The problem of not reading

Critical thinking is widely considered to be a core educational goal and is rightly appreciated for its central educational importance. There are different ways of viewing criticality, from a narrow reckoning of it as logical, syllogistic thinking to a more inclusive appreciation of academic and intellectual honesty, deep listening and reflection rather than immediate hard-nosed scepticism. The American academic and father of philosophy for children, Matthew Lippman, spoke of “caring thinking” as one of the dispositional attributes of the critical thinker as he had noticed that a narrow definition based on argumentation could actually promote fairly unpleasant ways of being and interacting with others and it was necessary to place criticality within a broader perspective of humane and kind behaviour.

It is not without irony that in a world where scientific inquiry has never been more advanced, access to information and knowledge more democratised and literacy rates more widespread, there seems to be a dearth, and an increasing one at that, of critical thinking. With the recent surge of artificial intelligence, the need to actively and deliberately teach students to navigate information with discernment has become especially important.

However, it is only partly ironic: the more readily available information is and the easier it is to generate information online without checks and balances (such as publishing houses, review and vetting systems or similar checks and balances that filter what is produced on a mass scale), the easier it is to publish a whole range of personal opinions from speculation and conjecture to unsubstantiated theory to tenuous if not spurious claims to downright garbage, nonsense and, as we approach the far end of the spectrum, misinformation and lies. More recently we have seen false information generated by artificial intelligence  affect the stock exchange. 

There are obvious and blatant examples of postulates, policies and widely held opinions that are erroneous, sometimes dangerously so. These vary from history textbooks denying the existence of countries because of national propaganda, works of literature being censored or rewritten to make them more palatable and internet-spawned  mumbo-jumbo on conspiracy theories, aliens, secret “systems” and so on.

The question, quite clearly, is how to promote and nurture critical thinking. As a Theory of Knowledge teacher, this year I will take some time with my students to unpack the essential vocabulary of knowledge: words like certainty, evidence, truth, explanation, interpretation,  objectivity, perspective, culture, power, responsibility and values. In the lower years, my colleagues will be having Philosophy for Children discussions with students so as to habituate them to make points in a  careful, responsible and measured fashion.    

However, I find that a more subtle, pernicious and pervasive attack on critical thinking is very simply a lack of reading. I don’t mean by this an inability to read, but a lack of effort to do so: not reading reports but having an opinion on them, referring to unread studies, piggy-backing on second, third or fourth hand condensations of original material that seems to have been digested by few if any people at all. 

Recently UNESCO published its annual Global Education Monitoring Report . It is a hefty 418 page document that explains, quite rightly, how complex the dilemma of technology in education is. In discussing the effect of devices on concentration, the report points out that

 Student use of devices beyond a moderate threshold may have a negative impact on academic performance. The use of smartphones and computers disrupts classroom and home learning activity. A meta-analysis of research on the relationship between student mobile phone use and educational outcomes covering students from pre-primary to higher education in 14 countries found a small negative effect, which was larger at the university level. (p.81)

The report then goes on to explain, with some nuance, that

Banning technology from schools can be legitimate if technology integration does not improve learning or if it worsens student well-being. Yet, working with technology in schools, and the accompanying risks, may require something more than banning. First, policies should be clear on what is and is not permitted in schools. Students cannot be punished if there is no clarity or transparency on their required behaviour. Decisions in these areas need conversations supported by sound evidence and involve all those with a stake in students’ learning. Second, there should be clarity on the role these new technologies play in learning and on their responsible use by and within schools. Third, students need to learn the risks and opportunities that come with technology, develop critical skills, and understand to live with and without technology. Shielding students from new and innovative technology can put them at a disadvantage. It is important to look at these issues with an eye on the future and be ready to adjust and adapt as the world changes. (p. 157)

Importantly, the report describes how smartphones were a lifeline to the curriculum and learning during Covid, even if evidence of the benefits is “mixed” (p. 33). 

However, only days after the report was issued, well established newspapers claimed that “Unesco calls for global ban on smartphones in schools”. As is so often the case with information in the “knowledge economy”, this headline went viral, many people, including educators, re-posted it and a whole range of other media outlets parroted the headline. A few days after that, friends and colleagues were sharing this headline with me.

The problem is that this is not what the report says. Classroom use of smartphones is problematised, and we might go so far as to say that banning is suggested, but to say that it is a call to ban smartphones is ridiculous, it’s an example of faulty understanding driven by a lack of reading in the first place. 

Now, whether smartphones should be banned or not in schools is another question, and merits its own discussion. I happen to agree with UNESCO (to actually quote the report accurately!), that “working with technology in schools, and the accompanying risks, may require something more than banning” (p. 157). This is just an example of how misunderstandings are circulated and amplified by social media. The problem is, to debunk such a statement, one would have to read the 418 page report, and who exactly is going to do that?

Unfortunately, and ironically (and this time it is deeply ironic), the world of educational theory is particularly rife with misinterpretation of theory, from brain gym to learning styles, neurotrash to the Mozart effect, multiple intelligences, techniques that “work” because of effect size analysis on meta-analyses to the infamous and widely misunderstood 10 000 hour rule. These soundbites are based on misguided, popularised and unsubstantiated shorthand that unfortunately, unless teachers read the research first hand (and recognise the tentative nature of much educational research in the first place), can find itself in the classroom with students as the undeserving Guinea pigs.

Next time you read a newspaper headline, or a tweet, a post, a statement, especially one that goes “viral”, ask yourself what the source is and who has read the research. The truth might not be as exciting to read as a dazzling affirmative or damning soundbite, but it needs to be respected.

Furthermore, let’s commit to reading the original of what we cite, ensure that our students read set texts  from cover to cover, insist that board and committee papers are read and not settle for lazy thinking based on skimming through headlines: it’s a slippery slope.

Adventures in Ungrading – an Overthrowing Education Podcast

Image from Overthrowing Education at

On May 30, 2023, Batsheva Frankel, the host of the Overthrowing Education podcast, reached a milestone by uploading her 100th episode. I’m a little late, but I’d like to honor Batsheva and all those involved with the podcast with a short blog.

The episode highlights the efforts of Canadian teacher Stacie Oliver and some of her students: Pauline, Drizzle, Ella, Fahmi, and Katie, to go gradeless. It’s worth a listen for the points it raises about the effect of adult judgment on student learning, even if you feel you have little control in matters of grading.

Additionally, the wisdom and maturity of all five students should make you feel very good about tomorrow’s leaders. Give them a listen.

Overthrowing Education Episode #100: Adventures in Ungrading 

I’ve been attracted to ungrading and gradeless teaching (or more mildly, grading-less teaching) for quite some time. Teachers Going Gradeless is a nice resource if cutting down on the amount of rating, comparison, and adult judgment via grades intrigues you, too. 

I think perhaps I’ve gotten to the point where you could describe my general education mindset as Bottom Up. I’m going to have to save that idea for a future blog – I need to think about it more – but Bottom Up is probably a good starting point.

For the last fifteen years I’ve worked on bottom up professional development (PD) meaning PD that teachers choose and direct themselves. It is effective, it is respectful, and it naturally differentiates. The same notion transfers to classroom instruction, but more on that in the future. For the last ten years I’ve been pulling agile into education. Agile is a mindset and set of suggested practices which flatten the hierarchy of power and control, putting real decision making power into the hands of those actually doing the work, encouraging both autonomy and collaboration. As my own mindset grew more agile, education materials we developed here in our research center grew less prescriptive, student curriculum and instruction focused more on process and skills, we began emphasizing pulling over pushing, and the teaching I do on the side for international teachers evolved as well. Now I find myself most often having a conversation with, instead of a presentation to, my students. My teaching is more joyful – sometimes incredibly so – and my results are better.

During those last ten years a group of us at Leysin American School initiated a shift in our grading practices. Energized by Vanisha Gorasian’s pilot of standardized-based assessment in grade 10 math and the simple rubric of our progressive middle school (4 – I can teach to others; 3 – I am confident and can move on; 2 – I need to work on this more; 1 – I haven’t really gotten started), we abandoned the American A-F grading system. We replaced it with a 7-1 scale aligned with the IB diploma programme, with a nod to Bloom’s hierarchy, reserving (supposedly) 7, 6, and 5 for work that went beyond rote memory: analysis and synthesis, that sort of thinking.  I also created a gradeless alternative program in some grade 8-10 elective courses. There was feedback, yes, but no grades. 

I’m not satisfied with the result of either effort. Teachers last year formed a self-directed group to work on the problems they find with our new 7-1 sort-of-sort-of-not standards based grading. Some of our standards are a bit iffy or missing completely. You can hear students talk about getting a 7 on a vocabulary quiz, which for me at least is a definition of rote learning. Something isn’t working. Nor has the shift in assessment systems radically changed instruction, for example, consistently allowing students to redo work until they’ve mastered the material, something that Vanisha and the middle school had built into their earlier systems, something that was for me a major goal. 

The completely gradeless alternative program we developed worked for some students, not for all. I suppose one can say the same about the A-F system the school used for its first 55 years, as well as the 7-1 system it has moved to. One student council president told me that motivation doesn’t work without grades. I countered that we just don’t have enough practice developing other means of extrinsic (and  intrinsic) motivation apart from using grades. We didn’t come to any particular resolution.

But it’s not until you have a course without any grading that you really feel a different type of learning, a different relationship between teacher and student. As my colleague, Bill Tihen, has said more than once: As soon as you have overt adult judgment about student work, students gear their work to that adult opinion. There is less autonomy, less innovation, and certainly less agency. Learning starts to include best guesses and strategies to please the teacher for the highest grade. Those who can game the system do best (in terms of grades, perhaps not in terms of learning). The rebellious students who ignore the chase for high grades may be cast in a negative light – they are after all bucking the adult system. But then later we might paradoxically recognize them for their independence, if they succeed in spite of us. 

Back to the podcast. There is an interesting discussion about how the students were attaching a GIF to their work to represent how they felt about it. Their teacher, Stacie, decided to do the same by way of offering feedback. The students called that out as, even as simple as it was, a form of grading. Stacie agreed and quit using it. As you are able in your context, talk with the students about their work, side by side, looking out at the horizon together. Judge it less.

One of the students mentioned he never really liked English class until he was with Ms. Oliver. Why? Because with other English teachers he had to figure out how to write to please them. There you go. Work out what the adult wants and do that. For students being judged, this is a good strategy for getting, on average, better grades. But better grades aren’t actually the intended outcome of schooling. Better learning is. 

A big thanks to Stacie Oliver’s students! And to Stacie for her innovation and Batsheva for the Overthrowing Education podcast.


Memories – stories are often made of memories. Memories can enhance childhood and help form important family bonds. Here are some new books for children all focused on memories.

Malaika, Carnival Queen

Malaika, Carnival Queen by Nadia L. Hohn, illustrated by Irene Luxbacher, is a lovely story of a dream and shards of memory. Told in the lilting Jamaican voice of Malaika, she tells her Mummy of her dream. Together they look at pictures and talk about the daddy who passed away. He was a migrant fruit picker. Mummy helps Malaika to meet his old friends and, together, they hold a parade to honor his memory – a carnival of which Malaika gets to be the radiant Queen, just like her daddy dreamt about. ISBN 978-1-77306-850-3, Groundwood Books

In Hopscotch by Marie-Louise Gay, Ophelia watches the small dog at her neighbor’s house and loves how he runs and looks. She wished she could play with him. But one day the dog has vanished. Then Ophelia and her parents have to leave their house, too, in search of new work. Ophelia hates moving and living in a different place. She dreams of her dog friend and is scared of sounds and sights in her new place at night. Her imagination runs wild. Soon she has to attend a new school and she doesn’t speak the language. But thanks to her kind teacher, her own imagination and the hopscotch game she can draw, she soon makes new friends and feels at home. This lovely picture book is based on Marie-Louise Gay’s own childhood memories.

Moments in Time - Memories of East Vancouver

ISBN 978-1-77306-843-5, Groundwood Books

Moments in Time – Memories of East Vancouver by Sandip Sodhi, illustrated by Waheeda Tejani-Byron. This picture book is a tool to use while reading and having family discussions with children. Sandip Sodhi recalls the smells of cardamom and clove chai simmering on the stove. She remembers clothes billowing on the clothesline and asks ‘what do you remember of windy days and coming home from school? As she recalls sounds, music, chores and much more she draws the reader into the text and offers opportunities to discuss what makes you remember and what is important? ISBN 978-1-7770218-4-9 This book is available through Amazon or through 

Meet Buffy Sainte-Marie (Scholastic Canada Biography)

Remember this indigenous performer?An important new title in Scholastic Canada’s Biography series by Elizabeth MacLeod, illustrated by Mike Deas, just came out. Meet Buffy Sainte-Marie is the story of her life. Readers will learn that the famous indigenous singer was adopted. Through much dedication and hard work, she used her song writing to share her message of peace and acceptance with the world. Along the way Buffy was awarded an Oscar, shared songs and stories with Sesame Street characters, performed all over the world and explored groundbreaking technologies in art and teaching.

Others featured in this Biography series include Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, Terry Fox, David Suzuki and many others..

ISBN 978-1-4431-9612-3, Scholastic Canada

Margriet Ruurs is the author of many books for children and conducts author visits to international schools.

Forward Reflections: The Essence of Belonging in the Journey Ahead

Sometimes I am guilty of stating the obvious. To steer clear of this, I instead wish to provoke the reader with a few questions. As summer comes to an end and a new academic year looms on the horizon, how might summer’s final quiet moments of deep reflection result in action? Further, are you taking time to consider ways in which classrooms and entire school communities can be impregnated by a critical and omnipotent sense of belonging?  

Education: A Crucible for Molding Minds and Shaping the Future

For many, August is the new September as school will start well before Labor Day. Regardless of timing, the next month surely will witness a coming back to life for schools. Regardless of the preparation on the part of teachers and administration, it will be students who ultimately breathe life back into the shells we call school. Bustling hallways, the clamor of youthful footsteps, and hopefully an echoing of far more questions than answers. Discovery. Pervasive in schools and society, but also paradoxical, is an elusive treasure: belonging. More than a feeling, belonging need not be like a hidden oasis in an arid desert, for it holds the power to quench the parched spirit and genius to soon step into our schools. Torrents of uncertainty and the biting winds of isolation can be quelled. Yet, it won’t just happen. We, as educators, must deliberately set the stage. Taylor Mali’s slam poetry performance, “What Difference Does a Teach Make,” remains gospel as there is no space for the self-deprecating claim, “I’m just a teacher.” 

Education has, does, and will always serve as a crucible for molding minds and shaping the future. Definitely not a role to be underestimated. In this molding and shaping, a sense of belonging must be the lifeblood of all we do. Belonging naturally courses through the veins of learning but also the fragile tendrils of what it means to live. Though there are countless studies of belonging across multiple disciplines, including education, sociology, and psychology, we know, no proof is necessary to support the idea that belonging is an innate and essential human need. Before the “gates” open and students pour into school, it serves us well to not only consider but make a plan for how we might create a greater sense of belonging in our school communities.  

Three Strategies to Develop Belonging

  1. Know Your Students: Create opportunities for students to share their unique stories. President Theodore Roosevelt said it best, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” Take an honest interest in students and foster inclusivity and diversity, modeling care so students similarly take a genuine interest in not only knowing but appreciating each other. Considering Betsy Butler’s, “11 Tried and True Strategies for Getting to Know Your Studentsas a sort of a la carte menu may help foster connections.
  1. Deliberately Design Learning Which Integrates Community: Encourage collaboration not just between students but also across the entire community. Communicate with parents and invite others in, but also consider how students’ learning might be able to make a positive impact on the larger community. One such school that navigated this paradigmatic shift is Iowa BIG. One example is their half-day option for juniors and seniors from three districts to conduct community-connected projects for core credit. For more on this, see feature and podcast
  1. Provide Support and Resources: Aside from dedicated student support services, integrate peer-to-peer tutoring and encourage participation in a range of extracurricular and club activities. Don’t leave it to counseling centers alone to support students with self-esteem, stress management, and building healthy relationships. By providing the support students need, there will be a strengthening of being valued and truly feeling like one belongs. Veteran teacher Tim Smyth shares in, “The Truth About SEL. It Works,” the importance of connecting with students on a human-to-human level. “We’re all going through something, every one of us, especially teenagers. They have a right to be mad, have a right to be sad, a right to be joyful.”

Ultimately, schools must foster a profound sense of belonging among students, faculty, and families. This does not just happen but requires intentional practices that nurture inclusivity, connection, and support. Deliberate actions are necessary for the seeds of belonging to be sown. Seeds to be watered, sunned, and shaded; allowing students to flourish and thrive within the nurturing embrace of their educational community.

WELL Certification: Building for Health and Wellness

So, who already is setting the stage for creating spaces that lend themselves to greater belonging? Jeff Platenberg, Assistant Superintendent of Fairfax County Public Schools (FCPS) shared, “Safety and well-being of our students and staff is our top priority. Ensuring that our buildings are optimized to provide a healthy learning and work environment is a critical part of that effort.” FCPS in turn earned the WELL Health-Safety Rating. LEED, standing for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is well known the world over and is a certification focusing on environmental impact and sustainability. One requirement to become certified involves the integration of healthy, sustainable construction practices. Green Business Certification Incorporation (GBCI) administers the LEED certification program and in July 2020, developed WELL Certification. WELL takes it one step further, and focuses on people’s health and wellness. It is “a performance-based system for measuring, certifying, and monitoring features of the built environment that impact human health and wellbeing, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind.” Hundreds of experts across academia, public health, medicine, government, and real estate provided input, and now schools, startups, and Fortune 500s are utilizing the certification as a seal of prioritization. When we recognize a student will spend more than 15,000 hours at school in their lifetime, it behooves us to create more healthy environments.  

Forward Ho! Lovers of Truth and Good!”

In the tapestry of education, tolerance and welcoming are no longer enough. Appreciation and belonging are what will weave the threads of connection, understanding, inclusion, and empathy. Threads that will create a foundation where students can grow, flourish, and find their place in this vast world. Poet and playwright Charles Harpur said it best in “Forward Ho!” 

And doubt not, the earth that has grown old in sorrow

Shall grow young again in the light of that morrow.



A stormy sea can lead to many different adventures, real, fictional or figurative. The following nautical novels, and a picturebook, have a shared focus, yet the authors present us with vastly different tales of the sea, adventure and exploration in different eras. 

Stowaway by Karen Hesse

Newbery award winning author Karen Hesse (Out of the Dust) has outdone herself in this novel. It’s been around for years but I had never read it before. Now love it! Based entirely in nonfiction, but written as a fictional diary, this book uses factual information such as the crew’s names and existing diaries including the one by Captain Cook himself. The author recreated the journey of the Endeavour. In 1767, 11-year-old Nicholas Young stowed away on the now famous ship, not knowing what would unfold. Cook’s three-year mission was secret: he was charged by the British Navy to search for a lost continent, believed to be located between the southern tip of South America and New Zealand. Young’s journal charts the voyage, with adventure unfolding in every port of call. This is the story of a true, great voyage of discovery seen through the eyes of a boy who was actually there. He learns about native populations, customs, foods, and sickness like scurvy and dysentery. The endpages show a global map of the entire journey. As you read, you realize what the world was like before global communications, even before having an actual map of a place. ISBN 0-689-83989-8, Aladdin Paperbacks

The Last Mapmaker by Newbery Honor author Christina Soontornvat is a wonderful read for young adventurers. The map on the first page of this book shows the fictional land and the seas where Sai lives. She is apprentice to a mapmaker and hopes to climb the ladder in her society to escape the slums where her pick-pocketing father and she live. Unexpected adventure whisks her away aboard a sail ship to the fabled Sunderlands. Do dragons truly live there? And what is the impact explorers have on “new found” lands and their environment? A fascinating blend of fantasy with a sprinkle of historic fiction, adventure and the following of passion. A great page turner that shows girls that they can be anything they wish. ISBN 978-1-5362-0495-7, Candlewick Press

Nim’s Island by Wendy Orr is another fabulous journey into a magical land that will make you want to explore. Nim has lost her mother but she and her scientist father settle on a tropical island where she has all the freedom to explore. 

This adventure is a modern Robinson Crusoe tale in the era of e-mail. Nim can chop down bananas with a machete, climb palm trees, and start a fire with a piece of glass. So she’s not worried when her scientist dad sails off to study plankton for a few days, leaving her alone on their island. Besides, Nim has a sea lion to watch out for her and an iguana to keep her company. She is also inspired by a real life hero, an author/book character with whom she has an interesting e-mail connection. When her father’s cell-phone calls stop coming and disaster seems near, Nim has to be stronger and braver than she’s ever been before. With the help of the author they both overcome fears and discover their own strengths. This book is a wonderful classroom read-aloud choice or a book to inspire (girl) adventurers. 

• Nim’s Island, 978-0440418689, Yearling • Rescue At Sea and • Return to Nim’s Island were followed the movie Nim’s Island, featuring Jodie Foster and Gerard Butler.

Story Boat by Kyo Maclear, with art by Rashin Kheiriyeh is a different boat story.

When you have no home, when you are walking or sailing towards a new place, ‘here’ is a different concept. This is an imaginative, lyrical picture book about the migrant experience through a child’s eyes. ‘Here’ is home and ‘here’ changes all the time. When a little girl and her younger brother are forced along with their family to flee the home they’ve always known, they learn to make a new home for themselves — wherever they are. And sometimes the smallest things – a cup, a blanket, a story – become a port of hope in a terrible storm. As the refugees travel onward toward an uncertain future, they are buoyed up by their hopes, dreams and the stories they tell — a story that will carry them forward. ISBN 978-0-7352-6359-8, Tundra

Margriet Ruurs likes sailing the seas with good adventure stories. She is available for author visits to international schools.

“Your job is to facilitate peer learning” – Reflections on an interview with Justin Reich

“Your job is to facilitate peer learning”

For the past decade, my colleagues and I at Leysin American School have focused on supporting teacher agency. In the early years, our motto was “Continually becoming the professionals we already are.” 

We’ve supported teacher agency with the belief that innovation and substantive change in the way we do school will come directly from educators in action research cycles of teaching and reflecting, day after day. 

In this EdSurge podcast, host Jeffrey Young speaks with Justin Reich about what Justin argues is the only way for teaching and learning to get better at school: “The way [teachers] change their teaching practice is by experimenting with stuff and then sharing the results of those experiments with their colleagues.”

Reich is the director of the MIT Teaching Systems Lab. He’s held many positions, including ninth grade world history teacher and wilderness educator. The ideas in this podcast are also presented in his latest book, Iterate, available November 2023.

EdSurge Podcast

“Presently, there are many teachers who think professional development is pretty boring and pretty lame, and that is an unfortunate indictment of our education system.” 

Oh yes. Professional development (PD) often misses the mark. Sometimes it’s the wrong topic at the wrong time. Sometimes it’s just plain boring. I’m sure that Reich would say one reason for this is the manner in which PD is structured. As an example, he explains that a sports team would not just listen to theoretical explanations of a new play before running the play in a game. No way. They would instead experiment with the new play, try it out, reduce the complexity of the new play to practice it. 

Our professional development center at Leysin American School (LAS) bases its work on this notion of experimentation and collaboration. We try things out, share things with others, reflect and replan, and experiment some more. We learn in short iterations, we make little bets, we fail early and safely (which isn’t really failure at all, it’s called learning), and we adopt a mindset of action research. We get better at what we practice – and we get even better when we reflect on what we practice.

That is key. 

“Most teachers are patient pragmatists … [they are] waiting to see if there is some evidence – not in the abstractions of research articles, but if there is evidence from their colleagues that these things help students.”

Of course we are. We are patient and pragmatic because we have experienced more than one initiative that, although well intentioned, missed the mark. “Most teachers are naturally suspicious about new ideas that come from on high, because there is a new idea that comes from on high every year or two.” Or we have heard that something is research-based and best practice when, based on our own experience, we know better. At least in our context, with our students, with our personal professional abilities.  

Reich continues: “If you want to get teachers to do something new, you have to get them to learn from one another …  That is the main way that teaching and learning actually changes at schools.” And “If you are a school leader, this is essential information, essential framing for you, because essentially your job is to facilitate peer learning.”

This last statement is so important. A leader’s role is to create a culture in which teachers can learn from each other, because that is indeed the main way teaching and learning actually changes. The leader’s role is not to know more – that isn’t possible – nor to identify the best external provider of professional development, the best materials, the best whatever. No, no, no. The goal of the leader is to help teachers learn from teachers, in iterations. In his words: “The job of the school leader is to try to spin that process as quickly, as efficiently, as joyfully as possible.”

There are probably many ways of spinning that process. For us at Leysin American School, the process has been defined by asking teachers to identify the professional development that is right for them, working together with colleagues on campus and outside people or programs that they identify themselves. Sometimes this is through informal group meetings over the course of the school year, sometimes this is as a passion project supported with a stipend and the help of a colleague in our research center. Often we make introductions to bring people with similar questions and interests together, in person and online. We ask teachers to talk and reflect and try things out and to talk and reflect some more. 

Reich: “So things that school leaders can do is … make it easier for teachers to conduct experiments.”

As a school leader, are you helping teachers conduct experiments? Does your mindset, your schedule, and your PD program support teacher-led experimentation? Ask yourself the questions that Reich poses in the podcast:

  • How am I helping teachers … invest in innovations?
  • How am I creating “the conditions where teachers get a chance to learn from one another?”
  • How do you make sure that all that experimentation doesn’t happen in a thousand different directions, how do you help … encourage a community to pick a few different things ….?

It isn’t easy, as a leader, to get past the confirmation bias that comes with the position. School leaders generally got where they are because they have demonstrated serious ability and motivation in more than a few areas of education. There is a natural tendency to want to direct, to tell, to lead in the manner we are often told a leader leads. But when it comes to the professional development of teachers, we need to be very humble. As one professional training book puts it, “Telling Ain’t Training.” Building capacity for shared efficacy is training, or at least a necessary condition for training to thrive. This is quite different from “telling.” 

Let’s have Reich summarize for us:

“Teacher leadership is essential for school improvement. You cannot improve schools without empowering teachers to be trying to generate new, better practices, going through these iterative approaches of trying one thing, seeing how it works, trying a little bit better things, and then sharing what they are learning with others. That’s the only way that teaching and learning in schools gets better.”


Leysin American School Educational Research

Design Thinking for Leading and Learning

Launching Innovation in Schools

Prompting Strategies for Educators Using ChatGPT and LLMs

As more educators and students begin to use Large Language Models (LLMs) such as, ChatGPT, Bard, Claude, and others, one of the key challenges is understanding how to use prompts effectively to refine and build upon responses. 

A prompt refers to a question, statement, query, or task that is entered into the text box of a Large Language Model (LLM) such as ChatGPT, Bard, or Claude. It assists the Large Language Model in understanding the intent of the person who is typing, whether it be a question, statement, or task, and then generating appropriate responses to address the question, statement, or task. Teachers can try various prompts in order to generate specific information or explore different subjects. When working with prompts, it is important to take the time to review the response and seek additional clarification, definition, or specificity through further prompts. The information can be at times incorrect, or inaccurate, hence double-checking is a key step in learning how to prompt. 

Using prompts can help both students and educators access more targeted and accurate information, facilitate deeper learning, and promote critical thinking skills. It is important to understand prompting requires patience and practice. To develop proficiency in prompting, there are several resources and strategies worth exploring shared below. One example of an effective approach is to start by writing thoughtful and targeted prompts that align with specific learning objectives. For example, if the objective is to learn more about a historical event, a prompt could be written to ask about the causes, consequences, and key players involved.

Another strategy is to provide students with examples of well-crafted prompts and encourage them to analyze and evaluate them. By examining successful prompts, students can develop a deeper understanding of what makes a prompt effective and apply these to their own work.

Educators can use technology tools such as chatbots and interactive dialogue models to help students practice and refine their prompting skills in a safe and controlled environment. 

In our respective school settings, it is important to ensure that our curriculums of digital literacy integrate Large Language Models (LLMs). This skill is becoming essential as these AI tools seamlessly integrate into the digital ecosystems we engage with, both in school and in our personal lives. Developing proficiency in prompting is important for educators and students alike, as it represents a new essential skill of digital literacy. Taking the time to learn the strategies, approaches, language, and questioning techniques for effective prompting is very much like the early days when we were learning how to use search engines and terms. Acquiring solid prompting skills not only supports the development of critical thinking but also equips us to navigate the complexities of the information age. Mastering the skill of digital and information literacy to harness the potential of natural language models provides students and educators with the necessary tools to be critical thinkers with all the information and data that surrounds us.

Here are a few resources every educator must have in their toolkit, check it out!

A Teacher’s Prompt Guide to ChatGPT
Short instructional teachers guide to using ChatGPT pdf download

50 ChatGPT Prompts for Teachers:

Seven Suggestions for Saving Time With ChatGPT by 

100 Prompts for Teachers to Ask ChatGPT

From @herfteducator A Teacher’s Prompt Guide to ChatGPT

From Ted Pickett @Mr.Pickett

Dr. Phillipa Hardman from Cambridge University ChatGPT Edu-Mega-Prompts

How to write an effective GPT-3 prompt

3 Principles for prompt engineering with ChatGPT

ChatGPT Guide: Six basic prompt strategies

Advanced ChatGPT Prompt Tutorial 

Strategies for ChatGPT prompting 


Are you an educator looking for a good summer read?

Throughout the school year I post recommendations for children’s books that I love and that will fit the curriculum or get kids excited about reading.

But with summer upon us, it’s time to share some of my very favourite reads for grown-ups! (although these books are also great for highschool readers). Is there anything better than to curl up with a good book? And the best books will have you so enthralled that you don’t even notice how much you learn while you read!

Bibliophile, An Illustrated Miscellany by Jane Mount is for booklovers of all ages. A lusciously illustrated book of 224 pages, this book celebrates all things biblio. Filled with fascinating facts and interesting information. You will recognize favourite authors and titles, find out about ones you never read yet, read about unique libraries and bookstores and find many great facts. The illustrations alone will make you fall in love with books all over again.

ISBN 978-1-4521-6723-7, Chronicle Books

The best read I can recommend to you for summer is The Seven Sisters series by Lucinda Riley. Amazingly, these books are not yet very well known in North America but all the rage in Europe. “50 million copies sold world-wide” states the final title in the 8 part series. Each book highlights one of seven adopted sisters as they trace their origins. Each reaches a different continent while meeting their ancestors through back flashes. 

These fascinating stories seamlessly combine fiction with historical fiction and nonfiction. Many of the characters are actually real – sometimes well known, historical figures. The books take place in different era’s and in different cultures. I loved learning about Aboriginal artists in Australia, about life in Ireland, in Brazil and many other places. 

The stories are well researched and skillfully written. The 8th and final book ties all stories together, explaining the family’s background and ties to mythology. 

Lucinda Riley’s website complements the books with videos and information:

Happy summer reading!

Margriet Ruurs is a Canadian author who conducts school visits at International Schools around the world. Book now for the new school year:

Education and Affirmative Action

The recent US Supreme Court decision disallowing admissions using race-based affirmative action has spawned a fairly consistent message of despair from college presidents and deans who have been trying to diversify their student bodies.

In general, when a nation’s top intellectuals stand against legislation, you have to ask yourself what the social implications of the legislation are.

After decades of studies that have shown how important diversity is in the organisational workplace and how biased tertiary education systems have been in admitting a similar profile of socially advantaged group, which propagates a cycle of privilege (legacy students for example), it is overwhelmingly understood that diversity will not happen spontaneously by itself, it needs to be engineered.

An interesting experiment in the early 1970s by Nobel Prize-winning economist Thomas Schelling showed that human beings naturally seek to identify with people similar to themselves, unconsciously creating patterns of segregation. If that tendency is disrupted intentionally, a more diverse environment is created, which tends to yield more productivity and creativity. However, the natural tendency towards segregation has to be disrupted.

Initial efforts at affirmative action go back to the 1960s Civil Rights movement. They were part of a normative vision for a more equitable world, immortalised in Martin Luther King’s soaring “I Have a Dream” speech. At the deepest level, diversity is needed for a more peaceful world. How sad to see that vision blocked by the shadow of regression, taking us backwards.

Educators have to keep fighting for diversity, not through superficial or politicised rhetoric but actions: broadening assessment, diversifying staffing and  decolonising the curriculum, otherwise we won’t be heading to 2024 but to 1954.


My daughter once told me about a teacher who gave her back an assignment with a grade that she was not happy with. The teacher could see the dissatisfaction in her eyes and went to the trouble to keep her back after class. The teacher looked my daughter in the eyes and told her that she believed in her and that she knew that she could attain the top grade, even if it was not the case for this assignment. When my daughter completed the subject examinations and received her diploma, lo and behold, she had attained the top grade.  When I asked her about her performance, she told me the story of the teacher who believed in her, and that this had been a core motivational factor. 

Philosophical discussions about the value of the “top grade”, the sometimes undesirable effects of our grading system aside, what was powerful about that exchange was a very simple message: I believe in you, you can do it. What a message like that does, when it is sincere and comes from the heart, is it gives confidence, and confidence can move mountains. 

What is the purpose of an education? We all know that the core idea of the transmission of knowledge and skills is central. However, if the big picture is to prepare young people for life, to form them and train them to be ready to thrive in the world and to contribute to public goods, then it is clear that there is much more than knowledge and technical skill development at stake. Fundamentally, they need to go out into the world being able to do something. This is not a mechanical exercise, it is a social, psychological and emotional one too.  

It has become increasingly clear over the past years, and increasingly broadcast and integrated into curriculum design, that interpersonal and intrapersonal qualities need to be nurtured in a good education as much as, if not more than, knowledge and technical skill. Decision-making, self-knowledge, teamwork, conflict resolution, followship and negotiation skills are all vitaly important competences that should be developed in school and university and in the workplace too (education continues for adults in the way in which they are coached and developed by their supervisors: learning is a lifelong enterprise).  

It would be difficult to find anyone who would disagree that confidence in oneself is central. When you believe in yourself and can ideate the successful outcome or goal that lies before you in space and time, see it in your mind’s eye, when you know that you can do something remarkable, it lifts you to extraordinary heights and pushes you to dare to do things that you would not otherwise consider.

Of course, there has to be some substance behind confidence: it has to be grounded in some truth. Praise has to be sincere, not fatuous. If a student’s work is substandard or if a colleague does something mediocre or poor, we have to have the courage to give helpful, tactful but corrective feedback, not praise. Congratulating someone for a job badly done or saying that you believe in them when you don’t doesn’t work: the insincerity makes it hollow. Remaining in a state of unconscious incompetence comes about when feedback is not honest.

However, every person does have something special in them: we all have some gift, or even several gifts that the skilled eye can see, the wise mentor can observe, and it is in moments like these, when we see a gift that we should give encouragement. The person holding the gift feels the alignment of what is seen and what is, there is a feeling of truth that is created and that becomes a powerful reinforcement, flowing into the energy of confidence, that intricate mental and emotional network that lights up every muscle and neuron in your being.  

So think about your students and colleagues, about what they do really well and tell them. Make the moment special, do it occasionally and enjoy that beautiful moment of giving real, genuine praise. Above all, let them know that you believe in them, that they can go far with that gift: it gives confidence, and confidence can move mountains.