classes to earn some extra pay. Here is an example of a web-hosted class that I started that could be taught by someone other than myself.

One category of offerings could be to offer classes to prepare teams for international enrichment competitions as in Future Problem Solvers, Odyssey of the Mind, etc. One can offer standalone classes built around themes such as peace and reconciliation (i.e., The World Peace Game, speaking and presentation skills (i.e. perhaps a student version of Toastmasters that includes ICL presentation literacies, etc.) and of course all the possibilities that come with STEAM. There are also a lot of individual competitions that students could mentored to compete in.

A second idea that the owner of the ECS and I spoke about was to offer a series of classes in a discipline that students would earn badges towards a certification in. Here is an example in what I called The Digital Scholars Program which covers study skills, (digital) citizenship and some digital literacy skills. Another example could be certification in wellness following the PERMAH model making sure to include the “H” for health and the Positive Education approach to strengths education.

A third idea is that once the classes are created and taught face to face to then think about offering them first in blended fashion and possibly later in virtual form for students outside one’s international school. This takes me back to a meeting a long time ago at HKIS when the instructional technologists were meeting and talking about possibilities. We had come off the successful running of virtual school during SARS. This led us to think about how the school might start offering online courses for students outside of HKIS. We noted that the HKIS brand was strong and worth expanding.

A fourth idea is to work with one’s PTA and counseling staff to design and teach classes for parents. Helping busy parents expand their parenting toolkit already happens in many international schools with counselors teaching parent workshops and PTAs bringing in guest speakers. The next step would be to do a needs assessment to then design a curriculum for the workshops. Whether they are offered during regular school hours and/or after school is fine but marketing them as adult ASAs is just another way to make a connection with parents. And just as for the students, it would be a bonus to offer them in blended and virtual fashion for parents who cannot attend face to face classes. Check out my blog post on creating a parent portal for more information on this topic. And who knows, maybe the ESC offers more leisure-oriented classes as in cooking, fitness, etc. This connects to the life coaching and wellness theme mentioned earlier.

And then there are “academies”. Academies are where some overworked and over-managed international students go at the end of the school day to study languages, math, test prep, etc. Students start attending academies early in elementary school and continue through high school. I don’t know if this situation takes place in international schools around the world but it is prevalent in Asia.

I won’t get into the politics and parenting of sending students to academies but I am curious about what they would look like if offered on the campus of the international school. The optics might be bad especially with schools that try to get families to let their children go home after school to play and rest before they do their homework. I wonder if school-based academies might offer school leaders opportunities to improve the content and delivery while working with families to think about decreasing time their children spend at the classes. Academies could be a place for supporting all the personalized support strategies listed in this post including tutoring. Coaches at the academy could facilitate skill building in their students across several life categories including character strengths, wellness and communication skills to name a few possibilities.

This is an area where the ESC could advise and possibly run the academies for the school making sure to connect to the mission and values of the school.

One of the providers I worked with in the U.S. ran summer camps at schools and parks all around the Washington DC area. I can see an ESC doing the same for their client international schools not just in the summer but also during the long winter break for families that are not traveling.


Offer Blended to Virtual Delivery Support

Blended learning is becoming more and more the norm in schools with the growth of Learning Management Systems with less time spent in class providing direct instruction. I can see many international schools having the personnel and systems in place to support blended learning. But something tells me that some schools have the tech infrastructure but they need guidance to leverage it to deliver the opportunities that blended learning can provide. Educational services companies could provide the needed expertise in this area.

One big lesson that we learned at HKIS was that providing blended learning is the first step towards being equipped to handle a school crisis that leads to school closure. I can see an ESC providing schools the know how to not only fully develop their crisis plan but also to prepare the school to go virtual in case of closure.


Offer Administration Support

I am listing this stakeholder group on their own because they have so much to do in their jobs especially around planning, accreditation, local regulations, budgets, etc. etc.  With so much to do operationally, some schools might need the expertise and outsourcing that educational services companies can provide to support new initiatives and program management. Here are a few examples of normal programs and processes that some schools might need support with.

  • professional learning opportunities for staff
  • curriculum development and mapping
  • school crisis management plan development and implementation
  • policy and procedure documentation
  • change management

Schools leaders already naturally turn to the world of consultants. Educational services companies are consultants, yes, but something tells me that there are not many who offer a wide array of expertise. I then wonder if enterprising ESCs might offer a broker service giving their school clients menus of specialized consultant options with their backgrounds, costs, etc. to help in deciding who to hire.


In Conclusion-

I enjoy reading business articles and books. I especially enjoy listening to podcasts with interviews of thought leaders. Something tells me that educational service companies led by business and education minds offer their client schools wonderful opportunities to support all their stakeholder populations.

Image Source

Student Collaboration Skills: From F2F to Virtual (and teachers too)

How are we taking what we teach our students about face to face collaboration to carry over to their group work done virtually? Teaching students working in groups about setting roles, expectations and norms along with our communicating clear assessment criteria both for individuals and the group is invaluable for project collaboration but also for life as we skill students in how to work in teams. One can ask the same question about teachers as some teaching teams are moving into virtual collaboration.

So why do I bring this topic up? In the past month one of my sons shared about a group project he was working on in college. I asked about guidelines, expectations, rubrics for teamwork and the final project along with possible lessons on collaboration especially as most of the work would be done virtually. My son shared that nothing was offered so he was stepping in to use some of his organizational skills learned from his side job and from his being president of a student organization.

A second occasion was in speaking to some friends from our days in Asia. They shared about an incredible program that their daughter experienced to teach her to become a mediator and facilitator of discussions at a conference for youth from a border region where refugees were crossing to find safety and a better future. They noted that the year long training really equipped their daughter for collaboration and group work while her regular school group virtual projects had no scaffolding whatsoever. They noted that at times with her virtual group projects that teachers were not teaching communication skills, helping set roles or offering clear expectations. This at times led to domination of the groups by some students while others wishing to contribute were silenced as they pulled back from participation.

For teachers and collaboration, I am reminded of my time in the early 90’s at the Saudi Arabian International School-Riyadh when we went from being a junior high to a middle school. The administrators provided a great deal of guidance and training for the transition process. The training included learning how the new grade level teams would operate most effectively by developing structures and processes. While we were not working together virtually (no Internet allowed in Saudi Arabia then), I learned a great deal as a counselor working with and watching the teams learn and grow together especially with their communication skills. Those experiences would lay the groundwork for articles on curriculum collaboration:

As a big believer in blended to virtually learning that does include virtual collaboration, I am hoping that educators are taking their lessons and frameworks for student in-class teamwork and adapting it for the digital work spaces our students use. The same can be said of our teaching teams along with training in how to use the technology of the digital work areas as in curriculum mapping tools, LMSs and collaboration tools via Google Docs and maybe even carryovers from the business world like Slack.

Image Source

Curriculum Mapping: Much More Than the Tool (Lessons Learned)


Atlas Rubicon, ManageBac and home grown curriculum mapping tools can provide the platform from which to construct, curate and communicate what we want teachers to teach and students to learn. Yet, one of my lessons learned is that one doesn’t have to go with one of the big providers and in the end, there is much more to curriculum mapping than the tool.

The other day a friend explained that his school decided to design their own mapping tool using Google Apps to replace their current provider. We didn’t talk about the reasons for the change but I can guess that one reason might have been the lack of individualization that a company cannot always provide and/or cost might have been an issue.

This was our experience at Hong Kong International School when we met with the sales team for one of the big providers. We walked away feeling our very dynamic school would not fit into the mold of what a one size fits all approach would provide. We realized that the path to take would be to build our own platform and we had the man who could do it in Justin Hardman.

One of our lessons learned was that we wanted a portal that would be a one stop shop for curriculum curation, a Virtual Learning Environment (now called Learning Management System), and digital portfolios. We also wanted this new sharing experience called “social networking” to be a part of the functionality as well. This vision of a multifaceted tool was a huge lesson learned as it became a reality to think big looking to the future of what our needs might be. Sometimes school leaders look at technology programs in the present and even the past as opposed to looking out to what their needs could be in the future. Connecting also to what is the school’s mission and vision for the future is another key lesson to incorporate into the planning process.

Integration and adaptability guided Justin as he coded and created what would be called the “myDragonNet” platform. To learn more about it, here is an article describing the platform that Justin built with guidance from David Elliott.

currAnother lesson learned was that if you build it, they will not always come to it. 🙂 We know with any new program, tool, system, etc. that stakeholders need to come together to develop a plan to then move into action. This people side of the curriculum mapping process is so important and one that we developed a very structured roll out system around. Here are some resources to support the process truly making one’s mapping tool an integral part of your learning community whether you purchase or build it yourself.

All Aboard Article
Nuts and Bolts of How to Develop a Curriculum Review System
Building a Curriculum Collaboration System
Ed Tech Co-Op Podcast


Image Source

Snowmageddon and Virtual School Preparation

Is your school/district ready for the possibility of extended school closure due to weather or other factors? We are preparing for a blizzard here in Virginia as it looks like folks in the Washington DC area will experience the full force of winter storm Jonas.

I have written here and spoken often on the Ed Tech Co-Op podcast about the value of developing blended to virtual learning programs in one’s school. There are many reasons for doing both with one big one being ready to continue the learning in case of a a big storm like we are about to experience here in Virginia.

In the best of conditions, one’s school would form a committee to research, plan and implement a blended to virtual learning program. We did this at Hong Kong International School after we had to quickly respond to extended school closure due to an outbreak of SARS. We learned a great deal in reactive mode as we constructed our virtual school to serve our families. One big lesson was just like we practice fire drills, we needed to practice virtual school.

The virtual school committee began the annual procedure of running a week of virtual school in which teachers, students and families connected to our online tools for learning. Our experience in responding to the SARS closure expanded our blended learning when school reopened. It was a natural step to then practice for the possibility that our school could close again. For more insight as to our experiences, here is an article describing the response to the crisis.

With many schools having other priorities than planning for virtual school, one can still provide ideas and resources for the short term closing of one’s school. Here is an example of a short listing of tools that I put together to share with the teachers at my school. It might provide a framework to build from in case your school might be closed for several days.


With the advancing snowstorm and the possibility of another Snowmageddon, here are some ideas to support student learning if we miss more days of school. We have several online tools and resources that students can connect to for skill work, inquiry, creation, collaboration and direct instruction.

Skill Development:

DreamBox (students can access at our LR website > Students > Math)
-Web Resources Math and Technology pages for math, typing and coding skills
-Tumblebooks and other eBooks accessed at the Library Web page
-The Using Information Web Resources page also has several online reading sites for younger students and information sources for our older students
Quizlet is a huge collection of flashcards, quizzes and other searchable resources to share with your students. You can also create your own.


The databases can be accessed at our Library Web page. Notice the direct link to the databases but there is also a listing by grade level further down the page. See the attached database and tool password listing. Finding or creating your own WebQuest is a terrific way to support inquiry, collaboration and learning product creation.

Creation and Collaboration:

Wixie (grades 1-5)
-Google Apps (grades 3-6)
-The Web Resources Creating page has several fun and creative activities for our youngest students.

Direct Instruction:

Khan Academy and other tutorial sites
-See the PD & ICL Web page for a full listing of potential instructional resources including TED Talks, iTunes U and the idea of sharing educational podcasts for your students to listen to.
-Teacher created screencast videos and/or podcasts> I can provide more information if you would like to create a screencast and/or podcast. Here are a couple resources if you want to give screencasting a go. Your school computer comes with Snag It which you might have used for grabbing screenshots. It also can capture video as you open docs, websites. etc. on your screen as you voice record information for your students. If you use a Mac, you can use the built in QuickTime Player. There are helpful tutorials on YouTube for both tools.
-Blackboard has a built in podcast recorder (Voice Podcaster) found in the Tools section of your classroom course. Wixie can be used as an instructional tool to support blended to virtual learning. You can create videos that include voice-over explanation of images, diagrams, drawings, etc. that you build into your presentation and then share with your students via the Web. Check out the Wixie resource page for more information including tutorials.

Sharing Your Virtual School Package:

So how can you share these resources with your students? Several of you are using Google Classroom to post resources. Blackboard is another helpful platform. Another choice is to create a simple site like our Web Resources using Google Sites or a free provider like Weebly. You also can create a Google Doc to share directly with your students if you are in our upper elementary. For the younger students you might want to create a Google Doc in your personal account and make it public. You can then email your parents the link for easy access. Our school Google Doc accounts cannot be shared publicly. The same goes for creating a Google Site using your school account.

Let me know how I can help if you would like to look into using any of these resources and tools. For more information on blended to virtual learning, check out our blended learning page at Web Resources for Learning.

Image Source

Teaching Online: Assessment


We are on to the next module in the online course I am taking on eLearning:

Module 4: Assessment

We continued working in Moodle with a focus this week on using the various assessment tools. Our reading, Online Assessment, provided a good background to help guide the efforts of the class.


Online Assessment

21st Century Information Fluencies

7 Things You Should Know about Creative Commons

US News- Decide between online, blended learning

Great e-learning Quiz Questions

The Teacher You Never Met

Image Source

Pre-service Teacher Preparation


edtechcoop_logo small

We celebrated the recording of our 50th Ed Tech Co-Op podcast talking about pre-service teacher education. Pre-service teacher education has been in the news lately which prompted a couple of prominent bloggers to share their respective views with an emphasis on skill sets our future teachers need.

Take a look at the Mindshift post on changes to teacher prep programs and Scott McLeod’s post on what teachers graduating from teacher prep programs should be able to do. 

From time to time we talk about pre-service teacher education with Mark sharing what he is seeing at William and Mary. The 50th show hopefully can add to the ongoing discussion about how we prepare our future educators.

Here are some rough notes that I put together before the show. We covered many of them but not all.


Notes for pre-service teacher podcast:

While I think we need to teach the instructional skills and methods needed to be a teacher, I think we need to approach our pre-service teachers much like we do our K-12 students. We want them to be independent and skilled at knowing how to learn, to adapt and to design in a hopefully ever changing educational landscape.

We want our young and second career teachers to have the ICL skills that we want them to help develop in their students. If a new teacher has her ICL toolkit pretty well constructed then she can adapt, develop and move towards the shifted practices we want in our schools. This also involves having the dispositions to be flexible, wanting to constantly grow and learn, desire collaboration, be willing to take risks, etc.

We also want the pre-service educators to think of learning goals for lessons/units in terms of concepts first supported by skills and content. The skills and content help one’s students gain understanding of the concepts. The dissonance is that in many cases the new teachers will see standards and standardized tests that mainly focus on the content knowledge. The trick is helping the pre-service teachers learn how to design lessons that use the content to get to the concepts which will take care of the testing while also developing the students as thinkers learning about ideas while making connections in their learning.

Another skill is how to design student-centered constructivist learning activities that are also scaffolded enough to really work. This takes time and lots of experience as well as knowing what each group of students can and cannot handle. The design process needs a great deal of creativity and imagination.

It is important to develop the mindset and skills to work as a designer engaging creativity while willing to take risks. We also need to help future teachers become TPACKers with the knowledge that it is better to build a team of TPACKers including the learning support specialists. Mark and Judy’s recent TPACK paper covered how collaboration really helps one TPACK. Thus it makes sense to train teachers to reach out to one another to connect to the distributed expertise in one’s building and in one’s PLN.

We also need to help pre-service teachers understand that they cannot design their units all at once and that they need to use their research skills to find what others have already done. There are so many repositories of lessons, unit and whole course curricula out there. We need to help future teachers live by the 80% rule to get a good chunk of new lessons created but with the knowledge that it isn’t worth trying to get them totally complete. One learns so much in teaching them that the extra 20% isn’t worth the time and effort. Learn what works and doesn’t for the following year’s iteration and improvement.

Help new educators start with sound analog teaching and assessment strategies to develop their own “learning activities types (LAT)” matrices . They can then look to technology to replace, amplify or transform (RAT model) their solid pedagogy. And of course, we should help our new teachers build their PLN and PLCs, if possible, to not have to reinvent lessons and to keep the personal learning going beyond school provided PD opportunities.

I think educators should have the skills and hopeful desire to teach in a blended to virtual learning environment driven by student and teacher questions with students needing to be independent and active– not passive. If we are going to provide our students more ownership and control over their learning, we need teachers willing to use WebQuests, learning management systems, social media tools, etc. to give students avenues to personalize their learning.

Yet if we are going to expect our students to be independent and active learners, we need to help them develop the dispositions to make smart choices when using Web connected devices. We keep spending lots of money putting Internet connected devices in front of students without doing the work of preparing them to be disciplined, focused and dedicated to using the devices for learning and not being off task. We love constructivist individual and group learning but our students must be skilled in using the tools effectively while also employing dispositions that guide them to be independent and active learners. This is another area where a strong ICL program needs to be in place especially in our elementary skills.

Older posts

© 2022 Lessons Learned

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑

Skip to toolbar