Helping Children Build Empathy & The Growth Mindset

In the past, I have to admit fully that I've been somewhat critical of Classdojo for their app used by some school teachers for classroom management (classroom manipulation?) However, in recent months i believe that the people at classdojo have hit on a winner with their short series of videos based on the experiences of the monster Mojo.

They started out tackling Growth Mindset, working alongside experts of Stanford University making a series of short videos based upon the engaging little monster Mojo. These are designed for teachers to use with children, are engaging, attention grabbing and really quite thought-provoking.

Now, as this article highlights, they've built on that success by working with experts from Harvard Graduate School of Education on empathy. The principle behind these initiatives is that if there is promising research and ideas on skills development in the social-emotional domain, such vehicles can enable swift transfer to the learning environment to benefit teachers and pupils.

Huffington Post - Empathy Videos

The Growth Mindset video series hthey've gone on to work further with the team from Stanford on a new series on Perseverance. The first has just been issued, with two further episodes to follow over the next couple of weeks.

All three sets of videos, accompanied by discussion questions that can be used in class, can be found here;

ClassDojo - Big Ideas

There is a wealth of evidence that the development of strong social-emotional skills early in school life have a big impact in improving behaviour in school, interpersonal relationships, but also benefit academic performance from an early stage. I personally think these videos would make a great added resource for classes using Jenny Mosely's 'Quality Circle Time' principles to explore and address issues of how children behave, regulate their personal relations and develop strength as social beings.

And, the earlier children embark on such learning the greater their potential to build strengths that will be vital as they grow and valuable in their adult life.

No Quick Fixes in the Classroom

At times, I struggle to understand why it is that educators too often want to have a simplistic toolkit and rigid rules about when to wield each tool. Differentiation (sometimes differentiated instruction – DI) is a concept at the very heart of all understanding of how to teach a room full of children whilst personalizing the learning experience for each – to meet them where they are, instead of treating the whole class as a homogenous whole to be taught the same material, in the same way. It represents a full acknowledgement that each child walks in to the classroom different and needing something different if they are to learn most effectively. It steps away from the industrial model of ‘one size fits all’ teaching.

The leading authority in the field is the US academic, Carol Anne Tomlinson. For many years she’s been very straight – this is not a simplistic tool, but rather an ideological approach to management of learning in a classroom that can be a lifetime learning journey for an educator. Here, I remember a story heard from a Principal in India. She had arranged for a group of teachers to attend a training workshop with a well-renowned visiting trainer from the UK. The session started about 2.00pm. Around 2.20pm the Principal received a text message on her phone – “Why are we here? We’ve done differentiation before.” This is shocking, we can laugh, but it really does highlight the problem – the teacher (and some of her peers who prompted her to send it!) saw DI as a simplistic set of tools – hear about them once, learned, job done.

This search for simplistic tools can have even more serious and dangerous implications. In Dubai, for example, DI has become mangled and distorted beyond recognition, as I’ve witnessed in multiple teacher interviews. They would describe how, ahead of inspections by the KHDA (an inspection body of the Dubai government, trained and largely run by ex-OFSTED people from the UK), they would be trained to split the children in their classes in to three groups; high, middle and low. The first time I heard this, I was sickened and so carefully quizzed the teacher to see if I was understanding correctly. She confirmed all my worst fears – they categorized children according to how ‘bright’ they were and how much potential they had. This, they had learned to call ‘differentiation’. Of course, what they were doing was categorizing children on the basis of subjective judgement of outcome potential. Then, it got worse. In order to follow this up, on all work the children did, there would be three different worksheets – easy, medium and hard. What a system! Of course, it’s inevitable that this system would be self-proving – the children’s end outcomes and performance would ‘prove’ and justify the category that they had been put in to.

These weren’t just teachers coming out of a single school. They were in various schools managed by different groups, some of them being rated very favourably by the KHDA inspections. After about the third time I heard this sorry and shameful story, I asked the teacher whether she was sure she always put them in the right category. Her reply was, “I think so,” but she really wasn’t very confident. I smiled reassuringly at her as I asked, “How do the parents feel when you tell them that you’ve put their child in the weak category?” I’d already predicted her answer – “Oh no, we couldn’t tell the parents.” What a shamefully immoral approach to education – writing off the potential of thousands of children – but also, what a massive distortion of all the strengths and attributes of DI.

The truth is that DI is not something that is learned in a short time and then added to a teacher’s toolkit. Rather, it’s related to a decision made by the teacher to engage on a never-ending learning process throughout their career in the classroom. It entails building certain key habits, not least the observation skills to understand what each learner in the classroom is experiencing.

Carol Ann Tomlinson, in her most recent rewriting of her key book on the subject of Differentiated Instruction has summed up the mindset of the differentiating teacher. Her perceptions are well summed up in the following short article;

ASCD Inservice – 10 Inspiring Quotes to Help You Differentiate Your Instruction

Each of the ten quotes cited in the article are worthy of thoughtful reflection by both educators and those who lead them.

The principles behind DI are not really so mysterious. In fact they’re simple in outline, but in the reality of the classroom take years of practice to refine one’s abilities. Firstly, comes the principle that an educator should seek to differentiate on the basis that there are three key differences between the students in our classrooms that define their starting point for any learning. These are; readiness to learn, learning needs and interest. Note, none of this suggests that we should have different long term expectations for each student. The end goals are essentially the same for every pupil, but DI highlights that there should be different routes, from different starting points to get to the end goals.

As for ‘what to differentiate’, the key is not to fall in to the simplistic trap of content-centric teachers – that you just vary the content by handing out different worksheets from simple to difficult. What can be differentiated (or how to DO differentiation is well described in this short BBC article:

BBC Active – Methods of Differentiation in the Classroom

We can take note – differentiation of the content/ task is only one of seven different ways described here.

Here’s a further very good article, from Edutopia, that groups the differentiation in to three categories; content, process and evidence. The key with the last is that whilst you’re looking at different means for the student to show evidence it doesn’t mean that you have different expectations for the level of learning each demonstrates in the end.

Edutopia – 3 Ways to Plan For Diverse Learners – What Teachers Do

It’s all nicely presented in this short video of Carol Ann Tomlinson herself;

If our starting point in education is to be the learning of children and their needs (instead of the old-fashioned priority given to the ‘stuff’, the syllabus) then DI is an essential approach for any teacher who cares that every child in the classroom should fulfil their individual potential and reach effective learning goals, from wherever they are starting.

Free Online Conferences

November is traditionally one of the busier times of the year for conferences. However, it’s also a very busy time in schools so few people can justify taking the time away to attend, let alone the cost.

So, I’m really happy to share that for the ‘learnivores’ everywhere there are online conference opportunities which are free to attend (but don’t compromise on quality content for being free)

Here are two:

The first is one that I’ve been following for about seven years. It’s the k-12 Online Conference and has a particular slant towards the harnessing of technology in the classroom and school to personalise and expand pupils’ learning experiences. It’s not only worth putting a note in the diary to catch up on some of the best live sessions, but also there’s an archive of all the presentations from past years – masses to get in to and explore:

K-12 Online Conference

The second is a new one for me, but looks really interesting. It has a fascinating lineup of speakers. It’s the Education Next Generation Conference running from 3rd to 7th November. This one focuses more on progressive education approaches, mindfulness, social emotional learning, homeschooling and so many aspects that focus on the child. This one will have great content for parents as well as educators:

Education Next Generation Conference

I’ve registered and will be looking to get in on some great learning sessions.

Incidentally, all live sessions will run on US time, which can be a problem. However, there are generally archive links available pretty soon after for each session to watch at a more convenient time. Not as immersive as being part of live sessions, but a worthwhile second best.

Overseas student crackdown could hit LSE, King’s College London and Soas

What is the British government thinking? Rule changes could be in the offing which will see fewer places in UK Universities for overseas students (and a corresponding drop in revenue that they bring in to the country). Has my country become so xenophobic that it will actually behave as though foreign students are undesirable migrants. The result may be fewer places for foreign students in some of the most sought after universities in the world.

Overseas student crackdown could hit LSE, King’s College London and Soas

LinkedIn Week of Learning

I believe that today every educator should be a ‘learnivore’ – ready to embrace good quality learning wherever and whenever available.

Even better, when that learning is available free. linkedIn are offering a completely free ‘Week of Learning’ for everyone with an account – offering access to over 5,000 courses on linkedIn learning.

LinkedIn Week of Learning

As well as more generic material on leadership and management, there’s lots specifically linked to the teaching profession, including whole sections on classroom management etc.

As an example, for teachers – here’s the link to a short course on ‘The Flipped Classroom’

LinkedIn Learning – The Flipped Classroom

Coach John Wooden

John Wooden was a phenomenally successful basketball coach who, over the years, was responsible for developing some of the greatest talents in American basketball and coached highly successful teams to great success. However, more than all of that, he was renowned in many ways for his wisdom and insightful observations on how to coach and how to lead people in ways that bring out their success.

So, I was really delighted to find these two audios that amount to almost two hours of Tony Robbins interviews with John Wooden. Both the recordings are packed with insights, evidence of John Wooden’s phenomenal integrity and the evidence of how genuinely he cared for and loved those he led. Within the two podcasts there are so many thought-provoking ideas and observations that they justify listening to a few times over.

Tony Robbins – Podcasts – The Great John Wooden

Whilst sharing the podcasts, I also thought it useful to share one of the things for which Coach Wooden has been most renowned over the years – his Pyramid of Success. This may have been developed 60 years ago, but is still highly relevant for leading, working for success in life and being part of high achieving teams;

Coach John Wooden – Pyramid of Success

School 21 – Educating The Whole Child

Some fascinating video insights in to a London school that’s doing some great work using project based learning, strong focus on communication skills, oracy, student voice and the development of students with the ability to go out and make a difference in the world.

The World Changes. Education …….?


Here’s an article I wrote that was published last month in the magazine Expat Go. This is an annual edition produced by The Expat magazine that focuses on the education sector and provides information to help parents select the right school for their child.

My focus was the changed world in which our children are growing and the ways in which modern education needs to respond. When expat educators come to a country like Malaysia, I believe it’s vitally important that we don’t just simply take the path of ease and relaxation by reproducing some kind of old-fashioned and largely irrelevant Western (British?) education of yesterday. Rather, we have a duty to work with our local colleagues to produce dsomething new, uniquely different, relevant to the environment where we’re working and that does not saddle the country with undesirable legacy processes. Together, we have to produce something new, unique and special that is thoroughly of the Twenty First Century.

Growth Mindset in Practice

The concept of growth mindset and the recognition of its relative merits over a fixed mindset have now been with us for quite a few years. I’ve written about the concept, the work of Professor Carol Dweck of Stanford University and also her reservations about some of the practical misunderstandings on a number of occasions over the last few years, especially since reading her book on the subject.

To me, it was already clear in a number of ways that there was a gap between the theory, the concept itself and even people’s expressed positive views towards it and the actual practical application of the growth mindset in classrooms and schools on a day to day basis. So, i was very interested to see that some research had been carried out on this subject. It’s reported in research shared through the Edweek website:

Edweek – Mindset in the Classroom – A National Study of K-12 Teachers

Now, the report does acknowledge that the sample is not wholly statistically balanced. Firstly, the participants were self-selecting. Next, they were all in the American education system (though as the concept originated there, we would expect to see higher levels of engagement with it). Maybe, to me, most relevant and not really mentioned – they were all users of the Edweek website. In my experience, that marks them out as a cohort of educators with stronger inclination towards their own continuous professional development.

Nevertheless, even allowing for these shortcomings I still believe it offers some interesting insights. The first is that, not too uncommonly, teachers perceive that their own levels of awareness and comprehension of an important concept in education is better than that of the administrators in their school and most certainly better than their peers! Teachers still, at heart, love to compete. Further, there was clearly some hesitancy amongst teachers about how important growth mindset was for children’s learning compared with other factors, even though they rated student motivation and engagement strongest – and there’s lots of evidence that these are heavily impacted by mindset.

On aspect of the survey that saddened me a little was that it didn’t dare to step in to the delicate area of the extent to which the mindset of the teacher themselves impacts their approach to mindset with their students. One of the toughest aspects may well be that a teacher really needs to imbibe the concept very deeply with regard to themselves, their professional and personal growth journey and potential before they can truly address it with children or integrate the approach fully and effectively in their teaching practice. A bit of a case of practicing what we preach and willingness to model the attributes that we wish to see in our students.

The survey is also interesting, but not wholly surprising in highlighting that most teachers believe they haven’t received enough training on mindset. Here, yet again is the deep irony – teachers, by and large still go through their lives as products of their own education and still believe in a paradigm that learning is being taught. My question – if you want to know more about Mindset, as a teacher, what’s stopping you? Do you have to wait for others to train you? Could you choose to learn, share with peers and then experiment and practice the different approaches?

In short, the data carries a clear message that if we want our children to be learning and developing in school environments where growth mindset prevails, there is still a great deal to be done. A gulf exists between theory and acknowledgement and actual practice and we need to address this gap.

The Harm Done By Tuitions


Here’s an article I wrote that has been published in this month’s edition of Ipoh Valley of Dreams magazine.

With apologies to Jane Kuok – I’ve got no idea why i look so white in the photo, or where the full stop went at the end of the article – but well spotted!