Culture Shift

Simply allowing students to connect is only the beginning – Connected Learning: An Agenda for Research and Design.

Shifting Landscapes

A theme inherent in this week’s reading is the idea that change has happened and is happening, irrevocably. Our lives are increasingly online, interwoven and interdependent. We rely on technology for so much, and more. As this is now an almost unavoidable constituent of everyday life; a crucial challenge for education is how to harness modern forms of interactivity, self-expression and creativity.

Yet, what is becoming increasingly obvious is that schools and the strict use of classic curriculum styles do not fit in with this present-day reality.

What we’re seeing right now is a culture clash between the modes of instruction and the institutions of learning that we’ve perfected in a prior age… – Learning That Connects by Mimi Ito.

If change is inevitable, with online and technological advances being subsumed into our teaching, we must help our children to make the very most of the wonderful array of tools that are at their disposal. We must help them to learn the most that they possibly can online. We must help them to shift culturally and in terms of mindset, from the education style of the old to the new.

Classroom Change

I was particularly inspired to change my classroom around, after reading this blog post from Dan Berry and this blog which influenced his writing.

As will become apparent, the changes that I made are not new, nor are they based on technology. But they are all directly geared towards readying the children for the world outside the classroom walls. All to change the way that they think and approach different situations. It is clear to me that we must start from the very basics, in order to positively influence the culture of each school day and consequently their mindsets for learning online.

With a strong foundation, the hope is that then the children can enter the online world as learners who are able to support each other, acquire knowledge autonomously, innovate and think critically.

I made the following changes to push towards these aims…

  • Children developed their own positive class rules, therefore owning their behaviour choices.
  • Displays are created by the children, with only a small selection of prompts pre-prepared, so that they can be in charge of their environment.
  • Every child in the class has a job to do, from taking the register to handing out books, giving them a sense of autonomy and leadership.
  • Resources, such as practical equipment for Mathematics, are readily available so that the children can serve themselves.
  • All have access to a ‘Wonder Shelf‘ where the children can store objects that make them wonder, even including objects from home which they can share.
  • The classroom is divided into different ‘zones’, from a group reading area to an area for quiet reflection, so that the children can adapt to different styles of working.
  • A designated time in the day for ‘show and tell’, to push the children to develop interests and share those interests with others.
  • A few minutes each day, devoted to mindfulness and quiet reflection. We use the channel ‘Flow’ on the site GoNoodle, and discuss the importance of finding a few moments for quiet in our busy and fast flowing world. This video sums it up perfectly…

  • If the children are stuck on a challenge, they ‘ask 3 before me’, enhancing peer support.
  • Regular self and peer evaluations, free from rubrics, to help the children to learn to evaluate and reflect.
  • Free choice options in homework, such as additional challenges or self-directed study.
  • Lessons hooked around an inquiry question or problem to enhance the use of meaningful decision making.
  • ‘Guided Reading’ as ‘Reciprocal Reading’, where the roles and thoughts are entirely directed by the children.

It is our job as teachers to set up our children to succeed, not in terms of passing tests or achieving the highest rung on the rubric, but rather to become connected collaborators who operate positively in a world made up of online networks and communities. With this grounding in positive learning behaviour, the hope is that the children can autonomously learn as much as they possibly can and help others to do so in the process.

Let’s not only help them to connect, but connect effectively – Connected Learning Report.

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11 Responses to Culture Shift

  1. Hi Rory,

    I enjoyed reading your article. You write well and I also like the way your post is organized. I need to figure out how to make my links a different color and how to center my texts and photos, etc. But back to commenting on your written content: I like the way that you listed exact examples of new changes you made to the actual set-up of your class and new plans you have during your teaching day to help you meet your aims.

    I think back to my post and I was thinking more about the thinking process I was doing and not the precise new ideas I’m trying to implement. I think I can make a separate post and share those specific ideas and plans that I have been working on this past week. I gave a more general explanation. Anyway, I appreciate your specific details, and because I have read your post, you have inspired me to be more specific with my sharing, as well.

    I also read the Edutopia article

    link to

    about classroom design. My classroom actually has a similar layout plan to the one described in the article; however, I also value the apps that the article includes at the end. I saved this article on my Flipboard.

    I agree with your last idea about how we need to focus on helping students become successful as independent learners. Sometimes I find that the activities that I assign for fun or for inquiry purposes are the best lessons because nobody is stressed about being assessed and I’m not stressed about “making the activity match the rubrics” or vice versa. Right now my students are involved in a big fundraising project in which they are trying to help victims from Hurricane Harvey in Texas, and they are all super motivated to do extra activities, like write speeches, make presentations, create posters, and more. I’m not assessing any of our activities because it’s all just work we need to do get done to achieve our common goal – help others – and through this process, many of them are productive, connected learners. There are just a few who I need to pay attention to and sort of “guide them” towards success.

    Once again, good job on your post. I think your students are lucky to have you.

    • Rory Bell says:

      Hi Gene,

      Thank you very much for the reply and for the complimentary comments. It is great to both give and gain ideas on what is a thoroughly intriguing course/community.

      Please see guidance on adding links to blog posts here: link to I usually use ‘method two’ and choose for the link to open in a new window.

      I think that both a discussion of methodology and specific examples of practice are valuable types of post. I particularly go for the specific examples style because I am always looking to apply concepts in order to help the children in my class, and always hope that it might help others too. I’m glad that you like this approach!

      The fundraising project that you mentioned sounds so exciting, valuable and real. Well done on creating a real-world experience for your students, which promotes a sense of global community too. Amazing!


      • Hi Rory,

        Thank you so much for the posting advice, as well. We also use WordPress websites at my school, but the other one I have is a bit different than the one I’m using in COETAIL, so I just need to put more time into figuring things out. Thanks again for your advice.

        Gene Marie

        • Rory Bell says:

          Hi Gene Marie,

          No problem at all. I realised that the link colour is probably due to the theme of my blog (colours, backgrounds, etc), by the way.


          • Right – I ended up changing my theme.

            Thank you so much for the advice. I also realize that I type too much in the TEXT tab, so I will try to use more of the features in the VIEW tab.

  2. Hi Rory,
    I really enjoyed and learned many new things in this post. As Gene mentioned in her comment, you were so skilfull in the way you organized your thoughts; you made it easy to follow. After this week’s readings and then writing my blog, I had a hard time grouping my ideas and relating them to each other. I think writing is difficult, and, cognitively speaking, it is the hardest task the brain can do, especially when you are trying a new genre for the first time. In addition, it is even more difficult when it is not your native language, which is my case. I was born in Ecuador and my first language is Spanish. As a result, writing in English takes me a lot of time, and it usually activates a very judgemental inner critic. So your blog gave me a visual and an example of what I will strive for. Exemplary work makes learning outcomes more reachable.
    In addition, I also was motivated to watch the video, “What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains”, which emphasizes the problem of distractibility. I am in total agreement with being conscious about our ‘scattered minds’, and I have also found myself procrastinating with social media. I am hoping that continuing with mindfulness meditation practice will help me identify moments where I should be walking away from screens.
    Carolin Escobar

    • Rory Bell says:

      Hi Carolin,

      Thank you for the comment and for the positivity! It is really great to link up with educators, especially from all around the world; it is so clear that we are already learning so much from each other and in different ways.

      I totally agree that writing is an extremely difficult thing to do. So much to think of at once! The inner critic can also speak up on a more regular basis when you know that it is being posted to a public location. That said, please believe in yourself because your writing is excellent (my writing in Spanish would be severely limited, to say the least) and you are posting to a positive place which is full of appreciative readers.

      The children seem to really enjoy a few moments of mindfulness and seem so ready to share ideas afterwards. I will definitely continue this each day.


  3. “…the changes that I made are not new, nor are they based on technology. But they are all directly geared towards readying the children for the world outside the classroom walls. All to change the way that they think and approach different situations.”

    Thank you for sharing your insight and all the positive ways you have designed your classroom physically, procedurally, and even emotionally! You give practical, child-centered examples that show that Classroom Design is not just about how you arrange the chairs and desks. Your post reminds me of a blog I was introduced to last year Making Good Humans. The author, Taryn BondClegg, shares here experiences related to reaches many of the same goals in her classroom with her students. Would love updates on how your changes are impacting your students and you!

    • Rory Bell says:

      Hi Diana,

      Many thanks for the share – what a brave, resourceful and inspiring post. I think that I will look into completing this, or something similar, with my class.

      Will have to upload updates as to the impact when I have them. Watch this space!

      Thank you,

  4. Hi Rory,
    My name is Stéphane and I’m part of Cohort 7. I was very interested in many points you made in this post. Not only your main idea of “culture shift”, but also the extract that Diana highlighted too:
    ” All to change the way that they think and approach different situations. It is clear to me that we must start from the very basics, in order to positively influence the culture of each school day and consequently their mindsets for learning online.”
    It made me think about the discussion we have in my school as we decided a year ago to develop Project Zero’s culture of thinking (link to The implementation of this culture, which is defined by eight forces, has had a huge positive impact on how we learn in my school. Although it is not about technology, tech can naturally fit in this model by making students and teachers thinking visible to their peers… or to the world. If you are interested, I highly recommend Ron Ritchhart’s books and tools. link to
    You seem to have a very productive start of Coetail! I’ll try to check your blog regularly. Thank you for sharing your thinking!

    • Rory Bell says:

      Hey Stéphane,

      Thank you for the comment and the links/resources!

      This is excellent: “…models of thinking are present in the form of seeing teachers and peers as fellow thinkers, and the environment is full with the documentation of thinking.”

      It is so important to model the thinking process and to act as a role model for the processes that take place. It is really easy, at times, in our busy curricula to forget to actually pause for a second and not only take time to ponder, but also to take time to show how we ponder!

      This is really intriguing and I will definitely look into it more. Thank you again!



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