Strengths Based Parenting

The Council of Catholic School Parents @CCSPNSWACT is the peak body for parents with children in Catholic Schools in NSW and ACT, Australia. A few weeks back I was invited to be on a panel at their biannual  #FutureReady Conference. 200+ educators & parents from across New South Wales and beyond enjoyed engagement with a number of speakers.

One such speaker preceding the panel was Professor Lea Waters who actively promotes “Visible Wellbeing in Education“. Professor Waters’ presentation resonated with much of the work occurring at St Luke’s Catholic College.  Much of Professor Waters’ work and other research:

  1. affirms the Positive Behaviour Support for Learning (PBS4L) approach which has been adopted at St Luke’s
  2. complements the St Luke’s commitment to bring social skills and enterprise skills to prominence as articulated in our 6 Pillars of Learning.
  3. aligns with the intended strengths based approach to our Pathways Program from the beginning of 2018.

I was also interested in many of her free resources accessible via her website. One in particular is a self reflection tool which prompts parents to reflect on their approach to parenting. It is not meant to offer a judgement, but act far more as a reflection tool which also comes with some tips and insights into how to be be a ‘strengths based parent’. Click here to access the link.

Most importantly, Professor Waters reminded me that parents are the primary educators of children. I walked asking myself… “How often do schools stop and ask parents about the strengths of their child?” I am not talking about a child’s ability to read, write or add up, but more so, for example, their ability to manage themselves or relate with others. Schools possibly ask parents, “When is your child at their best?” Yes, I know parents can, at times, be deluded about the abilities of their child (I may be one of those parents!), or may ignore their obvious deficiencies, but, imagine the engagement that might come if schools formally invited parents to offer a comment about their child’s strengths, not their academic strengths, but their natural talents, skills and capabilities ‘beyond school’. Maybe it is something that can be done as we host 2018 Kindergarten or Year 7 Orientation Days as they occur this term.

 

 

 

 

6 months on

Historically, the word “frontier” has connections with the United States. The word frontier was known as the area where settled land met with the wilderness which lay beyond. As a greenfield site, it is more than apt that St Luke’s street address is Frontier Avenue. Over the last 12 months, the unsettled land has given way to the emergence of new buildings. But the real story has been about the people and our humble beginnings.

On February 2, 2017, St Luke’s Catholic College, Marsden Park opened its doors for learning. A few days before, staff hosted parents for a ‘meet and greet’ before taking them of the classrooms which resembled a scene from ‘The Block’. We look back on those first days and remember there was no yard, no car park and our magnificent COLA was was not completed until the end of term 1. Play breaks were a balance of indoor activities with some students accessing a makeshift 15m x 15m play space. The staff were wonderfully adaptable, our parents tremendously supportive and the students very patient as we moved quickly to provide more outdoor space by the end of term 1.

Of course, we had to get to ‘know our class’. St Luke’s began with 86 students. There were 25 Kindergarten students with the remaining  61 Stage 1, 2 and 3 students, arriving from 31 different schools. Each student brought with them their own story, and teachers worked tirelessly to adapt their expertise in balancing each child’s abilities with a brand new  educational context. Six months on we have 108 students and, looking ahead to 2018 we have 322 committed enrolments from Kindergarten to Year 7, 89 of those are Kindergarten enrolments. This is a credit to the great work of our staff and the wonderful ‘word of mouth’ expressed by both students and parents.

As a new school, St Luke’s has been both empowered and challenged to reimagine education from the system leaders of Catholic Education, Diocese of Parramatta. As such, St Luke’s is designing and establishing the new normal for preschool to post school learning across the five educational services of early learning, primary, secondary, out of hours school care and a high needs studio. We are unsure if there is another Catholic systemic school in Australia pursuing this bold vision.

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St Luke’s Catholic College – A conceptual preschool to post school framework.

From Day 1 the school has been staffed from 6am to 6pm, Monday to Friday. There is no ‘bolt on’ out of hours schools care. There is an Activities Club which provides learning focused activities either side of the core hours of the school day. Other innovations include:

  • Bringing Social Skills and Enterprise skills to prominence through our 6 Pillars of Learning. This resulted in a more informative school report and meaningful Student-led Conferences at the end of Semester 1.
  • No merit awards or stickers for students, just positive affirmation as part of our Positive Behaviour Support for Learning (PBS4L) approach to learning and wellbeing.
  • Each teacher blogging twice a term to share their work via social media channels. This confirms our collective commitment to act as connected and networked educators.
  • Increased use of Social Media, in particular Twitter and Facebook to connect and communicate with our parent community. In fact, Facebook Live was used to record the visits of Tanya Plibersek and Luke Foley. Also, on two occasions, the principal connected with parents for two parent engagement event held of an evening.
  • The use of Seesaw to provide formative, real time feedback to parents. Over time, students will have a digital folio of work which showcases their very best social skills and enterprise skills.
  • A cashless school with provision of an offsite canteen with online ordering.
  • Sports uniform worn each and every day – quite comfortable for all students and realistic considering the amount of movement that takes place in our our agile open learning spaces.
  • And much much more…

All this was taking place adjacent to our new building program. For the beginning of 2018 new buildings with outstanding new learning spaces will be ready to accommodate our K-6 enrolments, our new year 7 cohort and the Long Day Care centre. In preparing for 2018, and thanks to system support, we will have two weeks of orientation for new staff. This will take place in Term 4 and will assist in the ‘next steps’ of establishing the new normal for preschool to post school learning where we will be committed to extending the frontiers of knowledge by deepening our understanding of preschool to post school learning for a changing world.

St Luke's Catholic College
The Site – 30 July 2016
The front of the school
Taken on the front corner of the 8 hectare site, 30 July 2016.
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Our first building onsite – The Front Office, November 2016.
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The 1st learning space arrives onsite – December 2016.
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The Kindergarten classroom four days before Day 1 – Monday 30 January.
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An overview of the site from a drone Perspective – March, 2017.
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Looking towards Frontier Avenue from the rear of the site. From left to right – COLA, The Hub (3 stories high), Staff Room and Early Learning Centre – 11 July, 2017.

Of course, the physical emergence of the site is an interesting story. However, the real story is the learning narrative which has unfolded before our eyes in real time on both Twitter and Facebook. I invite you to spend 10 minutes to review our learning story unfold and it has been a privilege to be a part of it.

Comments and feedback are welcome.

Regards

Greg

 

 

 

Reporting on social skills and enterprise skills

“Governments need to prioritise the teaching, testing and reporting of achievement in capabilities alongside core curriculum. For capabilities to count they need to be measured and reported at a national level, assessed in schools and communicated to parents and considered alongside or contribute to ATAR.” (Mitchell Report, 2016:19).

As you may be aware, St Luke’s Catholic College in Marsden Park is committed to bringing social skills and enterprise skills to prominence for our students and their parents. This commitment has seen us align the Australian General Capabilities with our 6 Pillars of Learning. By focusing our learning around these 6 Pillars, over time, a folio of evidence will emerge for each student to better understand their strengths and capabilities to assist them become creative contributors and innovative problems solvers for a changing world.

At St Luke’s, the 6 Pillars figure prominently when:
  • teachers collaboratively plan the learning,
  • students self reflect on their learning,
  • students seek feedback from peers and teachers, and most recently,
  • when writing semester reports.
As you will see from this sample report, whilst they adhere to A to E reporting requirements, they are very different to most NSW primary school reports. The College undertook an extensive process which was made possible due to:
  • Our Assistant Principal developing many iterations of reports after many collaborative conversations between teachers and the leadership team. Here are her latest reflections about the process.
  • Teachers using Scope and Sequences and Programs to align the 6 Pillars and syllabus outcomes.
  • Parents attending a Parent Engagement Event on Tuesday 13 June. This video was used on that evening to provide “the why” of reporting in this new manner.
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“New Ways of Reporting” – Parent Engagement Event, St Luke’s Marsden Park, Tuesday 13 June.
As we know, Parent/Teacher interviews usually follow ‘reporting season’. To complement these new reports, it was identified that another way to bring social skills and enterprise skills to prominence was for the students themselves to reflect and then offer feedback via Student-led Conferences.
At the same Parent Engagement Event on 13 June, parents were informed that the goal of Student-led Conferences is to help students communicate their learning to their parents using their work as evidence. Conversations often tell us more than perhaps we can measure through conventional assessments and through the Student-led Conferences held over the last few weeks, teachers noted that students:
  • shared understandings of their strengths according to the 6 Pillars,
  • confirmed areas for improvement; and,
  • highlighted personal achievements of which they were proud.
The initial verbal feedback is quite encouraging about both reports and Student-led Conferences. Collectively, teachers and leaders now see many possibilities for closer alignment between daily learning, weekly ​​formative feedback and summative reporting at the end the year. In saying that, the Leadership Team is overseeing processes which will obtain feedback from parents, teachers and students via surveys. This feedback will assist our thinking for the next iteration of reports.
Exciting times!
As usual, I would appreciate your time to provide comments or ask questions.
Regards
Greg

Skills, Capabilities, Feedback and Reporting.

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Credit to http://www.kubochem.com/capabilities-html Accessed 10 June, 2017.

There are numerous articles and many research papers which argue that schooling needs to shift its focus from high stakes testing to a greater focus on the social skills and enterprise capabilities each student requires for a changing world.  In fact, Bill Lucas from Mitchell Institute declares capabilities are the new currency for success in life.

In Australia, the importance of these skills and capabilities are expressed through the seven General Capabilities of the Australian Curriculum. These “… play a significant role in the Australian Curriculum in equipping young Australians to live and work successfully in the twenty-first century.”

St Luke’s is a next generation community establishing the new normal for preschool to post school learning as part of an extended school day, 6:00am to 6:00pm. The General Capabilities are foundational to the St Luke’s Learning Statement, which, in part, reads:

Within a safe and secure environment, literacy, numeracy and faith formation are viewed as strong foundations to assist young people identify and solve problems. With each person taking responsibility for their own learning, all learners participate actively in a changing world where they are obligated to:

  • WITNESS by living the Good News as revealed through the Gospel of St Luke
  • MANAGE self
  • RELATE with others
  • COLLABORATE  with peers and experts to respond to challenges
  • COMMUNICATE responses to real world problems
  • THINK CRITICALLY using self reflection and peer assessment as part of the learning process.
  • Be DIGITALLY LITERATE.

St Luke’s has translated the General Capabilities into these 6 Pillars of Learning (above) which shapes our approach to programming, assessment and reporting. This is because “social-emotional development is not ancillary to the work of educators, but foundational to it” (Adams, 2016). Such a belief has resulted in many questions including:

  • How do we bring to prominence the development of social skills and enterprise skills so necessary for a changing world?
  • How can we engage align real time formative feedback for students and parents?
  • How can we ensure social skills and enterprise skills are prominent in programming, reporting and assessment?

As a result of asking these questions, students now engage in ongoing self reflection and peer critique about their progress along the 6 Pillar continuum. Furthermore, when they offer these reflections via the online application Seesaw, parents are notified in real time with some posting comments of encouragement. These digital artefacts have resulted in a developing folio of evidence, some of which will be used by each child at our upcoming Student-led Conferences with parents and teachers.

The General Capabilities offer an excellent reference point for our school community when nurturing curious, faith filled children to become creative contributors and innovative problems solvers for a changing world.

As always, comments and feedback are welcome.

Regards

Greg

Col.legi Mare de Déu dels Àngels – A pleasure to visit

It was indeed a great pleasure to visit Col.legi Mare de Déu dels Àngels, Barcelona, on Tuesday 9 May, 2017. The learning community caters for children as young as 1 year old right through to 18 year olds. Regardless of age they attend from 9:00am to 5:00pm, Monday to Friday with a 2 hour break during the day. Students in upper primary and secondary can leave the school grounds and go home for lunch without any risk assessments or permission notes required.

Col.legi Mare de Déu dels Àngels is one of ten led by the Missionary Daughters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. They have a coalition of four of schools in Barcelona, four in the Canary Islands and two in Madrid. Their founder, St Josep Manyamet was proclaimed a saint of the Catholic Church in 2004. 

Again, like sister school Col~Legi Montserrat, the whole school approach to learning is based on multiple intelligences research. Their approach to learnining is less about subjects and more so about stimulating the senses from an early age. One of the very first messages I heard from my hosts for the day, Sister Monica Ferré and teacher/interpreter Nelly Velazquez was, 

“Creativity is something you can teach through opportunities.”

As one of the coalition of schools led by Missionary Daughters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, Col.legi Mare de Déu dels Àngels is focused on learning stimulation before learning memorisation. I was soon introduced to the art teacher working with 3 year olds. They employ specialist teachers for the arts, physical education and technology to work with students as young as 1, 2 & 3 years of age.

As part of my tour, I had a chance to speak with the art teacher (through Nelly) where she told me, “Art is not the aim, it is about arriving at other places.” She went onto explain that each of her activities for preschool students have an aim beyond the required (equivalent) learning outcome. The art teacher explained that each activity had a ‘life purpose’ not stated to the class. She used the following examples for 3 years olds to explain.

Example 1 – Students were required to paint after a reading exercise. After it had dried the teacher asked them to rip up their work. This provocation aligns with life “when all our hard work can be ended in an instant”. After some reluctance, students followed the direction of the teacher who, through ongoing questionsing, prompted the students by asking them how they could achieve a good outcome from a bad situation, just like life! Here are some of the results…


Example 2 – Students were asked to draw with white Crayon on white paper. When they finished nothing could be seen but then they applied water colours over the top. The lesson? Initially you could not see the hard work but we kept working by using a different approach and the end result was worth it. 


Example 3 – Students were given a small piece of coloured paper. They were then asked to add to it. They had to create something out of (next to) nothing. It is a little bit like writing with a blank piece of paper. People like Austin Kelon and James O’Loghlin will tell you it’s when some of their best creative work has been achieved.


The school likes to engage with the abstract as early as possible with children. This leaves open the choice for a variety of open ended work for young children. The boundaries are broadened, not reduced.

Another fascinating observation.. With reference to well accepted research about the best actitivies for people recovering from brain injuries and applying that to all people, Col.legi Mare de Déu dels Àngels has adapted this research to mainstream learning. They have developed what I call the ‘graduated monkey bar program’. As 2 year olds olds, students are required to hold onto the monkey bar for 5 then 10 then 15 then 20 seconds up to 3 year olds, all the time holding the bars with the same grip as a holding a pencil. As 4 year olds students are required, with the help of a teacher to swing from one side to another until they grow to become 5 year olds who do not required the help of an adult. They use their sight to grip each bar with ‘pencil grip’, they swing from side to side to develop the balance of the body as well as the resilience through physical strength and mental toughness to ‘hold on’ to the bars for the entire time – and there was not a ‘soft floor’ in sight!


Furthermore, the commitment to ‘whole body learning’ is implemented with a specialist movement program which starts from as early as 1 year of age. Instead of using occupational therapy approaches for students who are lagging behind developmental stages, all children are encouraged to engage in challenging and even risky movement. However, each exercise has a purpose supported with research to complement the learning development of the whole child. See the video below for 1 year olds.

The diversity of activities and the increasing student choice within each activity as they get older, reminded me of what Sr Monica said at the very beginning of the day, 

“We don’t measure intelligence in portions. We bring them opportunities to understand their strengths. All students are good at something.”

Whilst the majority of my blog so far has been focused on early learning, I did have the opportunity to see learning in the primary and secondary settings. As such, I share with you more (but nowhere near all) observations across preschool, primary and high school:

  • Activity based activities in mathematics, because, “We do not focus on memorisiation. It is about understanding first and then we do bookworok, but only for 10 minutes.”
  • Teachers reading to 2 year olds, wait for it, a story about William Shakespeare. Remember, in early years, it is not about understanding, it is about stimulus. 
  • Students ​learning the rhythm of music with with words, not notes. They sound out the syllables of words to a beat and then reproduce that on their violin. I saw the difference between 3 and 5 year olds on the day. The difference was very noticeable. 
  • Students learning to read through word, gesture, sound. For example, H is for helicopter (with arm swirling above the head) and P is for pine tree (with arms vertically raised above the head forming a triangle). Identifying sounds within words is important and using capital letters to first first read and then lower case by the time they are 4, is part of the method. I am told this approach ensurse all children arrive in Kindergarten with the ability to decode words so they can start their journey of reading for understanding. 
  • Teamwork occurring throughout every classroom. There was the 4 year old swimming class (yes, they have a pool but are a working class school) where students were expected to jump into the pool, collect floating blocks, swim to the edge and then work in teams to build something. 
  • Year 7 integrated STEAM class, yes five subjects combined because learning is the focus, not just subject knowledge.
  • Year 8 playing chess. This occurs for one hour per week for all Year 7 & 8 to assist with abstract thinking and anticipation. They change partners mid game, “because in life we have to adapt.” 
  • I saw a Year 10 class called ‘Roboethics’. It is Robotics with ethics. All creations and inventions in this robotics class have to be justified based on the good it will bring to the world. 
  • I spoke with 17 year old students who fondly recalled their time at Col.legi Mare de Déu dels Àngels. Most of them started at 2 years of age and all of them can explain the importance of the early years learning on their development as teenagers. They are hope-filled, conscientious and confident young men and women who have highly developed social and emotional skills required to serve this rapidly changing world. Oh, and by the way, the school has outstanding mandated test results, not that they concentrate on testing!

Col.legi Mare de Déu dels Àngels is a showcase of creativity and wonderful innovative learning community. Just before my visit came to an end, I saw a wonderful collage of sayings in the foyer appearing as one big sketch note. Sister Monica was keen to highlight the saying in the centre. It looks like this…

And reads as, “The first innovation is to love the students.”

Thank you Sister Monica and Kelly for a wonderful and unforgettable learning experience. 

Regards

Greg

Col~Legi Montserrat – A privilege to visit

On Friday 5 May, I had the great privilege to visit Col~Legi Montserrat in Barcelona. This school is one of ten led by Missionary Daughters of the Holy Family of Nazareth. They have four of schools in Barcelona, four in the Canary Islands and two in Madrid. Their founder, St Josep Manyamet was proclaimed a saint of the Catholic Church in 2004.

Col~Legi Montserrat provides learning for 1 year old children through to 18 year olds adults, all on the one campus pearched high on the hill overlooking Barcelona. Each ‘year group’ has 60 students with 2 or 3 teachers and hours are 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They have a two hour break at 1pm where they have lunch, play and engage in extra curricular activities, everyday.

For preschool (1-5 year olds), the start of each day begins with 30 minutes of prayer, story and play based learning. The story for each day focuses on faith, a value or context based on a theme for the week/fortnight. For example, the 5 May story related to Mothers’ Day. Questions were asked about the characteristics of mothers and then a song was sung and danced by the students. This happens each and every day.


At the end of the 30 minutes, those students move off with their teachers. I witnessed 2 year olds, all still learning to talk, start the day by taking the roll. Each student learning to pronounce the name of another as the teacher reads the roll. For 30 minutes, 3 year olds engaged with flash cards containing letters, visuals, cartoon pictures and landscapes where students were asked to name the image. Images chop and change quickly. This happens everyday. 

Moving from one room to another, I witnessed Year 1 have an open and transparent discussion about a child who was crying earlier that morning. The conversation took place in Catalan, the language of Barcelonians, but Sister Monika interpreted, 

“One child said they noticed another student crying and asked why. The teacher then asked that child, ‘What happened?’ The child talked about how their parents upset them at home that morning.” 

Instead of a discussion with the principal about mandatory reporting, the teacher named the feelings of anger and hurt. Empathy and understanding can be a focus at any given point as a part of ‘just in time learning’. Without hesitation, the class moved onto the next activity which was counting. 

The whole school learning approach is based on updated and ongoing research about multiple intelligences and learning styles. As such, educating students to speak, read and write involves ‘the whole body’ multiple times throughout the day. In the video which follows, 4 years olds are ‘reading with their body’. One gesture relates to both a sound and a word. As Sister Monika said, 

“It is a playful, game based way to learn to read.”

There is a also a strong commitment to the arts as a part of catering for and educating the whole child. For example, commencing in Kindergarten, there is the commitment for a specialist art teacher to work with children to learn specialist art language and apply that language across class projects within mainstream learning.


Also, all 3 to 5 year olds are withdrawn once a week to learn to play the violin. Wow!

Col~Legi Montserrat is not a new school school. It is a big brick building set on the side of a hill. It is 5 stories high and also has a more modern looking second building which is their separate senior secondary school for Year 11 & 12. Upon my arrival I mistook this part of the school for the preschool. It is bright, modern and playful – for 17 & 18 year olds! Anyhow… To invigorate the ‘old’ building, the staff have turned their corridors and stairwells into learning showcases and display spaces. When travelling between classrooms and observing the showcases I observed and heard from Sister Monika about the following:

  • A Year 1 project which started with the question, “Do you think your journal is suitable?” The question centred around their daily timetable, its operation and its appearance, whether it suited their needs. In responding to this lead question, students interviewed their parents about how they used their time across the week and, as a part of this, they had to learn about minutes and hours in each day. Learn the days of week, heard about times of the day by interviewing parents and grandparents.
  • Integration is a big part of their work, most especially in the secondary area. Rarely is a subject taught in isolation. In some cases there are 2 or 3 subjects combined, and those subjects change across year groups and within the year. There is an agility to the learning in so many aspects of the day, week, month and terms. Furthermore, for each secondary school project, there is an aspect of service learning, faith context or outreach commitment added to the project where students ask,

“How can our project, our product, our idea help others?”

  • Year 10 has two hours on entrepreneurship every week. Recently, small groups of Year 10 created a real company based on a social need. It commenced with an empathic investigation by looking at ‘needs’ near and far. One group design a fashion bracelet that acted as a tracking device for those seniors who occasionally wander from their nursing home.
  • 20 years ago, the school developed its own mathematics program for 3-12 year olds. It was heavily scaffolded with high energy activities with actual book work equalling 10 minutes out of a daily one hour commitment to mathematics. The other 50 minutes is made up of play based, ‘whole body’ activities. This same program is now present in 700 schools across Spain. 

  • In primary, through to Year 8, each child has Coding & Robotics for one hour a week. The ‘subject’ is delivered by a technology specialist teacher who delivers each and every lesson ‘in English’, as is the case for drama & film for Year 7 to 10.
  • Preschool, Primary & secondary classrooms seamlessly flow from one into another. There is no clear division.
  • A few years back teachers asked, “Can we knock the walls down?” So they did!
  • The whole time I was there I never heard a bell. As Sister Monika said,
  • “We don’t use bells in the real world. I think the bells are more for the teachers. We haven’t used them for years.”

There is only so much you can get to know about a school in a day. Like any other school, I am sure that Col~Legi Montserrat is not perfect. I am sure there have been mistakes made along the way, Sister Monika said there have been many. However, it was a privilege to witness a creative school with a commitment to innovation – a school which is committed to being the best learning community it can be and one which has students at the centre, working collaboratively and driving their own learning.

Greg

Reminders from Picasso

A few days ago I had the distinct pleasure of visiting Museu Picasso de Barcelona. Just to be upfront, I have little artistic capability and even less knowledge of art appreciation; however, knowing that Pablo Picasso is one of the most famous artists the world has known, I felt compelled to visit.

Picasso’s father knew early on that his son possessed great talent, and he was keen for his son to extend himself. In preparing for his son’s first entry into an exhibition, Picasso’s father knew the signs of the time and knew what art would attract the judges’ eyes. Therefore, at the age of 13, Picasso’s first piece submitted for public critique adhered to a religious theme, “First Communion”. Whilst the piece did not win the competition, it was noted as a highly commended piece which, at the time, grabbed the attention of the local art world in Barcelona. For me, this is a reminder that young people, when compassionately nurtured and effectively mentored, can occasionally match it with the adults of this world.
In 1897, Picasso was encouraged to move to Madrid and learn from the traditional teachers of the time. As it read from a wall in the museum, 

“Convinced he was learning nothing new, he soon rejected the established education system.” 

Upon his return, Picasso spent most of his time at “Qautre Gats”, the heart of the artistic and literary world in Barcelona at the turn of the 20th century. This Barcelonian “Avante-Garde” of the time saw Picasso communicate, collaborate and critically reflect with artisits, thinkers, writers and musicians who were experimental, unorthodox and even radical with respect to the arts, culture and society of the time. This for me is a reminder that a “Qautre Gats” approach to contemporary learning will promote the creativity necessary for young people to become creative contributors and innovative problems solvers for a changing world.

Quartre Gats (4 Cats) Cafe today

Of course, Picasso went on to spend most of his time in Paris where his most of his famous works were produced. However, one cannot underestimate the influence his formative years of learning had on his most famous years as an artist.

Your comments are most welcome.

Greg