Category Archives: Leadership Blogs

Walking the Talk: Living Your School’s Mission

Authentic Application of Guiding Statements

As I transitioned to my new project with ORIGINS Education in Beijing (, I was inspired by their Guiding Statements: Inspired to Wonder, Challenged to Explore, Supported to Create and Empowered to Connect. 

I have a passion and curiosity about making connections between a school’s Guiding Statements and what I see when I walk around its campus(es). In my workshops on leadership and management for schools, there is an underlying theme about how leaders and managers can live their school’s Guiding Statements. What’s the point of having words that state what you do (mission), what you aspire to (vision), and what your core values are if they are not going to be used in your daily work or guide your strategic thinking?

An Ethical Obligation to ‘Walk the Talk’

As educators and leaders, we all have an ethical obligation to our community to make sure that what we state about who we are as a school (mission), what we are striving to achieve (vision) and how we operationalise this (our values) is evident in what we say and do. As leaders and managers in schools, it is our responsibility to help make connections between everything we do and the school’s Guiding Statements.

As a Head of School, I felt it was important to have one meeting per quarter for the entire staff so that we could discuss these connections. These meetings achieved several goals, aside from the obvious where we took time to ‘unpack’ our Guiding Statements and actually try to understand them: as a collective, we learned more about various activities throughout different parts of the school. At the same time, we were documenting evidence on how our school was ‘living our Guiding statements’, as well as generating inter-disciplinary links and cross grade level connections. I still remember our Grade 3 students sharing their learning on the digestive system with the Grade 12 Biology class as their provocation, a direct result of the IBDP Biology teacher sitting in the same group as the Grade 3 class teacher at one of these meetings!

Encouraging all staff (academic and administration/support) to connect their daily work to the Guiding Statements helped us all ‘walk the talk’ about the purpose and direction of our school, often generated ‘teachable moments’ and helped make our work even more meaningful.

As teachers, we believe that we should foster authentic connections for our curriculum, and as leaders and managers in schools, authenticity is where you make a conscious decision to live your school’s mission, and you ‘walk your talk’. As a leader, I have always believed that it is my duty to help all members of the school community develop a shared understanding of who we were as a school, why we exist and what we were working towards. Our decision making processes include a step where we ask ourselves “how will this support or add value to our Guiding Statements?” It has now become a routine for me and I strive to walk the talk – to live the mission of not just my business, but for those I work for as a consultant.

Inspired to Wonder, Challenged to Explore, Supported to Create and Empowered to Connect : The more I read these words and use them in my day to day work at ORIGINS Education, the more powerful I believe that they are for 21st Century learning and ensuring that our students are prepared for the world beyond school – no matter what that looks like. Each day in my work for ORIGINS, I WONDER, EXPLORE, CREATE and CONNECT, supporting me in not just ‘saying’ but also ‘doing’: supporting me to ‘walk the talk.’

Are You Cooperative, Collaborative, or Both?

Are You Cooperative, Collaborative, or Both?

Schools are communities: They are about people working together to develop ideas, structure learning and create connections. In order to do this successfully it is important to understand the dynamics behind ‘working together’. We need to co-operate AND collaborate. But what does this really mean?

We encourage you to look at this graphic by John Spencer (@spencerideas) and consider the important understandings between co-operation and collaboration. Are you using both important practices in your classroom and life?

Informing Creative Leadership: Art, Technology & Design

ORIGINS Video Inspiration: John Maeda

It is widely accepted today that the future is vastly different from how it looked to our parent’s generation – a time when they worried about our educations: from school through university. The world we live in today is ever more populated with each passing minute. Abundance, penetration and reliance on technology, as well as energy resources, is evident in almost everything we do on a daily basis. The numbers are staggering: the amount of data which flows through Internet, is created and stored on servers around the world, the crude oil pumped out, the electricity created, the number of planes flying across the globe, the production, consumption and wastage of food…

Our children are growing up in an ever competitive world in which they will have to develop unique qualities to not only excel in their professional lives, but also to become thoughtful, compassionate, empathetic and decent human beings. The tough work of today’s educators and leaders has to encompass several specialties in order to help prepare the next generation to take care of the home we lovingly call ‘Earth’.

In his TED Talk, John Maeda, former President of the Rhode Island School of Design, notes how rare it is to find people with an appreciation of four elements: Technology, Art, Design and Leadership and he explains the necessity of cultivating the understanding and presence of these qualities in our younger generations. Maeda highlights how these elements are connected, while highlighting their importance and impact on our inward and outward perspectives.

Our schools need to adapt to these changes and start connecting the key elements required for young people to be ready for the challenges of the future. Introduction:

John Maeda, former President of the Rhode Island School of Design, delivers a funny and charming talk that spans a lifetime of work in art, design and technology, concluding with a picture of creative leadership in the future. Watch for demos of Maeda’s earliest work — and even a computer made of people.

My Story: Caleb Archer

Leadership Connections

We often discuss the relational nature of learning and the impact a good educator can have on the lives of their students. The same is also true in leadership. A good leader impacts their staff both personally and in their professional practice. So, as I start contributing blogs and information into a public forum, with my biography already on our website and at the bottom of each article I contribute, I thought I would share my journey.

This year I am on a journey doing something that I felt ‘I had to do’.

You may have heard of Larry Walters, a truck driver that soared to fame on a lawn chair in 1982. It’s a story I love.

On July 2nd, 1982, Larry tied 42 helium-filled balloons to a Sears lawn chair in the backyard of his girlfriend’s house in San Pedro, California. With the help of some friends, Larry then secured himself into the lawn chair which was anchored to the bumper of a friend’s car by two nylon cords. He took with him supplies, including and large bottle of soda, a parachute and a BB gun to shoot out the balloons when he was ready to descend. His goal was to sail across the desert and hopefully make it to the Rocky Mountains in a few days. But things didn’t quite work out for Larry. After he released the first cord, the second one also snapped which shot Larry into the LA sky at over 1,000 feet per minute. So fast was his ascent that he lost his glasses. He then climbed to over 16,000 feet. For several hours he drifted in the cold air near the LA and Long Beach airports. A commercial airline pilot first spotted Larry and radioed the tower that he was passing a guy in a lawn chair at 16,000 feet. Larry was ready to go home but when he started shooting out a few balloons to start his descent he accidentally dropped the gun. He eventually landed in a Long Beach neighborhood. When he was interviewed by the times after his flight he simply said “It was something I had to do,” (Barry, M. 2015)

“It was something I had to do.” I think that everyone has had that feeling, but how many of us follow it through? Of those who do, there are those who end up with inspirational stories and others who end up with better impulse control. I had both of those thoughts when I heard about the opportunity to be a part of a startup project.

The whole idea of building something from scratch, rather than having to re-model or add on to existing projects appealed to me, but the risk of leaving a safe and enjoyable position with a good team also made me pause. In the end, it was circumstance that made me take the leap and, as with most start up projects, it has been an interesting journey.

As a middle and high school principal, I have always put students first and student learning at the centre of everything we do. This has not changed, but the way I do that now could not be more different than it was then.

In my new role, I have enjoyed being in the design team for two campuses – one brand new and the other a renovation. I have helped form policies and procedures to allow us to recruit and retain high quality teachers. I have had to think of all the little things that are taken for granted in existing organizations – because you only have to think of these things once (at least you hope so).

As I continue writing, the topics mentioned above are some of the ones I will be writing about.. along with Educational Leadership (my passion). If anything I write strikes a chord with you, I can be contacted through ORIGINS Education and am happy to discuss any of my experiences and the lessons learnt.

The Future is Being Created Now!

Discussions on the Future of Education

At dinner with a group of friends last night as we were all catching up, early conversation focused on one of our friends in the automotive industry who had been very busy working 7 days a week. We felt sorry for him until we realized that meant attending last week’s CES (Global Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas and he proceeded to captivate us with stories of the latest hi-tech wizardry and how it was shaping a revolution in the car industry. He clearly described five phases of development that will get us to a 2023 future where cars are redefined from simple tools for transportation to become electric powered, autonomous travel pods that were total ecosystems featuring holograms to replace the touch screen console and personalized by ultra smart artificial intelligence (AI), complete with facial recognition that can tell if you’ve had a tough day and gets to know you (predicative intelligence), what music you might want to listen to and where you want to go for dinner. Linked with the Internet of Things it’s all about the journey, not the destination. It reminded me of the iPhone revolution of the last 10 years and made me think about all the other ‘ecosystems’ in our lives: our homes, offices and schools.

An overseas visitor in our group was then introduced to the life-transforming wonders of shopping on Tao Bao, complete with demonstration of its photo search feature. Another immediate convert! She was however, puzzled by the experience of sharing the cost of dinner by WeChat payment, but felt better when our car friend explained further about how quick China is in adopting new technology, and that Beijing is one of the world’s three great technology hubs, alongside California’s Silicon Valley and Israel’s Silicon Wadi.

Inescapable was the reminder that we are living through what is now commonly dubbed the 4th industrial revolution – with its pervasive disruptors: technology, automation, artificial intelligence, abundance, globalization, big data and social media. Last week, a message on a friends social network advised us that education futurist, Professor Yong Zhao would be speaking at Beijing Normal University the next day, presenting in Chinese, so we quickly rescheduled plans and took the opportunity for as many people in our new school start-up office (from academic staff to secretaries) to go along and listen to his messages on the importance of education to be part of ‘leading the way’ by embracing the future, and being part of creating it rather than always trying to ‘catch up’. (Read this week’s ORIGINS article from Grace Yang for a recap and link to a recording of the presentation).
At dinner, my friend in the auto industry told me about their strategies for headhunting top talent in their last year at university, or those who recently graduated, and how they were doing away with the tried and tested MBA industry standards of setting Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to work towards. Instead, new employees are expected to come up with new ideas – they are expected to be creative. A similar message comes from Yong Zhao, who challenges schools to change their old notions of assessment and curriculum – ideas that are holding our kids back from learning the skills and attitudes that they need to thrive in a rapidly changing world.

Change in our work life can be hard for all of us, but when it comes to shopping or booking a holiday it comes surprisingly easily. One thing is certain: we need to look forward at the possibilities. Technology is changing work: 50% of today’s jobs will be gone by 2035, and the 60% of new jobs that will replace them haven’t been invented yet. However, a lot of future jobs are already out there today and are highly paid, valuing skills not experience. Industry giants and start ups are snapping up kids with high level skills in creativity, collaboration, critical thinking, social communication, and of course all things technology – and they already can’t find enough talent to meet their needs.
At some point, all dinner parties touch on politics, and everyone enjoyed the irony being played out on the world stage this week: with President Xi Ji Ping talking at Davos about a future based on globalization, whilst America’s new president-elect focused on tweeting how he will build walls – physical and economic. My auto industry friend was pretty clear about the future: it is full of uncertainties, and it’s happening fast; it’s exciting and it’s full of opportunities. The details are being worked out as we go, but the trend is unmistakable.

In education, we need to heed Yong Zhao’s words and learn from what’s happening around us in the real world while embracing the future. We need to give our kids every chance to develop their creativity, to be involved in exploring their interests, to find their passions, to tinker with technology and engage in finding solutions to real world challenges. In China, parents are looking for education to provide their child the edge in being ready for the future. In the boom of new private school openings, there is a rush to develop a new model of schools. This is a golden opportunity to create ‘schools for the future’ and engage our kids in the future today. This requires innovation, building on what we know and have and creating new and better ways of doing things. At ORIGINS, I am working with a team of passionate, committed people who are trying to do that – it’s not easy but it’s exciting and it’s where we want to be. Just like my automotive industry friend, everyone knows how to build and operate great schools for 10 years ago, but we know there won’t be much demand for them in the next 10 years!

Inspiring good reads by Yong Zhao:

Catching Up or Leading the Way

Catching up or Leading the Way

Never Send a Human to do a Machine's Job

Never Send a Human to Do a Machine’s Job: Correcting the Top 5 EdTech Mistakes

Understanding Translanguaging

Understanding Translanguaging

Speaking from Experience Growing up on a farm in southern Ontario, Canada, with Portuguese parents who had recently immigrated, learning to communicate in two languages was a necessary part of life with parents and extended family. My four brothers and three sisters spoke only English at school (and with each other), my parents only spoke Portuguese to us, and many of the Portuguese immigrant workers on the farm also relied on their mother tongue. Since our Portuguese was nurtured through listening and speaking, but lacked any formal support, learning through “translanguaging” became a large part of communicating with our parents, extended family and colleagues. Translanguaging is an approach to dual language learning. Using a dual language strategy, students develop social and academic vocabulary in both languages simultaneously and learners maintain strong mother tongue skills while acquiring their second language.

“Translanguaging”, acquiring language is an action and practice, and not a simple system of structures and discreet sets of skills. That’s why translanguaging uses an –ing form, emphasizing the action and practice of languaging bilingually.” Christina Celic and Kate Seltzer (2011)

When translanguaging, learners adapt their language practice and improve communication and understanding of concepts. In classroom discourse, translanguaging is apparent as learners switch between languages in a fluid manner, communicating their general understanding, and thus deepening conceptual understandings. Celic and Seltzer explain that translanguaging builds flexibility, helping learners make meaning withintwo languages. Translanguaging learners are well on their way to being able to explain critical thinking and understanding, skills needed to confidently use dual languages in the workforce. Allowing students to translanguage as they learn a second language allows them to express thinking and consolidate understanding as they navigate their way through learning academic language. The vocabulary that is lacking becomes evident to the teacher and student which gives immediate feedback and allows both to address vocabulary issues quickly. From experience I found I could quickly ask family members for the specific word I was lacking in Portuguese and by using it in context allowed me to internalize it and store it in memory for future use. As a teacher in Canada with many multicultural students in my class, allowing students to translanguage helped them overcome communication barriers and helped me as a teacher understand what students were trying to express. As we continue to develop our language programs at Origins Education, I am reminded of my own language learning experience. Translanguaging helps our language leaners express their ideas to the best of their ability. This is key when developing our dual language immersion Chinese and English program.

Hour of Code Spreads Worldwide


Hour of Code Spreads Worldwide
More People Recognizing Anyone Can Learn

This week was Hour of Code week – and coincided with an increase in activities in schools and other learning communities around the world, highlighting the importance of computer science, programming and coding. The Hour of Code campaign joins a very visible, loud and exponentially expanding global awareness about the importance of coding, programming, robotics and maker education.

Around the world, educational and community learning organizations have started to incorporate effective, practical and impactful computer science and MakerEd programmes into their teaching methods, curriculums and after-school activities. A host of support organizations have also started to gain prominence in these fields, along with specialists from both technology industry and education, in order to bridge the gap in knowledge needed to achieve successful integration of these programmes.

The evolution and integration of computing technologies into teaching and learning has never before experienced such rapid growth. Supporting this growth is a fundamental belief in the importance of technology and its essential and intrinsic link to the learning and innovation skills as outlined by Partnership for 21st Century Learning (P21). These four skills are known as the 4 Cs:
Critical thinking

The 4Cs in Coding
Coding not only allows you to think critically and logically but can also involve aspects of collaboration and communication (seeking coding help from the community, friends, peers and students). Likewise, the product of almost all coding projects and experiences are classified as ‘creative’ for their uniqueness in not only utilizing the coding concepts to provide automation and increased productivity in our lives, but also to solve real (authentic) issues. For collaboration, we recognize another important benefit of coding from the blending of learning methodologies in a class of students busy in coding workshops. Computer systems allow every student to not only advance at their own pace but can also provide instant feedback and access to a large bank of resources including those on the Internet and peers who may be sitting right beside them.

I believe that the ‘hour of code’ should not be restricted to a week per year, but rather, once the idea that ‘anybody can learn’ has stimulated an individual, an ‘hour of code’ should take place every week – if not every day!

“The ‘Hour of Code™’ is a nationwide initiative by Computer Science Education Week [] and [] to introduce millions of students to one hour of computer science and computer programming.”





ORIGINS Attends EARCOS Facilities Conference


Management teams share progress, develop together.

From November 17-19, ORIGINS attended the 5th annual Facilities Management Conference, co-hosted by Shanghai American School and Concordia International School of Shanghai. This year, 15 participants convened for the 3-day conference, including ORIGINS Education, International School of Beijing, Singapore American School, Seoul Foreign School, Kuala Lumpur International School, United Nations International School of Hanoi, and Jakarta International School.

Following EARCOS’ collaborative growth model, facilities management teams showcased open and collaborative 21st century educational and learning spaces and took time to share their processes, trials and successes. In each case shared, it became clear that it is equally important for schools to provide flexible, innovative spaces as it is to provide campus-wide connectivity. As we know well, learning at school does not only happen inside the classroom – corridors, staircases, open spaces, and the sports field are all spaces for learning. With this understanding, effective school facilities teams need to be aware of the changing environment within the pedagogical arena, especially concerning new teaching techniques, rapidly changing technology and the diverse learning styles of today’s youth.


The opportunity to share experiences was a key motivation for those who participated in this annual conference. Several schools shared their master planning documents, playground development progress, the trials and tribulations of installing playground equipment and developments in 21st century library. Many other experiences were also exchanged as we discussed facilities and vendor management, risk and safety protocols, and transportation.


The finale of each day was a tour of each host school’s facilities, where we witnessed interactive and collaborative spaces along the corridors, passageways, and libraries, open learning spaces with small discussion rooms within the science laboratories, learning kitchens and makerspace workshops.


Opportunities such as this allow facilities teams to learn from their peers and to better understand the limitations of the projects we undertake. This results in resource savings and faster facilities development and turnover times. At the same time, conferences like the EARCOS Facilities Management Conference provide a platform for the junior facilities team members to polish and grow their skills with experienced leaders.


Is Your Child’s English Development on Track?


Is Your Child’s English Development on Track?

Determining your family’s “right language-fit”

English language schools have grown considerably over the past 10 years with the increasing demand for English in China, and world-wide. Since English is the preferred language for employment in aviation, media, computer programming, diplomacy and tourism, parents are looking to provide their children with advantages needed for future employment. Likewise, parents are beginning to understand that 21st Century job skills will require the workforce to be able to read, write and speak in English in order to gain employment with multinational companies, both within China and abroad.

What are the Options?

English language centers are the go-to choice for parents  because they are readily available and can cater to both the child’s and the parent’s specific needs. Schools too have identified the need for English and are offering more English language learning time within their curriculum. Private and International schools, many of which identify as bilingual, have hired foreign teachers to teach English as an isolated subject.

For learning basic social English this method of teaching English has been successful, but progress is slow. With such a base, students will be able to hold a reasonable  conversation but never progress to the higher levels of academic English required for most jobs in the future. The question remains: “How does one get to the academic language level?”


Achieving Academic Language Proficiency in Two Languages

In recent years, bilingual schools have gained greater prominence in China and worldwide. These schools teach in their mother tongue language and then gradually transition to English as a second language. As students transition to English they gain more academic English vocabulary, as classes are typically all taught in English by the time students reach middle school. Unfortunately, the mother tongue is often not reinforced, and students fall behind in academic language development in their first language. Accordingly, this language model does prepare students for study at western universities but does not support academic language development in their mother tongue.

Planning for the Future

Having social and academic language skills elevates job prospects for learners graduating into a workforce where  communication, creativity, innovation and critical thinking skills are crucial. As parents, we need to decide on the quality of English language learning our children require and look for options that best prepare them for future entrepreneurship. While there are many language centers and private schools in China that are providing English language learning, we as parents need to be asking the right questions as to the quality of English language learning we want for our children!


Connecting a Love of Books and Play-Based Learning


Connecting a Love of Books to Play-Based Learning

Helping Spark Children’s Inspiration

Research shows that reading for pleasure promotes imagination, creativity, relaxation, improved self-esteem, intellectual pleasure, enhanced general knowledge, emotional intelligence and mental health benefits. In addition, reading for pleasure has been found to enhance social interaction and personal relationships; empower children to become active citizens, to improve a sense of connectedness with the wider community and to further tolerance and understanding of other cultures.

The connection between reading and play-based learning is perhaps less obvious. Indeed, some find it hard to imagine that play is one of the most important methods of learning for young children. We know, however, that through play, children learn to make sense of the world around them. Rich experiences of play provide ever-expanding opportunities for children to think critically, develop problem-solving skills and express thoughts and feelings. But did you know that play is also important in the development of language and literacy skills that will help children as they learn to read?


Making the Connection

When we provide stimulating books that children explore independently (with limited or no adult intervention), play-based learning experiences can be enhanced. Thought-provoking books can help guide and support a child’s wonder. Examples include illustrated cookbooks for “kitchen play”,  picture books for “home play” and visually-appealing nonfiction and fiction books that build on a child’s natural curiosities.


Ready to spark your child’s life-long love affair with books?

Take the first step: Provide a world of wonder for your child in your home. Surrounding your child with provocations that inspire them to wonder (and later explore, create and connect), is the first step to setting them on a path of natural and engaged learning.

Need to find more books to support your child’s interests? Libraries open up new worlds, spark imagination, encourage reading, help develop critical thinking and prepare and support children in school and life. Parent groups are another great way to share resources and find opportunities for engaging literacy-supporting activities.

Need more ideas or support? Be sure to follow our social media accounts for future articles or contact us at at any time to get more great ideas.