Communication & Leadership-Revisited

LeadershipRecently I’ve noticed that one of my posts is receiving many views. The post is about communication and leadership which I wrote after attending the Leadership for Community Engagement program. One of the program leaders was Dr Elizabeth Mellor and I wrote a summary of her ideas in a previous post which I have reposted below.

You, as a leader, will be different to a manager, you will be finding solutions, you will use your courage and confidence to influence others, you will speak a common language and find that common language so you can move forward. You will empower others and be an enabler so you can shift barriers. You will encourage others to ‘think big’ and work towards delivering transformational change. You will coach others on how to measure change, be respectful and a listener so you understand and collaborate.

You will not shy from anything and you will get in and learn. You will empower others to solve problems because you can’t fix it all. You will take risks and from taking risks you will gain experience to put into other aspects of your role. You will give others a voice and act on what they want and work side by side with them to achieve your common goals. You will be capable of ‘unlearning’ and not be judgmental. You will build a ‘treasury’ of good practice to help you evaluate actions and capture what has been learnt so you can measure the impact of changes and improvements.

And finally, you will deliver to every child and family. Your flexibility will be key to you being a leader, as without flexibility you will impede innovation. You, as a leader, must leave the profession in a better state and by building the capacity of others you should do yourself out of a job!

Cheers Nina

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Australia Writes with Steve Peha: All welcome to learn with Steve. This is an wonderful opportunity! How to join the group-read on…

Steve Peha.jpgA Message from Steve Peha

Hi, Friends! Thanks for coming on board. We’re going to do some fantastic work together. Start posting about the kids you teach, the writing challenges you have, what you want help with, etc. I will start loading up resources. We can start talking about Skype visits to your schools, our Be A Better Writer book and Classroom Program and other books and resources we can help you acquire. Big thanks to Nina for bringing us all together. Kind regards, Steve

What an incredible opportunity for Aussie teachers of all year levels, Foundation – Year 12 to work with Steve. Steve has had such strong support from Australia that he decided he wanted to do more. Teachers from other countries may certainly join and I’m sure you’ll find it valuable.

Steve will be working with the Australian and IB-PYP curriculum.

I’ve been working with Steve this year, but have been using his material for roughly ten years. This is my opportunity to give back to Steve and to work with Steve and teachers across Australia and other places.

Here’s the link to join the group. Visit and join us for a year of learning how to teach our students of any year level to BE A Better Writer.

LINK to join Australia Writes (with Steve Peha)

Cheers Nina

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Conferencing a piece of writing: What I do…

12439093_10153689901384132_8793394185808958194_nI’ve been asked to explain how I review a piece of writing with a student. This is an interesting question. When conferencing a piece of writing,  I’m not giving the writing a mark against standards. I’m looking for how to help the student be a better writer. I like to call it taking a global close look at the writing with the student. There is a risk of becoming too micro driven when teaching writing. This is one reason why I love Steve Peha’s book Be a Better Writer because Steve talks about the things which matter most.

And yes, I took those words from Steve Peha’s book Be a Better Writer.

be-a-better-writer-2Secondly, when a student gives me a piece of writing to review the first thing I like the student to do is read their writing to me. This often prompts the student to make initial corrections and pose questions about their own writing. This is where I start asking the student simple questions. Why did you write about…? What structure did you use?

I never write on a student’s piece of writing. I will either write the whole text out if really needed or ask the student to make corrections using notes we have made. Ownership is very important!

My purpose is to collect information around what the student knows, understands and can do.

What does the student’s writing tell be about their understanding of:

The Text:

Have they written for a particular audience? Do they know the purpose for their writing? Does the student have an understanding of structure and organisation? Has the student used a taught genre structure? What language choices has the student made?

Text Features:

Has the student used paragraphs? What knowledge of sentence structure does the student have? Is there a consistent tense throughout their writing? Are they aware of pronouns and conjunctions even if they cannot articulate why?


Is the student using correct sentence punctuation? Is the student using articles, plurals, prepositions, subject-verb agreement even if they cannot articulate why?


Has the student used correct grammar at the word choice level? Is the student using verbs within their text? Is the spelling reasonable?

When working with a student, I am looking at how to improve their writing at their point of need. At this stage, the student and I will look at their personal learning goals and set new goals. Goals are set for text, text features, sentence structure and word choice.

A formal assessment of a piece of writing is a different process and I will share how I do this in a future post.

Cheers Nina

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Part 1: Student Agency? Teacher Agency? School Agency? Customization-Motivation-Equalization: School Culture

Why is student agency, teacher agency and school agency and the customization of learning crucial to motivation and equalization? We need to talk about agency on many levels.

Tom Vander Ark in his video talks about key attributes required to develop school agency and student agency.

Agency and Technology – Tom Vander Ark

Article: Elements of High School Agency Environments by Marie Bjerede Dec 17th, 2015

According to Tom Vander Ark Student agency has three key features:

Customization-individualized learning path

Motivation-student motivation is key

Equalization-all students-all ability levels

In a school with high agency Tom Vander Ark states that students with agency will be able to answer the following questions.

  • What are you learning?
  • Why are you learning this?
  • What do you need to do to move to the next level?
  • How they will learn.
  • How they will demonstrate.

Tom Vander Ark calls this: VOICE & CHOICE

High agency students:

  • Customize their learning
  • Have intrinsic motivation
  • Co-curator of their pathway
  • Have efficacy

The relationship between agency and learning:

Students with high agency are able to transfer knowledge. These students have deeper skills.

  • Think critically
  • Collaborate
  • Think Creatively

What does a school look like that supports agency?


  • Relationship between students and teachers.
  • Respected as learners
  • Responsibility as learners


  • Pairing of a group of students with a teacher possibly for their whole education at a particular school (critical in secondary schools)
  • Meet 2/3 times a week
  • Build relationship with students
  • Advocate for that group of students


  • Voice & Choice
  • Some path flexibility
  • Publishing to a broader audience
  • A portfolio

Next post:  So how does a teacher develop agency?

Cheers Nina

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IB-PYP: Maps – Gathering prior knowledge: Show me the way to your home from school. What did I learn? I should have known more about this student!

Nina's Arena-Teaching & Learning in the Australian primary classroom

We’re learning about maps so I asked my students to show their way home from school. They could choose how they would show their journey. One of my students started drawing…. What did I learn? I know that how we ask children to show what they know is incredibly important and when gathering prior knowledge we can’t assume what a child knows. One of my very quiet 7 year old students started drawing their map.

school ) 006

school ) 013

Kids and Graham Morgan Senior 014

Can I find the way to my student’s home? YES How did this student know what they know? Would I have discovered what I now know about this student and their thinking if I’d presented my initial question a different way? QUESTIONS!

Cheers Nina

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Part 6: Working with Mark (Year 10) to Be a Better Writer (BABW): Preparing Mark for his Year 11-VCE (Victoria-Australia) Philosophy Exam.

Mark is in Year 10, Victoria, Australia which he will complete in a few weeks. It’s common for students to start their Victorian Certificate of Education (VCE) in Year 10 by completing one or two Year 11 subjects. Students completing a VCE Year 11 subject are exposed to the rigor and examination process involved. Mark has completed Year 11 Philosophy which he intends to study as a Year 12 subject in Year 11, which commences in late January in Australia. Year 12 subjects receive a ranking grade.

Using Be A Better Writer (BABW) by Steve Peha has provided Mark with the tools and explanations to focus on the critical issues in his writing.

Our focus has been on Chapter 8: Creating a Logical Answer to an Essay Question using the What-Why-How? strategy, Chapter 7: Better Sentences and Chapter 8: Better Punctuation.

For example Steve’s chapter Better Punctuation takes the writer through:

Do Rules Rule?be-a-better-writer-2

Practical Punctuation

When Sentences Go Wrong

The Muddle in the Middle

The Importance of Capitalization

Grouping Related Ideas into Paragraphs

Punctuating Dialog

Unruly Rules

So Who Really Rules the Rules?

mark-criteriaMark and I reviewed the rubric for a Philosophy essay, particularly the language section. What does ‘Language is appropriate’ mean?

We reviewed the genre structure required. Structures assist Mark to keep his responses logical. Initial structure.jpgUsing Steve’s What-Why-How? strategy has helped Mark to look closely at the question and answer the actual question. When students don’t read the question carefully and continue to write an essay on a different topic, there is a problem. The What-Why-How? helps to eliminate this.

Criteria – Rubric

Students should be able to review and assess their writing when provided with a rubric. Rubrics require unpacking with students so they understand what each standard means. So what does ‘Language is appropriate’ mean? Mark and I have unpacked this to include vocabulary choice, sentence structure, spelling and grammar. We reviewed the expectations linked to each of these.


Mark has limited time before his exam. Having key vocabulary spelt correctly is important. Mark has key vocabulary he must learn to spell written on sticky notes stuck on the walls in his home. His job is to revise, revise, revise and remove when he can confidently spell each words. Mark and I discussed the spelling rules we have reviewed. We’ve only looked at the basics to date. Rules don’t always work when spelling, but at this stage its better than relying on sight alone.

Steve’s chapter Better Sentences takes the writer through:

Sentence Sensemark-sentence

Start Different, Stay Different

Short, Medium and Long

The Secret of Well-Structured Sentences

The Sound of Music

Listen Up

Every Writer Serves a Sentence

Mark’s sentence above has ‘better’ structure. He is able to combine what he has learnt with the actual writing task at the time of writing. This is critical, particularly in an examination situations.


Above is a section from Mark’s practice essay completed as part of his exam preparation. This is a first draft. Mark and I discussed his letter formation and his use of capital letters. Overall, improvement is evident. Mark is now thinking whilst writing, re-reading quickly and making corrections as he writes. He is also writing using structure and a ‘better’ sense of grammar.

Cheers Nina

P.S Mark has completed his exam! He felt confident and pleased with his efforts. Mark’s goal this year is to achieve a satisfactory. His subject knowledge appears to be good and he really enjoys Philosophy. As I will be continuing to work with Mark into the future, I will be using BABW to plan his next level of learning.


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Christmas and a Goat….

Nina's Arena-Teaching & Learning in the Australian primary classroom

My students live in a beautiful part of the world and they know it! They are an amazing group of young learners and today they demonstrated this. Each year I give my students a little gift, but this year one of my colleagues and I decided that maybe we could do something else. Instead of buying each student a gift we bought them a goat.
Today was our last day together, so we sat our students down and explained that they would not be getting a gift from us this year but we had bought them something else.
When we told them we’d bought them a goat they were excited. We explained that our goat would be given to a disadvantaged village in the world. They asked interesting questions and were thrilled. The goat is called Jayda after the two grades and each child was given a copy of the email to share with their families.

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